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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Four Roses, Kentucky, USA

Distillery number two on day two of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (KBT).  A very interesting Spanish Mission style building, with no warehouses (which was a pity because apparently Four Roses unusually only use single storey warehouses) or bottling hall on site and so the tour focussed on the recipes, actual fermentation and distilling of spirit.  Four Roses was one of the first bourbons I ever tried in 2009 (after getting "into whiskey") while living in the UK and liked it, but  as part of the tour we learned that in USA the name had been associated with a very poor blended whiskey and so while it popular overseas, especially Japan where it is the number one bourbon, the Four Roses brand is "rebuilding" as a bourbon in the USA.  It is rather unique (or at least appeared to be) in that they actually make 10 different recipe bourbons using two different mash bills, one with high rye and one with a low rye content, and then use 5 different yeast strains for fermentation.  5 yeast x 2 mashbills = 10 recipes.  This was interesting as my experience in Scotland had been yeast was bit of commodity (packs of Anchor Distiller's Yeast could often be seen around the washbacks in Scottish distilleries) yet in USA, and especially at Four Roses, yeast is treated with same reverance and importance to the final product as the Scots tend to reserve for their water supply.   I have to say the impact of yeast on final taste seems a lot more credible to me that the mythical water source stories ever did.   That is not to say Kentucky distilleries don't talk about their water.... they all do, but they talk about the more generic "limestone filtered water in this part of Kentucky" rather than their specific source or spring.  Anyway the tour finished with three nice samples, the Four Roses Yellow Label (blended with all 10 recipes), the Four Roses Small Batch (made with 4 of the 10 recipes) and the Four Roses Single Barrel which of course can only be one recipe and contains the higher content rye mash bill.   Another free tour and one I truly enjoyed (perhaps in part because there was no bottling hall to endure).  Definately a distillery on the rise and a gift shop that actually sold 5 cl mini bottles, 4 of the previous 5 distilleries (if they sold at all due to licence issues) just sold 70 cl standard bottles at prices, due to local KY taxes, much higher than I can buy the same whiskey in Texas.

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Penderyn, Wales

Penderyn, Wales Interestingly this welsh whisky, or wysgi in welsh, would barely scrape under the bar as a "whisky" in Scotland.  It certainly wouldn't be considered single malt for several reasons I will discuss later.  I should also disclose some bias for Wales at this point, as I graduated from the University of Wales and lived in Cardiff for four years.

The  Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) rules and regulations rightly protect the process and traditions of the industry, but it doesn't means that other methods and technology can't product a whisky (and this is whisky) of exceptional taste and quality.  In fact find it slightly ironic that the industry that was in many ways born from developing the new ideas for manufacturing whisky (the Coffey still, grain whisky and blended whisky) is so entrenched in its thinking today about what defines Scotch whisky, and inversely the sticking to old ways and traditions was one contributing factors of several that nearly completely killed the Irish industry.  Remember that those that don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

That said Welsh whisky is not about to take over the world, but this is very good stuff.  The distillery in the village of Penderyn, near Brecon is modern and compact.  One reason for this compactness is that the wash is made in Cardiff at the Brain's Brewery and brought to the distillery in tanker trucks.  That in itself would exclude Penderyn from the ranks of "single malt" if it were located in Scotland.  The tour is also compact, in fact it consists of two rooms.  One room houses a history of welsh distilling and the more recent history of the distillery.  The second room is basically the tasting room and has a glass wall.  Behind the wall is the unique still Penderyn use to distill the Brain's wash into an 86 - 92% ABV spirit and a small bottling line.  

The Penderyn still is a combination of a pot still and a column still and this would again probably prevent this being considered single malt whisky, were it in Scotland, as it is not a traditional pot still.  The spirit is diluted with water drawn from a well below the distillery and put into bourbon casks, matured offsite, and then finished in Madeira casks before being bottled on site.  They also do a peated version of Penderyn which is matured in scotch casks that have previously held peated scotch and a sherry cask finished version.

After the tour they pour samples from their range of whiskies and also they offer a cream blend called Merlyn.  We also got to smell and taste the new make spirit.  There is the ubiquitous whisky shop as well.  This is an interesting distillery that makes a great product, and is well worth a visit.

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