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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Loch Ewe, Aultbea, Scotland

Don't bother looking for this one in your standard guidebooks or whisky books.  It won't be there.   This is quite literally a distillery built in a garage at the back of a hotel.  The owner of the Drumchork Lodge Hotel exploited a loophole in UK law (now closed) which requires stills be 1800L or more to get approval for 120 L still and makes his own spirit.  He even allows you to come to his garage and make your own spirit (remember it is only called whisky if it stays in oak cask for 3 years).  You can read more on his website (http://www.lochewedistillery.co.uk) but I can tell you it was simply amazing to see everything done on this small scale by hand, including lighting the gas under the alembic styles stills to fermenting the wash in a wheelie bin (yes a wheelie bin) and maturation in small wooden casks .  The small size accelerates maturation to where it is quite drinkable in a matter of weeks – they usually bottle at around 6 weeks.  What Loch Ewe produces is probably the closest thing to traditional Uisge Beatha you can buy today (including the new make spirits that some distilleries sell).  The hotel by the way is a great, remote spot in Wester Ross and as you might expect the bar is very well stocked with Loch Ewe and lots of other whiskies.  Well worth the trip and one day I will be going back to make my own batch of whisky in a wheelie bin.

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George Washington's Distillery, Virginia, USA

George Washington's Distillery, Virginia, USA

I can't say how excited I was when I realised I had a business meeting less than 30 minutes from this distillery in Arlington.  This is really more of a museum than a working distillery, but twice a year (March and November) the months immediately before and after the distillery is open for tours, they fire up the only LEGAL open fire stills in the United States and make whiskey to George Washington's original recipe.  The whiskey is extremely hard to get hold of and only available at the the distillery shop or the Mount Vernon (George's plantation a few miles away).  At the time of my visit they had sold out and I was unable to try it.  The tour costs a very reasonable $5 and consists of two major attractions... a working water mill (not original but an authentic recreation) which was used to grind the various grains on the Mount Vernon estate and a recreation of the original distillery based on an archeological dig.  The tour guides explain the history of the mill and George's decision to enter the distilling business very late in life, the disillery was built in 1797 and GW died in 1799, and how it was briefly the largest distillery operating in the USA.  More of an historical tour (understandably) than a whisky tour it was however interesting to see everything used in whisky making process on a relatively small scale and how it would all done by hand. 

Only one complaint.... no whiskey.  I feel that considering the relatively small volumes it can produce (open fire stills and whisky production is obviously limited to the times that there are no tourist wandering around) surely keeping it to pour at end of tours as a sample would be a much more democratic way to treat the limited production rather than seeing be snapped up by "collectors" and hoarded.  Personally I think it is what George would have wanted.  Add a few bucks added to the tour price for those who want a sample and I bet you would still sell for same price (or close enough anyway) per bottle.

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