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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Woodford Reserve, Kentucky, USA

A distillery was opened on this site by Elijah Pepper in 1812 and according to legend (or the marketing department) is the site where Dr Crow "perfected" bourbon.  Now owned by Brown Forman (of Jack Daniel's fame) you could literally pick up this distillery and drop into Speyside and it would not look out of place, with it's picturesque setting, stone stillhouse and copper pots stills from Forsythe's of Rothes.  This was exactly what I had imagined a bourbon distillery to be.  They had picked up a  few other ideas from Scotland as well, such as charging $7 for a tour, the first and only time I was charged on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and having a convenient lunch / coffee shop in the visitors center.  The tour was well organized with a short video and then a bus ride from the plush visitor center down to the actual distillery and a guide equiped with a mini PA system so all could hear him.  The tour focussed on the components that make up the distinctive sweet taste of Woodford Reserve, the grains, the yeast (one of many distileries that mentioned criticality of yeast) the stills and distillation process (Woodford Reserve uniquely triple distills their bourbon), the casks and of course the maturation.  Seeing the still house wtih three pot stills was definately unique on the KBT.  Another highlight was seeing the fermentation process because the day we toured they were actually making an unusual mash which will be part of a future Masters Collection and included chocolate roasted rye so it was much darker than usual yellow corn mashes I saw on the tours.  Then the mandatory bottling hall part of tour to watch Collingwood Canadian Whiskey being bottled... (something to do with similar bottle shape and Borwn Forman plant capacity).  After the highlight of watching and hearing some Canadian whiskey being bottled the tour concluded back in vistor center with a shot glass of Woodford Reserve (you get to keep the plastic shot glass!) and a chocolate!  All in all a very good tour and along with Maker's Mark was one of the highlights.

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The Jack Daniel Distillery, Tennessee, USA

The Jack Daniel Distillery, Tennessee, USA

My birthday treat in 2013 was two distilleries in one day. This was number two, with George Dickel being number one. I did not expect to learn a lot on this tour and Tennessee whiskey has by and large passed me by, but I felt that any self respecting “distillophile” has to see the home of the world's biggest selling whiskey at least once. The basic free tour I took (there is a $10 tasting tour as well) was, as you might expect, slick and well done. It starts with a video, a tour group photo (40+ distillery tours and this was a first for me!) and then a bus ride to the area where they burn the sugar maple ricks for their charcoal and then a walk back to visitors center taking in the cave springs, Jack’s old office, the production areas, including a bottling hall, and finally a warehouse. Well structured and informative this was good way to spend an hour. The tour was focused on Jack Daniel and skipped quite quickly through the technical side of things, but no real surprise there; the tour group was made of people who will probably only see one distillery in their lifetime and the themes and stories played well to the audience. We got to see the safe that Jack kicked in fit of frustration one morning and the subsequent broken toe led to gangrene, infection, less legs than he started life with and eventually death. The tour guide even made the “happy cows around here” joke I hear in about 1 in 3 distilleries. The thing that of course separates JD and Tennessee whiskey from bourbon is the charcoal mellowing (or Lincoln County process) and we spent some time on the tour’s “money shot” ie the charcoaling mellowing room. At end of tour you do get a chance to buy “commemorative bottles that happen to contain whiskey” as Lynchburg is famously a dry county and you can't buy liquor… and I walked away with two expressions I have never seen anywhere else, the Master Distiller and an unaged Tennessee Rye. One thing I had never realized was that the man’s name (and in fact the distillery name) is Jack Daniel. No “s”.   As in The Jack Daniel Distillery. I also did not know that is oldest registered distillery in USA, being registered in 1866 two years before distilling was formally legalized and taxed in 1868.  Do they have a gift shop?  No.  Really they don't have a gift shop at the distillery.  What they have is the town of Lynchburg a short walk away that can best be described as a Jack Daniel's Gift Town.  And if you show your tour ticket when you buy anything over $10 in any of the shops in town... you get a JD shot glass.

I also learned some more about the “Green Label” Old No 7 expression on the tour, which I occasionally see in stores but does not appear in any marketing or websites. Apparently it is a product that is “only available in certain states in USA” and is taken from barrels at the bottom of their barrel houses and has the least interaction with wood due to relatively less temperature fluctuations. The traditional “Black Label” and Gentleman Jack are taken from the middle levels and the Single Barrel comes only from barrels stored at the top level of the barrel house. A quick bout of mental arithmetic suggests this is at best an “approximation” as the relative volumes of the Black label in the market compared to Green Label and Single Barrel suggest that some barrels from bottom and top have to make their way into the blend as well.

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