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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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Bowmore, Islay, Scotland

Bowmore, Islay, Scotland

Probably my favorite distillery tour and experience to date. I visited in July 2010 and after a couple of days touring Islay’s distilleries Tammy and Eleanor had seen enough and let me go alone, with a plan to meet in the tasting room at end of the tour. It turned out it was the last tour of the day and I was the only person who signed up, so it felt like I had the entire place to myself and my guide was happy to indulge every question I had, and without larger group I could indulge myself in the minutia of the place. Effectively it was a private tour of Bowmore, and the notes I took that day show that being alone had liberated my inner “whisky anorak” who normally stays safely hidden in the group tours. Not only was the tour perfect, but the subsequent tasting in a great room overlooking the Loch was well organized, fun, informative and innovative (they gave food samples like coconut, chocolate and raisins to help match tastes in the whisky). We tried a range of whiskies from their parent company, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and of course Bowmore. Perhaps with it being the last tour of the day they were also generous with pours and allowed us to retry samples while giving our daughter sweets and juice to keep her happy as well. Personally I fell in love with the rich, highly sherried Bowmore Darkest 15 year old that afternoon, and while it has never tasted quite as good as it did that perfect day in the distillery, it is still a 4 star whisky for me and my “go to” Bowmore.

If you go to Islay and only do one tour (which would not be a great idea in itself, stay and do more) I would say do this one and I can only hope you have same great experience I did.

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