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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Ranger Creek, Texas, USA

Even though this was my 44th distillery visit, it was the first time I visited a brewery and distillery, or as they style it... a brewstillery.  This tour actually began with the question “Would you like a beer?” That makes for a really good start. However let’s go back a few steps. I got in touch with one of the founders, Mark, after I posted a review of their bourbon (http://www.somanywhiskies.com/reviews/item/364-ranger-creek-36-texas-bourbon ) and asked about tours. As I said some nice things in my review he kindly offered to show me around if I was ever in San Antonio and we got to meet for the first time at World of Whiskies in Austin a few weeks later. Soon afterwards I confirmed a date in December 2012, and even though it was a busy weekend for them, he was good enough to spare my wife and I an hour, pour us an excellent beer and take us around their operation. This is not your Scottish distillery tucked away in the hills, or located by the shores of Loch Indaal oozing “shortbread box” charm. Nope, Ranger Creek is based in an industrial park off a freeway a few miles from downtown San Antonio. However, despite the “terroir”, they happen to make good stuff. Forget that, they make great stuff. What these guys do proves to me, what I have long suspected, you don’t need all that ambience, history and lame stories about water sources etc. It appears to me you just need passionate people who care about making really good product (and these guys do, to the extent they run the place part time while maintaining full time jobs), some nice brewing and distilling kit (again check the box for Ranger Creek) and a little imagination… their malt cold smoking “room” is a great example, as are the rickhouses made from 40ft shipping containers. The “tour” ended not with whisky samples (archaic Texas licensing laws.... please take a bow) but with the gift of a couple of beers. We also bought some Ranger Creek t-shirts so I could type the words “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” without any irony. I can’t wait to see what else they come up and I am really looking to future batches of bourbon as well as the single malt and rye they have maturing.

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Stitzel-Weller, Kentucky, USA

Stitzel-Weller, Kentucky, USA

There is no tour here and in fact the distillery has been closed since 1992, although the warehouses and office are still used by one of Diageo’s brands, Bulleit, and it seems it may re-open in some fashion (at least as a vistor center if not a working distillery) in the future.  Located near the Louisville airport I paid a visit (to be precise I stood outside and took photos) because if you like bourbon the chances are you like the Van Winkle line (now made at Buffalo Trace) and this is their spiritual home.  Opened after prohibition in 1935 and acquired by Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle (you couldn't make that name up if you tried) it produced wheated bourbons like Old Fitzgerald, that name is painted on the brick chimney still standing in the grounds of the S-W distillery and which is now made by Heaven Hill, and the W L Weller line after which the distillery is named, and is also now made at Buffalo Trace.  I had the pleasure to meet Preston Van Winkle at WhiskyLive London in 2010 and wheated bourbon, specifically Maker's Mark (which uses same recipe as Julian Pappy Van Winkle used) was my entry into bourbon, just as Ardbeg Blasda was my entry into Islay whisky.  So this was somewhere I needed to see, my bourbon ground zero if you like, and a fitting last stop as I completed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in May 2012.  Perhaps I will be able to come back soon and step inside when it opens as the Diageo or Bulliet Bourbon Center.  The good news is of course it was free to stand outside and there was no bottling hall visit to endure! 

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