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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Strathisla, Keith, Scotland

This is the malt at the heart of the Chivas Regal blends and much of the tour is focused on that.  Unsually for a whisky tour they gave us a dram of Chivas 12 year old at the beginning while we waited for the tour to start (but as they charged over $10 to take this tour and they have no cafe or other facilities it seemed like the least they could do).  They also have some interesting old Chivas memorabelia on display as well.  ( The original Chivas grocery store in Aberdeen is now a Chinese restaurant called Sam's on King Street and by all accounts if you ask them they will take you into the back to look at some of the old Chivas Bros fixtures and fittings).  The site is attractive and photogenic with a nice waterwheel feature and next door to Strathisla is the old Glen Keith distillery which they told us will re-open in 2 years time (see my blog "Return of the Dinosaurs?").  I made a note on the tour that apparently just one man runs the whole distillery such is the level of automation now, which might make at least 15 men in Tain quite nervous.  We finished the tour with samples of Chivas blend 18 year old and Strathilsa 12 year old single malt.  I find the Strahisla single malt, like the distillery itself, doesn't really stand out (maybe why it is used in blends) although I always get some banana notes when I taste it.  I sometimes get those same notes in the Chivas Regal blends although part of me wonders if that is just power of suggestion, would I taste banana if I didn't know Strathisla was in the blend? 

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Jim Beam, Kentucky, USA

Jim Beam, Kentucky, USA My first major US distillery and the first stop I made on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in May 2012.  To call this a distillery visit is a bit misleading... as the official name is the Jim Beam Heritage Tour and you don't get to see any of the actual working distillery (except for one warehouse).  Instead the focus is on the Beam family distilling history (which begins with Jacob Beam.... not Jim) and and also learn about their product range.  This is not the artisanal style of distillery I have been used to seeing in Scotland, this is a major whisky factory wth over 475 employees (thats about 450 more men than you find in Tain and 472 more than Benromach).  I learned that 95% of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky and 50% of that is made by Jim Beam.   Their range is a bit of a mixed bag for me... I like Jim Beam Black (but not the standard White label), I like Booker's but not Baker's and I love Knob Creek but don't like Basil Hayden.  All of these Beam brands are made at this facility and interestingly all made with the usual suspects of corn, rye and malted barley... not a wheated bourbon in the range.  Highlight of tour was probably learning our guide was 8th generation Beam family and seeing the pride and passion in her for bourbon (and she was cute which also helped).  The tour was free and included a short video and samples of Jim Beam Black and Baker's small batch bourbon (and a sample of choclate to try with the Baker's... a recurring theme on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail).  The facility is currently undergoing an upgrade with a new store and a cafe and will in the future the tour will include the actual distillery.... so I will have to come back and revisit when that is complete and hopefully get the same guide.
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