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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Woodford Reserve, Kentucky, USA

A distillery was opened on this site by Elijah Pepper in 1812 and according to legend (or the marketing department) is the site where Dr Crow "perfected" bourbon.  Now owned by Brown Forman (of Jack Daniel's fame) you could literally pick up this distillery and drop into Speyside and it would not look out of place, with it's picturesque setting, stone stillhouse and copper pots stills from Forsythe's of Rothes.  This was exactly what I had imagined a bourbon distillery to be.  They had picked up a  few other ideas from Scotland as well, such as charging $7 for a tour, the first and only time I was charged on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and having a convenient lunch / coffee shop in the visitors center.  The tour was well organized with a short video and then a bus ride from the plush visitor center down to the actual distillery and a guide equiped with a mini PA system so all could hear him.  The tour focussed on the components that make up the distinctive sweet taste of Woodford Reserve, the grains, the yeast (one of many distileries that mentioned criticality of yeast) the stills and distillation process (Woodford Reserve uniquely triple distills their bourbon), the casks and of course the maturation.  Seeing the still house wtih three pot stills was definately unique on the KBT.  Another highlight was seeing the fermentation process because the day we toured they were actually making an unusual mash which will be part of a future Masters Collection and included chocolate roasted rye so it was much darker than usual yellow corn mashes I saw on the tours.  Then the mandatory bottling hall part of tour to watch Collingwood Canadian Whiskey being bottled... (something to do with similar bottle shape and Borwn Forman plant capacity).  After the highlight of watching and hearing some Canadian whiskey being bottled the tour concluded back in vistor center with a shot glass of Woodford Reserve (you get to keep the plastic shot glass!) and a chocolate!  All in all a very good tour and along with Maker's Mark was one of the highlights.

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Ranger Creek, Texas, USA

Ranger Creek, Texas, USA

Even though this was my 44th distillery visit, it was the first time I visited a brewery and distillery, or as they style it... a brewstillery.  This tour actually began with the question “Would you like a beer?” That makes for a really good start. However let’s go back a few steps. I got in touch with one of the founders, Mark, after I posted a review of their bourbon (http://www.somanywhiskies.com/reviews/item/364-ranger-creek-36-texas-bourbon ) and asked about tours. As I said some nice things in my review he kindly offered to show me around if I was ever in San Antonio and we got to meet for the first time at World of Whiskies in Austin a few weeks later. Soon afterwards I confirmed a date in December 2012, and even though it was a busy weekend for them, he was good enough to spare my wife and I an hour, pour us an excellent beer and take us around their operation. This is not your Scottish distillery tucked away in the hills, or located by the shores of Loch Indaal oozing “shortbread box” charm. Nope, Ranger Creek is based in an industrial park off a freeway a few miles from downtown San Antonio. However, despite the “terroir”, they happen to make good stuff. Forget that, they make great stuff. What these guys do proves to me, what I have long suspected, you don’t need all that ambience, history and lame stories about water sources etc. It appears to me you just need passionate people who care about making really good product (and these guys do, to the extent they run the place part time while maintaining full time jobs), some nice brewing and distilling kit (again check the box for Ranger Creek) and a little imagination… their malt cold smoking “room” is a great example, as are the rickhouses made from 40ft shipping containers. The “tour” ended not with whisky samples (archaic Texas licensing laws.... please take a bow) but with the gift of a couple of beers. We also bought some Ranger Creek t-shirts so I could type the words “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” without any irony. I can’t wait to see what else they come up and I am really looking to future batches of bourbon as well as the single malt and rye they have maturing.

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