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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Old Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills, Northern Ireland

The last distillery in my 2011 grand slam of the British distilleries (my self titled plan to visit a distllery in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2011), I managed to get to Bushmills just a couple of weeks before we returned to the USA in July 2011.  I was a bit underwhelmed by this one.  I realize I am a bit of whiskey fanatic and Bushmills obviously cater to the tourist, but even so I felt like they could try a little harder considering they charged over $10 and the still house was closed and off limits "due to maintenance".  Lots of attention, as you might expect, on their dubious claims surrounding the 1608 distilling licences granted by James I and a stroll around the facilities before some samples in their rather nice bar and shop.  I went for the Black Bush and I have to say I liked it.  The highight for me was actually the night before, sitting in the excellent restaurant of the Old Bushmills Inn, drinking a glass of Bushmills 16 year old single malt after a walk that afternoon around The Giant's Causeway. A great way to celebrate my 2011 grand slam.

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Penderyn, Wales

Penderyn, Wales Interestingly this welsh whisky, or wysgi in welsh, would barely scrape under the bar as a "whisky" in Scotland.  It certainly wouldn't be considered single malt for several reasons I will discuss later.  I should also disclose some bias for Wales at this point, as I graduated from the University of Wales and lived in Cardiff for four years.

The  Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) rules and regulations rightly protect the process and traditions of the industry, but it doesn't means that other methods and technology can't product a whisky (and this is whisky) of exceptional taste and quality.  In fact find it slightly ironic that the industry that was in many ways born from developing the new ideas for manufacturing whisky (the Coffey still, grain whisky and blended whisky) is so entrenched in its thinking today about what defines Scotch whisky, and inversely the sticking to old ways and traditions was one contributing factors of several that nearly completely killed the Irish industry.  Remember that those that don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

That said Welsh whisky is not about to take over the world, but this is very good stuff.  The distillery in the village of Penderyn, near Brecon is modern and compact.  One reason for this compactness is that the wash is made in Cardiff at the Brain's Brewery and brought to the distillery in tanker trucks.  That in itself would exclude Penderyn from the ranks of "single malt" if it were located in Scotland.  The tour is also compact, in fact it consists of two rooms.  One room houses a history of welsh distilling and the more recent history of the distillery.  The second room is basically the tasting room and has a glass wall.  Behind the wall is the unique still Penderyn use to distill the Brain's wash into an 86 - 92% ABV spirit and a small bottling line.  

The Penderyn still is a combination of a pot still and a column still and this would again probably prevent this being considered single malt whisky, were it in Scotland, as it is not a traditional pot still.  The spirit is diluted with water drawn from a well below the distillery and put into bourbon casks, matured offsite, and then finished in Madeira casks before being bottled on site.  They also do a peated version of Penderyn which is matured in scotch casks that have previously held peated scotch and a sherry cask finished version.

After the tour they pour samples from their range of whiskies and also they offer a cream blend called Merlyn.  We also got to smell and taste the new make spirit.  There is the ubiquitous whisky shop as well.  This is an interesting distillery that makes a great product, and is well worth a visit.

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