Aberlour Distillery

Visit #9, September 24, 2016

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In the heart of the Speyside region of Scotland surrounded by burns or streams and the River Spey is the town of Aberlour.  Some people know Aberlour from the famous Walkers shortbread which is made here.  Others make the pilgrimage to fish or enjoy the beautiful countryside.  Our group came to Aberlour for its whisky and what a great place to base oneself to visit the many distilleries in the area.  Of course, when you stay in Aberlour, the highlight has to be the Aberlour Distillery, and it was better than shortbread, a fine treat indeed.

The Aberlour Distillery was built in 1879 by James Fleming, the son of a local farmer.  He wanted to create a distillery that would represent what a true distillery should look like.  Unlike most distilleries, it was powered by a waterwheel until the 1960s using the rushing stream nearby.  He was a community man and did many important things for the town and people as well.  A town hall is now named after him, Fleming Hall.  But he was also very proud of the spirit that came out of the distillery and had a famous family motto of “Let the Deed Show,” telling people that the spirit itself was the true testament of his whisky-making and expertise.

Upon Fleming’s death in 1895, the distillery went through a number of hands and eventually was acquired by Pernod Ricard in 1975 which then joined Chivas Brothers in 2001.  Aberlour is the best selling Scotch in France with over a million bottles a year being sold there.ABERLOUR II

Our Aberlour Experience tour started at 10am and was led by Susan.  After telling us about the history of the Aberlour Distillery and James Fleming, we visited the different areas of production of the spirit, and here are some notes from our tour:

  • Water source comes from springs on the Ben Rinnes mountain and Linn Falls – pH of 7 (neutral)
  • 320 liters of liquid yeast used in each production
  • 1962 – the year malting was out-sourced, Balvenie still malts 10% of the barley for Aberlour – no peat used for their malt
  • 25 tons of malted barley delivered at a time, 12 tons used with each production
  • The Porteus mill is over 60 years old
  • In 1898 the distillery was completely destroyed by an explosion in the mill
  • 48,000 liters of water go through the Mash Tun – mash water temps are 65 degrees / 80 degrees / 95 degrees to produce the wort (about 60,000 liters)
  • 6 washbacks – stainless steel painted white – fermentation takes between 48-50 hours
  • 4 swan-shaped stills – 2 wash and 2 spirit stills (15,000 liters)
  • Heads: 15 minutes / Hearts: 1 hour (5,000 liters) / Tails: 2 hours
  • Ex-Oloroso sherry butts and Ex-Bourbon casks are used
  • 2 large racked warehouses (stacked 8 high) on site (15,000 barrels), some whisky stored off site but within 15 miles of the distillery
  • 7 team managers on site

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The tour was very well done and and we were able to visit all of the areas of production.  The Aberlour Experience tour includes a nice tasting as well.  The following different expressions were tasted:

  • The New Make Spirit – straight off the still (un-aged), 63.5% ABV
  • Bourbon-Cask Matured 15 year old, 53.7% ABV
  • Sherry-Cask Matured 16 year old, 56.5% ABV
  • 10 year old – #1 selling whisky in France, 40% ABV, bourbon and sherry cask fill
  • 16 year old – first-fill bourbon cask, re-fill sherry cask, 40% ABV
  • A’Bunadh – Batch 51, cask strength 60.8% ABV

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Let’s just say that it was good that we were able to walk to the distillery from our hotel up the hill!  It was a great way to end a very nice tour and experience.

The Dowans Hotel
The Dowans Hotel

Charles’ Notes: Aberlour was one of the distilleries that I was most interested in visiting due to its popularity abroad and the fact that we were staying right next to it at The Dowans Hotel for 4 nights.  By the way, The Dowans Hotel made for a perfect base to explore the Speyside region’s offerings and I would stay there again in a heartbeat.  Great food and whisky bar!  The distillery had a smaller feel than what I expected from a Chivas/Pernod Ricard owned maker, but this was a good thing.  It made me think of the late 19th century when the distillery was being run by Mr. Fleming.  It is set on a nice piece of property right along the stream.  It really is a perfect spot for someone to visit, especially if they are staying in town like we did.  I did regret not picking up the bourbon-cask matured 15 year old.  This was my favorite taste.  At home, the A’Bunadh has become one of my favorites as well (Batch 50).  I guess I will just need to make another visit!  Cheers.

Charles and Father In Law
Charles and Father In Law
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New York Distilling Company

Visit #17, February 21, 2016NYD-I

Brooklyn is still hopping.  It was an unseasonably warm Sunday morning in February.  We made our way under the East River for brunch and spirit making.  There were lines at the restaurants as the weather made it too easy for people to eat.  But that didn’t deter us from getting to visit a distillery that was high on our list of NY state distilleries.  New York Distilling Company is located near McCarren Park in North Williamsburg.  It is an early adopter to the distillery scene in New York state along with Tuthilltown Spirits and a couple of others.  At just over 4 years old, it is the third oldest distillery in New York City.

You enter through their bar, the Shanty, a well-decorated spot with a large window overlooking the operations of the distillery.  Here we were welcomed by Selma, a whiskey connoisseur, who provided us a sample of their Ragtime Rye which had recently sold out.  There was time to wait due to a private tour being led by Allen Katz, co-owner of the distillery with his partner Tom Potter.  A sample of rye and a nice cold beer put us in a good frame of mind for our tour which was led by Max, the new bar manager of the Shanty.

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The tour started with an overview of the distillery and its products, gin and rye.  They only do gin and rye since these are true to New York history, with the creation of the cocktail in New York City.  Here are some of the notes from the tour as well as information that was collected through an e-mail exchange with Allen Katz:

  • Mash bill of rye – 72% rye, 16% corn & 12% malted barley
  • Ingredients sourced from the Pederson Farms near the Finger Lakes area of NY state
  • Whiskey production is seasonal – rye harvest is in June and July, and depending on the weather, corn harvest is usually in September
  • Rye is distilled in Brooklyn and at their second distillery in Upstate NY which is a facility that is co-owned with Black Dirt Distillery
  • Mash tank is heated using a steam jacket and is 3,000 liters
  • Two fermentation tanks also 3,000 liters each, fermentation takes between 3-5 days
  • The kettle still is 1,000 liters and comes from Germany, manufactured by Christian Carl
  • Average still run time: heads – minutes; hearts – depends on what they are distilling and can be several hours (gin can be 6-7 hours); tails – whatever is discarded at the end of the hearts run
  • Their goal is to fill 1,000 barrels of rye this year
  • Most of the barrels come from an independent stave company in Missouri and they also source some barrels from the Kelvin Cooperage in Kentucky
  • Barrels are stored both on site and at a second facility in Upstate NY – this gives them capacity to grow
    Still from Stuttgart
    Still from Stuttgart

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Max’s expertise, being the bar manager, was describing each product we tasted at the end of the tour.  Here is what we tasted:

  • Dorothy Parker American Gin – notes of hibiscus and elderberry
  • Perry’s Tot Gin – 57% ABV, the historical proof at which gunpowder could still be fired if soaked in spirit, ‘tot’ refers to the British measurement of alcohol
  • Chief Gowanus – New Netherland Gin – an old recipe from 1809 of American genievre, unaged rye whiskey distilled with juniper and hops, and then run though a third distillation, 3-6 months aged in an oak barrels
  • Rock & Rye – a marriage of young rye whiskey and rock sugar candy, aged 6 months to a yearNYD-XIIINYD-XV

What makes NY Distilling Company different as well is that it is situated right next door to Engine 229, Tower Ladder 146.  So throughout the tour it felt like we were part of the fire station as fire trucks were continually called out for service.  Not to mention the large flag hanging above the rafters, it was unmistakably New York City…   Overall, it was a great tour and experience.  Max and Selma made it for a great afternoon.  And, thanks to Selma for letting us sip some of the Ragtime Rye and the secret still of spirit located behind the bar.

Charles’ Notes: I was very much looking forward to getting to Brooklyn.  Coming down from Upstate NY and staying in Manhattan is always a tidal wave of energy that hits you when exiting Penn Station.  So it was nice to get over to Brooklyn and have a great brunch at the Brazilian restaurant down the street from the distillery, Beco.  I highly recommend this little spot.  Brought me right back to Brazil.  At the distillery, the Shanty was great and the tour was open and informative.  It was also nice to be able to communicate with Allen via e-mail afterwards to ask some questions.  I look forward to watching their growth and tasting more of their spirits in the future.NYD-XVI

Glenmorangie Distillery

Visit #8, September 23, 2015GlenmorangieI

A safari in Scotland is something most people would laugh at.  But in the Highlands of Scotland, about an hour north of Inverness, is a waterhole where a certain type of game can be viewed.  Giraffes.  A whole herd of them.  Tall and colored in copper.  Here at the Glenmorangie Distillery are the famous stills, the giraffe stills, which they say are the tallest in Scotland.  Set in a beautiful location outside of Tain, the Glenmorangie Distillery produces classic single malts using a number of types of casks.  These giraffes produce a lighter, cleaner taste, one that represents the beautiful location and air surrounding the Dornoch Firth and area around Tain.  There were no lions, just thirsty tourists!

The history of the Glenmorangie Distillery goes back to 1843 when the “Morangie” farm distillery was started by the Matheson brothers.  Malt wasn’t produced until 1849 and it wasn’t until 1887 that the Glenmorangie Distillery Company, Ltd. was founded.  The distillery was sold to two partners, Macdonald and Muir, in 1918.  The Macdonald family would run the company until 2004 when it was purchased by LVMH, a French multinational luxury goods conglomerate, headquartered in Paris, France.

Prior to our tour we had the opportunity to go walk to the shore banks at the base of the slope where the distillery overlooks the Dornoch Firth.  It is a beautiful spot and one where the warehouses filled with spirit get to rest and take in the fresh Scottish air and temperatures.  It is a great time to reflect and think about the long history that these distilleries have withstood.  It is also a great time to prepare you for the tour and the process from which their spirit is born.GlenmorangieIVGlenmorangieVGlenmorangieVII

Our tour was led by Michael Fraser who started with a description of their famous icon, the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, a Pictish stone discovered on the East coast of the Tarbat Peninsula in Scotland.  This carving inspired the brand emblem and ties both the old skill and modern day skill of the Scottish people.  Michael led us through the distillery and here are the notes we took:

  • They don’t add their single malts to blends
  • In 1977 they started to use off-site malting, 6 million liters/year of malted barley
  • They only use 2 parts per million peat
  • 10 tons of grist per batch
  • They use hard water (lots of calcium and minerals) taken from the Tarlogie Springs – only Highland Park and The Glenlivet are the other two distilleries using hard water
  • Mash tun is stainless steel and holds a 9.8 tonne mash
  • Mash tun water temps – 63.5 degrees / 84 degrees / boiling point
  • 12 stainless steel washbacks each holding up to 50,000 liters – they changed to stainless steel in the 1960s and they were one of the first
  • Fermentation takes between 52-55 hours
  • 12 stills – the tallest in Scotland called “giraffe” stills, measure 8 meters, 5.14 meters is the neck of the still – still house is called Highland Cathedral
  • 6 wash stills holding 11,400 liters each
  • 6 spirit stills holding 8,200 liters each
  • Pressure relief valves seen on the stills are there for aesthetics, no purpose
  • Stills run 15 minutes of head, 3 hours of hearts and 2 hours of tails
  • 1st to use an ex-bourbon cask in 1949
  • 29 warehouses, Cellar 13 is famous because of its proximity to the water
  • They own some forests in the Ozarks, wood is dried for 2 years and then used in Kentucky for 4 years before being sent to Scotland
  • Barrels are only used twice
    Giraffe Stills
    Giraffe Stills

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    Warehouses
    Warehouses

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Overall, the tour was very informative.  Michael was able to answer our questions or guide us to someone who did.  At the end of the tour we had a tasting of the 10 year old.  It is the 4th most popular dram in the world and the 1st in Scotland.  We also paid to taste a couple of different other editions as well.

Charles’ Notes:  I wasn’t sure what to expect with Glenmorangie but I was very impressed.  The location is stunning and I think this is what stood out most about this visit.  Just to walk down to the shore and see the warehouses overlooking the water…  We were unable to take pictures inside which always is tough for me since I like to have these memories recorded.  But I understand that safety and liability is the number one priority at these highly-visited spots.  The giraffe stills were beautiful and definitely unique.  They had a nice little museum and gift shop.  I would like to come back to Glenmorangie one day and do the Heritage Tour and visit the springs and have lunch at the Glenmorangie House.GlenmorangieII

 

 

The Albany Distilling Company

Visit #16, January 9, 2016

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You can tell a lot about a distillery based on its cat.  In Albany, NY, at The Albany Distilling Company (ADCo), one of the co-distillers is Cooper, the distillery cat.  Cooper has many jobs: security, pest-removal, temperature control, and his main job is guest satisfaction.  One Saturday morning in mid-January we met this character along with one of his owners, John Curtin, for a tour and tasting of this almost five-year old distillery in our backyard.  John had just returned from meetings in NYC and it seems like ADCo is moving fast and into quite a few markets.  Cooper was happy to see him and the other guests that were there to tour this local distillery.

Opened in October of 2012, but incorporated in 2011, The Albany Distilling Company is the oldest distilling company in Albany.  It is a farm distillery.  ADCo’s license requires that at least 75% of the ingredients used in its spirits come from New York state.  Located close to the banks of the Hudson River, ADCo has been growing and expanding in the last couple of years with locations now in Troy and soon in Schenectady.  They also recently hired 4 new people in its full first year of distribution.  They seem to be running out of space!

Our tour was led by John, one of the co-owners of ADCo.  Here are some of the notes we took during the tour regarding the distilling process of their spirits:

  • 750 lbs of grains are milled per batch
  • Mash Tun is 480 gallons or 1800 liters – 2 stages
  • 2 mashes processed per week
  • 2 Fermentation Tanks – each 550 gallons, fermentation takes 2-3 days
  • Pot to Column Still
  • Distilling – 10 liters of heads, 30-40 liters of hearts, 30-40 liters of tails
  • White Oak barrels used, 30 gallon, 53 gallon and 59 gallon
  • Barrels come from Long Island, Kentucky, Missouri and Minnesota
  • In 2015, 91 barrels were produced
  • A little over 70 barrels are stored on site
The mill and Cooper
The mill and Cooper
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John, co-owner, at the Mash Tun
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Fermentation Tanks

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The tour was great.  John definitely has a passion for crafting spirits.  You could tell that they are growing quickly and running out of space.  The new additions will be needed.  After the tour we moved to the tasting bar which is nicely situated next to the production area.  The tasting consisted of the following:

  • New make from the bourbon mash (60% corn, 25% rye & 15% barley)
  • Bourbon – a mix of 8, 14 and 16-month-aged bourbon, 43% ABV
  • Malt – 2 year old (60% barley, 20% oat, 20% wheat), 43% ABV
  • Rye – about 1 year old (75% rye, 25% malted wheat), 43% ABV
  • 10th Pin – apple brandy

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It was a fun tasting.  The visitors were asking questions and were enthused.

Charles’ Notes: It’s great to see a local distillery doing so well in such a short period of time.  They obviously have large ambitions with the Troy and Schenectady plans, but they do have a leg up in the area since they started early.  My favorite spirit that was tried was the Malt.  It was unusual using the oat and I thought this added character and a taste that was unique.  The bourbon and rye need more time to mature but they are on the right path.  It will be fun to watch both the whiskey and the distillery evolve over the next few years.

Matt from Still Trippers with Cooper
Matt from Still Trippers with Cooper

The Dalmore Distillery

Visit #7, September 23, 2015Dalmore VIII

Certain single malt whiskies have a special place in our hearts.  Maybe it was the first one you tried.  Or possibly a special dram for a special occasion.  The Dalmore holds a place in my heart.  It was one of the first whiskies that I tried making me want to buy another bottle!  The trip to The Dalmore distillery just north of Inverness in the Northern Highlands of Scotland was a day I was looking forward to for a long time.  The distillery is set on the banks of the Cromarty Firth overlooking the Black Isle.  It is a beautiful spot and turned out to be worth the wait.

Overlooking Cromarty Firth
Overlooking Cromarty Firth

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Founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson, the distillery was leased and managed by the Sunderland family until 1867.  In 1886 the distillery was sold to new owners, brothers Andrew and Charles Mackenzie, members of the Clan Mackenzie.  Currently the distillery is owned and operated by Whyte and Mackay Ltd which is owned by Emperador, Inc., a Phillipine holding company involved in bottling and distributing distilled spirits.

Our late-morning tour started by learning some of the history of The Dalmore and the story of “The Death of the Stag,” which is also a painting by Benjamin West found in the National Galleries of Scotland.  The story goes that the first chieftain of the Clan Mackenzie saved the life of the Scottish King Alexander III during a hunting expedition in 1283.  In turn, the King gifted the chieftain with the Royal emblem of a 12-pointed stag that was used in the coat of arms.  The 12-pointed Royal Stag emblem is now found on every bottle of The Dalmore spirit, called the caberfeidh.  It is quite the story and a great symbol for The Dalmore.Dalmore IV

Here are some of the notes from our tour:

  • Malted barley goes into 14 twenty-five ton bins
  • Stainless steel Mash Tun holds 42,000 liters of grist
  • Three water infusions of 62 degrees, 75 degrees and 82 degrees in Mash Tun.  Process takes about 7 hours.
  • 8 washbacks hold approximately 49,500 liters of worts.  Washbacks are made of Oregon Pine and are between 50-80 years old.
  • 50 hours of fermentation in washbacks
  • 8 stills in total – 4 wash and 4 spirit
  • Flat-top stills because of the roof of the old barn
  • Wash stills – 13,000 liters and Spirit stills – 8,000 liters
  • Heads run for about 30 minutes, hearts for six hours and tails for about 30 minutes
  • 9 warehouses on site (4 racked) holding 4 million liters of spirit
  • 10% is kept at the distillery, about 60,000 casks on site
  • Down time is 2 weeks in summer and 2 weeks near ChristmasDalmore IIIDalmore IXDalmore X

Overall, it was a great tour of the facility.  Pictures were not allowed inside the facility, unfortunately.  But we were able to walk around the property and enjoy the views and take in that great distillery smell.

Our tour ended with a tasting in a very nice tasting room where we watched an initial video on the history of The Dalmore.  The tasting included:

  • 12 year-old, which is aged for 9 years in bourbon casks and 3 years in sherry casks
  • 15 year-old, which is aged for 12 years in bourbon casks and split into 3 sherry casks for 3 years
  • 18 year-old, which is aged for 14 years in bourbon casks and 4 years in  Matusalem sherry casks
  • Cigar Malt, no age-statement, approximately aged for 15 years and ends in Cabernet casks for 18 months
  • Distillers Edition 2015 finished in bourbon casks, higher ABV (my favorite)

Charles’ notes: The Dalmore distillery turned out to be a great experience.  I did have one regret, however.  I ended up not buying a bottle of the Distillers Edition and it haunted me for the rest of my whisky tour through Scotland…!!  There were only a limited number of bottles left too.  Well, we do learn.  The tour was very nice and informative even though our guide was battling through a cold, but she was great and a trooper.  There was a funny story about some Scandinavian visitors skinny dipping in one of the water troughs after hours, but that is for another time.  I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to The Dalmore.  It was set in a great spot and close to some good food options as well.  We made the day trip up from Aberlour in the Speyside region and this is very doable.  We combined this visit with a visit to Glenmorangie later in the day.  I look forward to the next visit at The Dalmore.Dalmore V

 

Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery

Visit #15, December 19th, 2015Spring XVISpring XVSpring XIV

The Christmas holidays were close at hand when we visited this northern oasis in Upstate New York just outside of Queensbury and Lake George.  Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery is set on a beautiful property tucked back in the foothills of the Adirondacks.  Co-owned by Mike Forcier, Dave Bannon, Tony DeSantis and Ken Rohne, the distillery has been opened to the public since December of 2014.  In this time they have done some remarkable work crafting their spirits and drafting plans that should make them known outside of New York state and possibly the USA.

Our tour was led by owners Dave and Ken and they provided us with a great overview of how their distilling operations work and the plans they have for the future.  It is very much a local operation with ingredients coming from many of the local farms and providers found in New York state.  They use all New York state grains and most of the grain comes from the Ellsworth Farm in Easton, NY.  The cider, cinnamon and maple all come from local farms in the area as well.

Here are some notes from our tour of their equipment and process:

  • 600-gallon mash tun / 1000 lb of grain
  • Bulk farm milk tank is used for both cold water and fermentation
  • Fermentation takes approximately 5 days
  • 2 days of distillation on Thursday and Friday
  • Kothe German Pot Still – 300 gallons – has a stainless steel jacket
  • The still is steam-fired with a 1 million BTU steamer
  • Hot water is solar-produced
  • Whiskey Helmet – shape configured for whiskey
  • Hybrid still produces 30 gallons of hearts
  • Barrels come from US Barrel in Wilmington, NY
  • They currently use 15 gallon and 53 gallon barrels
  • 4-bottle labeler machine – takes 30 seconds
  • Bottles dipped in wax similar to Maker’s Mark
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    Mash Tun
    Mash Tun
    Mash Tun
    Farm milk tank
    Farm milk tank

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    Kothe Still
    Kothe Still

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    Grain storehouse
    Grain storehouse
    Mill
    Mill
    Work Station
    Work Station
    Wax melting and dipping
    Wax melting and dipping
    Upstairs in a barrelhouse
    Upstairs in a barrelhouse

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The tour itself was great.  You can see the passion that both Dave and Ken had for their products.  Dave took us upstairs to see the spirit aging in barrels in the hay loft.  He mentioned that they would like to remodel the space upstairs for special events and possibly dinners.  I think it would be a great idea.   Out back we saw their grinder/mill and storage area for grain.

Back inside we were able to taste some of their products, including their Double Gold National winner Two Sisters Vodka, the Gold International winner Sly Fox Gin, the varied flavored moonshines (both apple cider and maple), and their “cellos”, the Limoncello and the Orangecello.  After talking to them for a while about their whiskey aging upstairs, Dave thought that we needed to see how it was doing.  Before I knew it Ken went upstairs and pulled a small sample from one of the barrels that has been aging for almost 16 months.  Now this was a cask-strength taste and it was very good.  I really look forward to tasting the final product.  This could be special.  Thanks to Dave and Ken for a great tour and taste!Spring XXVSpring XIIISpring XII

Charles’ Notes: What’s nice about a small operation like this is that you can really see the amount of work it takes to run a distillery like this.  And the modifications that are made to make things work.  To see a farm milk tank being used as a fermentation tank was new to me.  But what a great dual use of this piece of equipment.  This distillery is a combination of science and function.  The location is really beautiful, set above the property with the woods as a backdrop.  I look forward to revisiting soon to see what projects are in the works.Spring XXVISpring I

 

Glenfarclas Distillery

Visit #6, September 22, 2015GLENFARCLAS XIV

There is a sense of calming when visiting the Glenfarclas distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland.  Maybe it is the “family” atmosphere which is evident at the distillery as we saw Mr. Grant loading the family dogs into his vehicle.  It could also be the Glenfarclas dram and taste that has become so memorable over the years.  But the real calming came from the tour and experience of visiting this family-run distillery, one of the last remaining family distilleries in the Speyside region.

Located in Ballindalloch, the Glenfarclas distillery was first founded in 1836 by a farm tenant John Hay.  It wasn’t until 1865 that the Grant family became involved.  Since then it has remained in the Grant family and is currently run by both the 5th and 6th generations of the family.  This is quite impressive and unique in this era of large corporate-run makers of spirits.GLENFARCLAS XVI

Our tour started in the Visitor’s Center where we learned about the family history behind this special malt.  From here we were led down to the working facility.  On the way we passed a waterwheel being fed by water from springs coming down from the Ben Rinnes mountain, the main water source for the distillery.  The facility is not fancy or embellished.  It is a true working facility and not set up for looks…GLENFARCLAS IIGLENFARCLAS I

We visited all of the different stages of the process, including the mill, the mash tun, the washbacks, the still room, and the warehouses.  Our guide was excellent and she provided a lot of information on all aspects of the production.

Here are some notes from the tour:

  • 11 storage tanks / hoppers store 3 weeks of grain for spirit production
  • Up until 1975, Glenfarclas did their own malting but it is now delivered
  • Buhler mill is used to make grist, they test the grist three times looking for a mix of 80% grist, 15% husks and 5% flour
  • 16.5 tons of grist is placed in the mash tun which is 10 meters in diameter
  • Three water stages during the mashing at 64 degrees / 78 degrees / 89-90 degrees
  • 12 stainless steel washbacks from over 40 years ago hold 41,000 liters each
  • Fermentation takes approximately 48 hours
  • Six stills heated by direct fire (gas)
  • 1 large wash still (26,500 liters) and 1 large spirit still (21,200 liters)
  • 25,000 liters of wort in the wash still
  • Three cuts of the spirit: 20 minutes of head, 3 to 4 hours of heart, and 4 to 5 hours of tail
  • A total of 33 warehouses store 55,000 casks
    Grist Mill
    Grist Hopper
    Stone Remover
    Malt Mill
    Stone Remover
    Stone Remover
    Mashing
    Mashing
    Mash Tun and Washbacks
    Mash Tun and Washbacks
    Washbacks
    Washbacks
    Large stills
    Large stills

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    Spirit Safe
    Spirit Safe

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    Warehouses
    Warehouses

    Family Casks
    Family Casks

The standard distillery tour ends with a tasting at the Visitor’s Center.  They have two other tours that are provided for a higher price, including the Connoisseur’s Tour and Tasting, and the Five Decades Tour and Tasting.  These tours offer more to taste and the Five Decades tour includes a taste of each of the decades from the family casks.  Very cool.  Our guide let us taste the 10-year old Glenfarclas, but then did let us taste the 25-year old as a special treat.  Classy!  It was very much appreciated.

Tasting Room
Tasting Room

Charles’ Notes: I was very much looking forward to this visit.  Glenfarclas has always been a favorite, but this propelled it to a place of admiration that is tough to beat.   There is something to be said about a family-run distillery.  Maybe it is the buy-in of the people who have worked there for so many years.  But it is also the old-school methods that are still used to produce this great spirit.  Compared to some of the distilleries we visited, there was less computerization, more human contact and a family history that is still seen.  I definitely want to return here for another visit when I am in the Speyside next.  What was also fun was that the Mash Tun hotel/restaurant down in Aberlour had many of the family casks available at their bar.  Not a bad way to end a day!

 

Jersey Spirits Distilling Co.

Visit #14, November 21, 2015Jersey VI

As I drove into the commercial, industrial park in Fairfield, NJ, a certain HBO theme song kept popping up in my mind.  But I did not run into Tony Soprano as I turned the corner, fortunately.  Rather, it was a progressive business that is changing the landscape of the spirits industry in New Jersey.  Co-owned by John Granata, Sue Lord, and Betty MacDonald, Jersey Spirits Distilling Co. is a new operation created out of a true passion for craft distilling.

Jersey Spirits Distilling first opened its doors for tastings in mid-August, 2015.  It is the youngest distilling operation that I have visited, but there is a knowledge-base that runs deep.  John and Sue come from a food (restaurant) and science background.  They visited many distilleries prior to starting their own and mentioned the High West Distillery in Utah as one of their favorite inspirations.  After workshops and intense research, Jersey Spirits Distilling was started.

On the Saturday afternoon that I showed up for a tour they were having a group Infusion class.  This is just one of the different programs and classes that the distillery offers.  Also offered is a barrel share program which includes the ability for members to be involved in the process of distilling and aging a spirit.  There are monthly tastings where barrel-share members can come back and sample the changes that take place as the spirit is aged.  Not only that, you get to take home six bottles when it is aged to your liking.  Other classes include mixology and an apprentice class on being a distiller.

TJ, the assistant distiller
TJ, the assistant distiller
Top of the column still
Top of the column still
Fermentation tanks
Fermentation tanks
The gin still
The gin still

I was able to participate in the tour that was included with the Infusion class.  Here are some of my notes regarding their products and distilling process:

  • Boardwalk Rum uses Grade A molasses – sourced from LA or Caribbean
  • Water Filtration System, calcium is added
  • Fermentation for vodka takes between 3-8 days
  • Bourbon mash bill is 60% corn, 30% rye, and 10% malt
  • Rum fermentation takes between 2 to 3 weeks
  • There is a separate gin still
  • Ingredients such as honey (gin) and maple (bourbon) are sourced in New Jersey
  • Column still produces 150-200 bottles a week
Part of barrel operation
Part of barrel operation

After the tour I tasted three of their offerings: the Boardwalk Rum at 43% ABV, the Barnegat White Whiskey at 46% ABV and the Jersey Apple Hootch at 23% ABV.

Distillation Chart
Distillation Chart

Charles’ Notes: I wasn’t sure what to expect on my quick stop at Jersey Spirits Distilling Co.  I knew that an Infusion class was starting at about the same of my arrival, but this worked out well since I could join their tour which was given by TJ, the assistanct distiller.  Both John and Sue were gracious owners and spent time answering my questions.  I do look forward to coming back to New Jersey to try out their bourbon once it has aged longer, hopefully in 2016.  It had a great bar for tastings and a great vibe overall.  There is also a brewery, Magnify Brewing Company, in the same complex so this could make for a nice double visit.  I did not have time to visit them.  Overall, it was a very nice visit and tour and I look forward to meeting them all again.

The Glenlivet Distillery

Visit #5, September 22, 2015Glenlivet III

The Glenlivet Distillery is a very popular stop on the Whisky Trail in the Speyside region of Scotland.  Its global presence in the marketplace is unmistakable.  Even the branding includes the saying, “The single malt that started it all.”  It’s definitely one of those malts that everyone has heard of and maybe even tasted.  There were travels that I took in different parts of the world where The Glenlivet was the only selection of single malt Scotch available.  Not surprisingly, it continues to be the largest selling single malt in the United States and now ranks second globally.  It also doesn’t hurt that the distillery is located on a beautiful hillside just outside of Ballindalloch.  Quite a stunning sight!

The history of the distillery goes back to the time when Scottish legislation was passed in 1823 for distillers to apply and receive a license to legally produce spirit.  George Smith, the creator of The Glenlivet, was one of first adopters of this “legal” process to the dismay of many other distillers who wanted this new legislation to be repealed.  Many threats on his life were made, but eventually The Glenlivet distillery was established in 1824.  The distillery remained in the family and it wasn’t until the early 1950s that the distillery went through a variety of mergers and acquisitions and is currently owned by the French spirits company, Pernod Ricard.

Stills to the left and Visitor Center straight ahead
Stills to the left and Visitor Center straight ahead

The Glenlivet distillery offers one of the few free tours found in the area.  The distillery also has additional tours that are more specific based on different experiences and tastings and these are priced accordingly.  We decided to do the free tour since we were short on time and visiting two other distilleries on the same day.  There are also walking trails of varying lengths that can be done in the surrounding countryside.  On a return visit, we would definitely include some time to do this.  It is such a beautiful area.

Below are notes that we took during our distillery tour:

  • Josie’s Well is the main water source for The Glenlivet distillery.  The name Glenlivet in Gaelic means “valley of the smooth flowing one”
  • 400 metric tons of malted barley are delivered into the Malt Bins – this lasts about 5 days
  • The distillery operates 6 days a week and 42 weeks a year
  • 13.3 tons of grist are mashed with 105,000 liters of water
  • Three water temps (Fahrenheit) used during the mashing process: 65 / 78 / 78->96
  • 59,000 liters of wort are produced per mash
  • 8 washbacks seen on tour, an additional 8 washbacks in the old building
  • Washbacks are made of Oregon Pine and are 8 meters deep
  • Fermentation takes 2 to 3 days
  • 3 pairs of stills in the new building and 4 pairs in the old building
  • Wash stills hold 15,000 liters / Spirit stills hold 10,000 liters
  • Head cut – 20 minutes / Heart cut – 2 hours / Tails cut – 3 hours
  • Silent season – time needed for maintenance, anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks
  • Casks are re-used 3 times
  • 6,000 casks in 10 different warehouses totaling 60,000 casks
  • No cooperage on site
    The Still Room - behind the windows - no photos allowed inside
    The Still Room – behind the windows – no photos allowed inside

    Glenlivet II

    Warehouse
    Warehouse

The tour ended with a tasting.  Three tastes were provided which was generous considering that the tour was free.  The first taste was the no-age statement Founders Reserve.  The second taste was the 15-year-old French Oak Reserve at 40% ABV.  The last taste was the cask-strength Nadurra, another no-age statement whisky at 63.1% ABV.

There is a nice cafe and small exhibition space at the main visitor center.  This is helpful because at The Glenlivet they do get busloads of people so there might be a wait for the free tour.  We did have to wait, but this was fine since we were hungry and needed a little break.

The Glenlivet Chandelier
The Glenlivet Chandelier

Charles’ Notes: The Glenlivet distillery was a nice surprise.  I did not have very high expectations since it was a free tour, an immensely-marketed whisky and such a popular destination for tourists.  For some reason, I always think this would make for a lackluster experience.  But it turned out to be a very nice visit on a beautiful property.  The views were incredible.  The tour itself was very informative and open to information (sometimes you never know what they like to keep secret).  The one downside was that they do not allow photos inside any of the working buildings.  For this reason, I do not have many photos to share!!  Most distilleries that do not allow photos say it is for safety reasons (fire danger, etc.), but there are a lot of distilleries that do allow photos.  I think at times it is said more for keeping things secret, but oh well.  I would like to return to The Glenlivet to do a higher-level tasting tour and then go on one of the walking trails nearby.  Now that sounds like a nice Speyside day.  Slainte!

Berkshire Mountain Distillers

Visit #13, November 14, 2015SIGN

Just south of Great Barrington, Massachussets, lies the oldest town in the Berkshire Mountains called Sheffield.  Settled in 1725, Sheffield is filled with working farms, antique shops, and a great craft distillery, Berkshire Mountain Distillers.  Established in 2007 by Chris Weld, the distillery’s initial idea grew out of an abundance of apples at the Soda Springs Farm (dating back to the 1860s) and the granite-fed spring located on the property.  In those eight years, the location of the distillery has moved to a new facility and has continued to evolve into new innovative spirits, including vodka, gin, rum, bourbon and corn whiskey.BUILDING

Our tour was led by Michael Sharry, the farm manager at the distillery.  Berkshire Mountain Distillers uses a ‘Grain to Glass’ mentality where most of their ingredients are sourced locally, with the exception of the blackstrap molasses used for their rum.  Many of the gin botanicals are grown right outside of the production building in the greenhouse on the property.  It is always great to see a craft distillery try and source everything right on site or nearby.

Greenhouse
Greenhouse

The main production room houses the mash tank, 5 fermentation tanks and the still.  Here are some of the notes from our tour about their mash bill, fermentation and distillation process:

  • The mash composition of the corn whiskey is 90% corn.
  • The bourbon uses 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% barley.
  • They make a high ester-count rum with a “banana peeley” and “tropical fruit” nose.
  • Fermentation takes about one week to produce a 10-15% ABV wash.
  • The original 500 gallon still is from Louisville, KY and it dates back to 1967.  Two pieces were added, a pot still used for the rum, whiskies and gin, and a column still producing a neutral spirit which is vodka-like.
  • The condensed vapor from the column still, at about 160 proof, is sent to the pot still with ingredients to steep for a day.
  • A shotgun condenser is used (cold pipes) for the distillation.
  • The rum and whiskey are triple-pot stilled.
  • 5 cuts of heads and 3 cuts of tails.
    Mash Tank
    Mash Tank
    Fermentation Tanks
    Fermentation Tanks

    Still
    Still

The adjacent room is the bottling and barrel room.  Here they use American Oak barrels for the aging of the bourbon.  They add oak and cherry wood to their corn whiskey, which is added like tea for about 12 months.  Bottling and labeling is done on site.  There is a warehouse in Sheffield where barrels are stored and whiskey is aged.

Bottling Station
Bottling Station

BARREL

The tour ended with a tasting of almost all of the different spirits produced by Berkshire Mountain Distillers, including the rum, gin, corn whiskey and bourbon.  Outside in the gift shop we also tasted some of the cask-finished bourbons.

Tasting
Tasting

TASTING

In 2013, Berkshire Mountain Distillers collaborated with 10 different craft brewers across the United States to use their barrels to add a different finish to their bourbon.  Their cask-finished bourbon includes casks from Sam Adams, Founders, Full Sail, Terrapin, Brewery Ommegang, Big Sky, Hale’s Ales, Smuttynose, Troegs and Cigar City Brewing.  At the distillery, many of these bourbons are available for tasting.  Even more recently, they have started a new venture called the Craft Brewers Whiskey Project.  This project is going to include using the actual beer from 15 different brewers, not just the barrels.  One of the first releases from this new style will be in February, 2016, with the release of a Cinder Bock whiskey (a collaboration with Cinder Bock beers), branded as Shay’s Rebellion, and the release of a Sam Adams whiskey called Two Lantern.  This will be incredible to try and we will definitely make a visit back to check these out.BARREL II

Charles’ Notes:  Berkshire Mountain Distillers has a great vibe.  The tour itself was casual and open for questions and pictures.  The use of both local and different ingredients with their variety of spirits is definitely noted.  I love the fact that they have a greenhouse on site.  They are taking chances with some of their whiskies, but isn’t this what the spirit of craft distilling is all about?  There is a trend in the whiskey industry towards using different flavors or finishes and they have taken this on with a passion.  Their rum has performed well and has been given a lot of respect in many different articles.  It will be great to revisit them next year as they continue to evolve and produce.  I purchased a cask-finished Brewery Ommegang bourbon and it is one of my favorites.  Also, on a side note, there is a great craft brewery just down the street called Big Elm Brewery.  Excellent beers and a great stop to include with a trip to Berkshire Mountain Distillers.

Cask-Finished Bourbon with Brewery Ommegang
Cask-Finished Bourbon with Brewery Ommegang