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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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St George's Distillery, Norfolk, England

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 café 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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