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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

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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Stillwaters Distillery, Ontario, Canada

Stillwaters Distillery, Ontario, Canada

When I planned my recent business trip to Canada I had my heart set on visiting my first Canadian whiskey distillery. I had expected / thought / hoped it would be Forty Creek as that is the whiskey that completely and forever changed my opinion about the possibilities of Canadian whisky. Sadly, with my schedule and limited visiting times at the distillery during the fall and winter I had to rethink. Thanks to Johanne McGinnes (aka the Whiskylassie) I was introduced to Barry (and Barry) of Stillwaters and found my way to their industrial unit in the suburbs of Toronto.

While not a formal distillery visit / tour, Barry (but not Barry, he was busy) was kind enough to spend some time with me and show me around the place. Like most craft distilleries this part did not take long. We discussed (distilled perhaps?) their journey via vodka, independent Scotch bottlings, gin, single malt, brandy and finally (and perhaps saving the best until last) the bottling of their 100% rye expression which was ongoing when I arrived.

I had tried the Stalk and Barrel Cask Strength single malt on a Twitter Tasting (also organized by Johanne) and while I liked it there was nothing about it that stood out for me, other than its youth. However I had heard “good things” about their rye and as a “rye guy” I was happy try it. Glad I did. I did not take notes but recall vividly that the nose was rich and fruity and the taste had all the spice, fruit and chocolate notes I have come to love in ryes.   Well balanced with a herbal, minty finish I was impressed. Will definitely pick up a bottle if it ever makes to Texas. I also re-tried their single malt and at 46% ABV and found it better balanced than the cask strength (for my palate) and would happily have drunk more but for the plane home I had to catch.

So with a Canadian notch freshly carved into my distillery bedpost I now have to find a way to get to Japan so I can say I have been to the “Big 5” of whisky producing countries; Scotland, USA, Ireland, Canada and Japan.

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