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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Jim Beam, Kentucky, USA

My first major US distillery and the first stop I made on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in May 2012.  To call this a distillery visit is a bit misleading... as the official name is the Jim Beam Heritage Tour and you don't get to see any of the actual working distillery (except for one warehouse).  Instead the focus is on the Beam family distilling history (which begins with Jacob Beam.... not Jim) and and also learn about their product range.  This is not the artisanal style of distillery I have been used to seeing in Scotland, this is a major whisky factory wth over 475 employees (thats about 450 more men than you find in Tain and 472 more than Benromach).  I learned that 95% of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky and 50% of that is made by Jim Beam.   Their range is a bit of a mixed bag for me... I like Jim Beam Black (but not the standard White label), I like Booker's but not Baker's and I love Knob Creek but don't like Basil Hayden.  All of these Beam brands are made at this facility and interestingly all made with the usual suspects of corn, rye and malted barley... not a wheated bourbon in the range.  Highlight of tour was probably learning our guide was 8th generation Beam family and seeing the pride and passion in her for bourbon (and she was cute which also helped).  The tour was free and included a short video and samples of Jim Beam Black and Baker's small batch bourbon (and a sample of choclate to try with the Baker's... a recurring theme on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail).  The facility is currently undergoing an upgrade with a new store and a cafe and will in the future the tour will include the actual distillery.... so I will have to come back and revisit when that is complete and hopefully get the same guide.

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Buffalo Trace, Kentucky, USA

This distillery is owned by Sazerac and is not part of the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  It is the oldest continuously operated distillery in the USA as it continued to produce whiskey even during prohibition.  It is also a very "haunted" distillery and featured on an episode of Travel Channel's Ghost Hunters.  The tours are free and they also have a nice cafe as well as a well stocked gift shop.  This distillery is home to several very well known brands (Buffalo Trace aside) including the Van Winkle, Blanton and Weller lines and they make a total of 17 brands here of which 5 are wheated bourbons.   The tour does not see much of the actual distillery, but instead features a walk through the site to a converted warehouse where a movie called "The Buffalo Trace Story" is shown and then the guide gave a lecture on making bourbon.  This was my 7th distillery in 2 days but the first that actually talked in detail about the importance of malted barley.  We also learned the distillery boasts the largest fementers in the industry at 93,000 gals.  Suitably impressed by the size of their fermenters it was time to see the botting hall, fortunately it was not running, but then something a little strange happened.  The guide showed us the chill filtratioon system and was quite proud of it.  Chill filtration is something that Scots distillers dont even talk about, unless they are proudly claiming that they don't chill filter their products, but here was a tour guide actually pointing out the equipment they use to chill filter their whiskies.  It was a bit weird. After the bottling hall it was time for the tasting and they poured the Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare 10 year old expressions.

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