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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Barton 1792, Kentucky, USA

My fourth stop of the day (but this distillery, like Buffalo Trace, is owned by Sazerac and is not on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail) and if the Jim Beam experience lowered my expectations regarding the asthetic qualities of bourbon distilleries, then Barton 1792 sent them crashing through the floor.  This was a whiskey factory and industrial site, pretty it aint.  Still I really like the 1792 Ridgemont Reserve so this is still worth seeing as it goes some considerable way to dispel the Scottish distllery myths about the location, water and overall "terroir" magically contributing to the wonderful spirit.  1792 is a great product... and it is made in slightly run down, red brick factory in the middle of Bardstown.  I also learned that the 1792 date is a bit misleading, it has nothing to do with the distillery, but was chosen because it was the year that Kentucky became a commonwealth of the United States (well played Sazerac Marketing Department).  My tour was a little surreal, they are not in production now so our first stop was the obligatory bottling hall where we got to see (and hear) Taaka vodka filling.  Vodka on a bourbon tour?  Our guide seemed to have carte blanche to wander the site and so we did, rather aimlessly, looking at warehouses full of Magaritaville mixers and Cluny blended scotch as well as loaders, boiler houses and weigh bridges with the same level of enthusiasm as the stills or warehouses themselves.  This was a tour that desperately needed some structure and editing.... even I was bored by the end.  Simply put they need a story... what are they trying to tell the visitor?  Jim Beam talked about their family heritage, Maker's focussed on their brands, Heaven Hill told the overall bourbon story.  Sazaerac... come up with a story and then build a tour.  The highlight was without doubt the samples at the end, one I had never even seen before but will definately look for, Very Old Barton, and of course the excellent, high rye content, 1792. Just before I left I was, of course, offered a chocolate and I realized I had just been to my first Kentucky distillery that DIDN"T have a Beam connection.

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Jim Beam, Kentucky, USA

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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