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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

St George's Distillery, Norfolk, England

English whisky sounds like an oxymoron. How can whisky be English? Well apparently there is no reason why not, it just can't be scotch whisky, and here we go with some more Scotch and Irish whisky industry myth busting.  Apparently a good distillery doesn't require a special, preferably magical, spring of gentle soft water, a hundred years of tradition and a master distiller who has worked on the site since he was 6 years old and was born in a cottage in the distillery grounds.   Apparently you can just build a distillery and make good whisky.  Who knew (other than the folks at Penderyn)?  You can also build a nice gift shop and a small cafĂ© to go with it and attract a healthy trade in tourists.

A different spin on the distillery tour, in that rather than a standard  tour guide (usual attire at the large Scottish tours include tartan skirt, blue jumper, a branded rain jacket or fleece and name tag) after a short video (I have seen better) the distiller comes and talks to you about the distillery and the process and then leads you around the small site.  I really enjoyed this interaction with the person who actually makes the whisky.  This particular distiller had been working in the brewing industry prior to coming to St Georges just a few years previously.  He was not born in a cottage on the site.  He also discussed St Georges water source, a hard water at 360 ppm Calcium, which is very different to the soft water espoused in Scotland.  Even Glenmorangie who famously use "hard water" in Scotland only has 160 ppm Calcium.  The process, other than aforementioned water hardness, is exactly the same as the major distilleries in Scotland with pot still double distillation at its core (unlike Penderyn) and as far as I could tell it would meet all criteria for being single malt scotch whisky if the whole operation was transplanted north of the border.  The other difference is they claim due to warmer climate in Norfolk, the whisky matures quicker so even the young expressions were comparable to the 10 to 12 years single malts from Scotland.

At the end of tour we tasted both the peated and non-peated expressions and I bought a bottle of Chapter 9, the peated one, and if you want you can read my review (3 out of 4stars).  I liked them both.  English whisky can be good.   I also a bought a coffee mug with the words "I would be rather be drinking English whisky" but that has since gone missing from my office!

I later realised that I had now visited a distillery in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (Jameson) and only a trip to Bushmills in Northern Ireland would be required to complete a distillery visit in every country in the British Isles.

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Barton 1792, Kentucky, USA

My fourth stop of the day (but this distillery, like Buffalo Trace, is owned by Sazerac and is not on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail) and if the Jim Beam experience lowered my expectations regarding the asthetic qualities of bourbon distilleries, then Barton 1792 sent them crashing through the floor.  This was a whiskey factory and industrial site, pretty it aint.  Still I really like the 1792 Ridgemont Reserve so this is still worth seeing as it goes some considerable way to dispel the Scottish distllery myths about the location, water and overall "terroir" magically contributing to the wonderful spirit.  1792 is a great product... and it is made in slightly run down, red brick factory in the middle of Bardstown.  I also learned that the 1792 date is a bit misleading, it has nothing to do with the distillery, but was chosen because it was the year that Kentucky became a commonwealth of the United States (well played Sazerac Marketing Department).  My tour was a little surreal, they are not in production now so our first stop was the obligatory bottling hall where we got to see (and hear) Taaka vodka filling.  Vodka on a bourbon tour?  Our guide seemed to have carte blanche to wander the site and so we did, rather aimlessly, looking at warehouses full of Magaritaville mixers and Cluny blended scotch as well as loaders, boiler houses and weigh bridges with the same level of enthusiasm as the stills or warehouses themselves.  This was a tour that desperately needed some structure and editing.... even I was bored by the end.  Simply put they need a story... what are they trying to tell the visitor?  Jim Beam talked about their family heritage, Maker's focussed on their brands, Heaven Hill told the overall bourbon story.  Sazaerac... come up with a story and then build a tour.  The highlight was without doubt the samples at the end, one I had never even seen before but will definately look for, Very Old Barton, and of course the excellent, high rye content, 1792. Just before I left I was, of course, offered a chocolate and I realized I had just been to my first Kentucky distillery that DIDN"T have a Beam connection.
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