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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

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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Macallan, Speyside, Scotland

Macallan, Speyside, Scotland The Macallan is the distillery in Craigellachie where many of the myths espoused by other distilleries come to die.   It is a place of contrast and contradiction and I loved it. 

The distillery visitor's center is small and it is a place for whisky lovers to pay homage, not for the tourists.  No café or other family facilities, people come here to see the whisky being made and to buy from a very wide range of products available including many that cannot be found anywhere else in the UK.  The tour is very informative and goes into great depth into some of the areas of whisky production that others skirt over, particularly barley varietals (Macallan favours the less popular Golden Promise) and wood.  In fact they have an entire wood exhibit.  I don't mean the exhibit was made of wood, but a detailed exhibit on the types of wood used in their range and even goes in the detailed biochemistry of oak to explain the impact on the taste and aromas of their whisky. 

But what strikes you walking around the site is the industrial nature of the site.  This is not your quaint, Victorian, artisan, highland distillery, this is first and foremost a whisky factory with huge modern warehouses looming over you on the hill behind the distillery like the dark satanic mills of the famous hymn Jerusalem.  They use different mash tuns, different styles of wash backs (some steel, some wooden) and they even have two different still houses on the site with some still direct heated while others are steam heated.  All the sorts of variations in process that many other distilleries claim to reject and say would greatly affect the nature of final spirit seem less important to Macallan who produce a single malt, The Macallan 18 year old, sometimes called the Rolls Royce of Whisky (admittedly usually by them), and many consider one of the best single malts in the world.

Interestingly, despite being now reported as the second largest global brand of single malt whisky in sales, behind the Glenfiddich and ahead of Glenlivet, the success and globalization of brand Macallan does not seem to generate the angst and backlash Glenfiddich occasionally does within certain parts of the whisky community.  Discuss.

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