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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Kentucky, USA

My third stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was not the actual distillery tour, but a visitor's center in the midst of their warehouses dedicated to the numerous brands produced at Heaven Hill.  At least I didn't have to stand in a noisy bottling plant.  Our knowledgable guide mentioned Heaven Hill currently produces 83 different brands including the Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and Old Fitzgerald lines.  Most of these are made from the standard corn / rye / malt recipes but they did make  5 wheated bourbons which I believe would be the Old Fitzgerald whiskies. The tour I chose was brief and focussed on the history of bourbon (as you might expect for a heritage center) rather than the specifc brands of Heaven Hill (unlike Beam and Maker's) and again was free and concluded with a tasting of Evan Williams Single Barrel.... which I really liked.  The guide tried to give a mini lesson in tasting bourbon, adding water or ice etc but to be honest was a little hampered by use of plastic cups and very small pours.  Interestingly the Beam family made another appearance... Jim's Beam's brother, Earl Beam, was hired by Heaven Hill as Master Distiller and Craig Beam is the current Master Distiller.  That made it 3 distilleries out of 3 with a Beam connection.

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Highland Park, Orkney, Scotland

Highland Park, Orkney, Scotland

After so many distillery visits surely I have seen everything there is to be seen on a distillery tour?  Certainly that is the question I get from the nervous tour guide when they innocently ask the group at the start who has toured a distillery before and I put my hand up and mention I may have been to about 40 or so in last 3 or 4 years.  And yet, as is so often the case, this tour of the iconic Highland Park distillery did include a few things I had not seen before.  Like many of the better tours they start with well-produced video and then take you out into the site. Highland Park famously floor malts about 20% of its barley requirements and while I have seen distilleries with the relatively rare floor malting operations  before (inc. Kilchomen and Bowmore) the day I toured Highland Park they also had a peat fire burning which I had not seen on previous tours.   

I had signed up for the rather expensive ($100+ depending on exchange rate) Magnus Eunson tour, named after the distilleries founder.  The tour itself was actually the same as the regular tour, the difference was the very extensive tasting that followed.  With a knowledgeable guide I was led through a tasting of the entire range from new make spirit and the standard expression 12 year old through to the sublime 40 year old I have previously reviewed and raved about.   A fantastic experience and I was able (via the wonders of smart phone technology) to compare my previous Highland Park tasting notes with the experience of tasting while sitting in the distillery and while doing that something  occurred to me.  I was consistently missing the salty, fresh sea notes I often found in Highland Park.  The guide suggested that because I had been in Orkney for a few days (I had actually visited the oil terminal on Flotta by boat the day before) my nose had become accustomed to the local climate and salty sea air so was not able to pick it out anymore.  Interesting theory, however the fact I had also had a cold for a week or so before the trip may also have been a factor.

A classic distillery and a classic day with a strong focus on the unique features of Highland Park, primarily the use of sherry seasoned wood (both American and European oak) and the unique Orkney peat.  It was worth every penny as it is very unlikely I will ever make it back to Orkney and because I did not want to have any regrets about not taking full advantage of the opportunity, I decided, to use an American sporting expression, to "leave it all on the field" and pay for the full experience.  I left very happy (and mildly intoxicated; I walked back to Kirkwall Hotel) with a bottle of St Magnus Second Edition (which I then gave to my father for his birthday) and a few mini bottles of the more difficult to find expressions including the 16 year old and 25 year old, a nice blue tie and a book.  Can you tell I had been drinking?

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