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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

George Dickel, Tennessee, USA

I was lucky to spend my birthday in 2013 visiting the two major distilleries in Tennessee and this was the first one. The thing that immediately struck me about George Dickel was the fantastic setting… perhaps only rivaled by Woodford Reserve for major US distilleries I have seen. The site is also the only distillery that is also a US Post Office… so another first for me and another useless piece of trivia. This site was actually established in 1958 long after the original Mr Dickel and his distillery had perished but all the recipes and techniques had been preserved and are still used today. The original site was a short way up the road and we snapped a picture of the entrance as we drove away later on. The tour I took was free (they offer a tasting tour as well but that was later in the day) and started with a short eight minute DVD in the very nice visitor’s center. Being the “other distillery” in Tennessee has clearly influenced their tour and messaging. When describing their distillery the words “unique in Tennessee” were used a lot which was interesting and basically shorthand for “not like Jack Daniel’s” and included the ‘facts’ that they burned all their charcoal on site, that they double distilled their spirit (which may not be technically accurate as I asked when I toured JD and they said they did double distill) and they chill the whisky before charcoal mellowing. This is said to be because Mr. Dickel considered the whisky to taste better in the winter than the summer. You may also note I spell it as whisky ie no “e”.  This again is a “unique in Tennessee” tradition said to be started by Mr. Dickel who declared (a southern gent always declares in my mind) that his whisky was as good as the finest scotch and so adopted their spelling. I bought two bottles at the distillery shop afterwards, the No 12 and the Barrel Reserve. I also learned that the different expressions are all the same grain recipe (84% corn, 8% rye and 8% malt), the only difference between No 8, No 12 and Barrel Reserve is aging. No 8 is 5 -7 years old, No 12 is 8 – 10 years old and Barrel Reserve is 12 – 14 years old. The Dickel Rye is actually made in Indiana and contains 95% rye (if you are interested). You are? Good. So was I.

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Ranger Creek, Texas, USA

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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