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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Kentucky, USA

My third stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was not the actual distillery tour, but a visitor's center in the midst of their warehouses dedicated to the numerous brands produced at Heaven Hill.  At least I didn't have to stand in a noisy bottling plant.  Our knowledgable guide mentioned Heaven Hill currently produces 83 different brands including the Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and Old Fitzgerald lines.  Most of these are made from the standard corn / rye / malt recipes but they did make  5 wheated bourbons which I believe would be the Old Fitzgerald whiskies. The tour I chose was brief and focussed on the history of bourbon (as you might expect for a heritage center) rather than the specifc brands of Heaven Hill (unlike Beam and Maker's) and again was free and concluded with a tasting of Evan Williams Single Barrel.... which I really liked.  The guide tried to give a mini lesson in tasting bourbon, adding water or ice etc but to be honest was a little hampered by use of plastic cups and very small pours.  Interestingly the Beam family made another appearance... Jim's Beam's brother, Earl Beam, was hired by Heaven Hill as Master Distiller and Craig Beam is the current Master Distiller.  That made it 3 distilleries out of 3 with a Beam connection.

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Bowmore, Islay, Scotland

Bowmore, Islay, Scotland

Probably my favorite distillery tour and experience to date. I visited in July 2010 and after a couple of days touring Islay’s distilleries Tammy and Eleanor had seen enough and let me go alone, with a plan to meet in the tasting room at end of the tour. It turned out it was the last tour of the day and I was the only person who signed up, so it felt like I had the entire place to myself and my guide was happy to indulge every question I had, and without larger group I could indulge myself in the minutia of the place. Effectively it was a private tour of Bowmore, and the notes I took that day show that being alone had liberated my inner “whisky anorak” who normally stays safely hidden in the group tours. Not only was the tour perfect, but the subsequent tasting in a great room overlooking the Loch was well organized, fun, informative and innovative (they gave food samples like coconut, chocolate and raisins to help match tastes in the whisky). We tried a range of whiskies from their parent company, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and of course Bowmore. Perhaps with it being the last tour of the day they were also generous with pours and allowed us to retry samples while giving our daughter sweets and juice to keep her happy as well. Personally I fell in love with the rich, highly sherried Bowmore Darkest 15 year old that afternoon, and while it has never tasted quite as good as it did that perfect day in the distillery, it is still a 4 star whisky for me and my “go to” Bowmore.

If you go to Islay and only do one tour (which would not be a great idea in itself, stay and do more) I would say do this one and I can only hope you have same great experience I did.

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