A Journey Down The Bourbon Trail

The surging popularity of Bourbon and Rye in the past decade is partly due to the increasing numbers of people that visit Kentucky each year.  These visitors gain a newfound appreciation of the history and dedication behind these spirits.  The Bourbon Trail can please both the novice bourbon drinker and the bourbon expert alike with different tailored experiences at each distillery.  Just recently I led the 9 Maple Bourbon Trail Tour with a group of 12 guests.  For many of them it was their first experience and I am sure not their last.

Rickhouse at Willett Distillery

Our group was based in downtown Louisville for 4 nights at the Embassy Suites which is in a very good location with access to everything.

Day 1

The group arrived on Wednesday throughout the day.  Our first group get-together was not until the evening and this gave myself and a couple of others time to check out the new Angel’s Envy distillery and do a tour.  This is a must stop in Louisville for anyone on the Bourbon Trail and for my future tours, this will definitely be included.  It is a beautiful distillery and visitor experience.  All $27 million can be seen here, with its shiny Angel-shaped spirit safe to the fancy tasting bar.  The tour itself was great and will be covered in a future blog post.

The spirit safe
The tasting

Our 9 Maple Bourbon Trail group tour started off with a welcome dram of Angel’s Envy Rye at the hotel before heading to our first group dinner at Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse, a classic southern joint with a great selection of BBQ items and cocktails.  Just what the group needed before venturing over to the Haymarket Whiskey Bar…

Welcome dram of Angel’s Envy Rye
Group dinner at Doc Crow’s

Day 2

The southern part of the Bourbon Trail was on the itinerary for our first full day, Thursday, with stops at Maker’s Mark, Willett, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam.  Here is a brief description of each experience:

  • Maker’s Mark – a beautiful location just south of Bardstown; a very nice overall tour; large groups; you get to see all of the different parts of the distillery including the new warehouse built into the side of the mountain used for aging the Maker’s 46; great spot on location for lunch with a bar making bourbon slushies (good timing); a nice gift shop where you can wax your own bottles which is a fun experience; great overall first stop on any tour – exceeded expectations!

The group at Maker’s Mark with bourbon slushies in hand
  • Willett Distillery – another beautiful spot just outside of Bardstown; surrounded by tall white warehouses filled with aging spirit; this tour happened to be one of the group’s favorite tours; family-run, working distillery; just felt right; nice tasting opportunity at the end of the tour; decent gift shop with some fun swag and bottles to bring home – really looking forward to getting back to Willett.
One guest chillin’ out at Willett
On the Willett Tour
The Willett rickhouses
  • Heaven Hill – after two tours already for the day, our group did the Connoisseur Tasting at Heaven Hill which was about an hour-long tasting that included the following whiskies: Henry McKenna 10 Year Old, Old Fitzgerald 12 Year Old, Heaven Hill Bad Bourbon Aged 25 Years (this was a sample bottle of something aged too long – tasted really bad to me, but some people didn’t mind it), William Heavenhill 14 Year Old, and the Pikesville Straight Rye – overall a relaxing tasting and great to try some of the brands that you can only get at the distillery
The tasting
  • Jim Beam – to finish off the southern trail, we made a stop at Jim Beam for their Cocktail Experience; you get a token from the gift shop and climb the hill to get your cocktail; a nice selection of cocktails and well-made; a good way to end the day
The gang at Jim Beam

Our group had a night off in Louisville and some of us went to Harvest, a superb restaurant run by Chef Patrick Roney.  Chef Roney prepared a special tasting menu for our table of 8.  It was a fantastic way to end our first full day on the Bourbon Trail.

Meal at Harvest

Day 3

On our next full day, Friday, we got up early since we had four distilleries to visit and a cooperage.  The Brown Forman Cooperage, Peerless Distilling, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace were on the agenda for the day.  Here is a brief description of each experience:

  • Brown Forman Cooperage – to see the coopers work up close is a fantastic experience; most of the barrels being made were for Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve; a nice intro presentation to start the tour; safety goggles on and closed-toed shoes are a must; great photo opportunities; this will be a must do stop on any future tour

A cooper at work
Charring up the barrels
  • Peerless Distilling – a newer ‘craft’ distillery which released their 2-year old rye the day after our visit; very interesting to have a newer craft distillery in the middle of our tour of more familiar brands; a lot of pride in their process and history; a very nice visit – just wish we could have sampled the rye (which you can now) – a couple of guests on our tour went back the following day to pick up four new bottles so we did eventually get to try it…
Filling the barrels with new rye

  • Woodford Reserve – another beautiful location among the rolling hills of horse country; a very polished tour where you are able to see where some of the spirit is made; as a group you are bused down from the visitor’s center to the distillery; great to see the barrels being moved on the tracks; nice tasting at the end with some chocolate; gift shop was ok
A Woodford washback
The Woodford spirit still
Barrels are rolling
  • Wild Turkey – after two distillery tours and a cooperage tour, we were ready for a tasting; held at the newer Wild Turkey Visitor’s Center; beautiful spot overlooking a river valley; the tasting could have been better as we were grouped with some people that just came off the tour and had a different experience, the tasting included the normal range of Wild Turkey
We got to meet Jimmy Russell!
  • Buffalo Trace – our last stop on the eastern trail was at Buffalo Trace where we did a tour; highlights included our guide who had quite the sense of humor and being able to visit some warehouses and the bottling line; next time would like to do a more in-depth tour; the tasting was ok on the top floor of the Visitor’s Center but the shop lacked any special bourbon for purchase which was a disappointment – with all of their brands there should have been something special…

The Blanton’s bottling line
A couple of Saratoga bartenders

That evening we returned to Louisville for our second group dinner, this time at Bourbon’s Bistro.  We had some nice cocktails and great meal to round out another full day on the trail.  Bourbon’s Bistro is not in downtown Louisville, but a great area of Crescent Hill with lots of fun spots.

Group dinner at Bourbon’s Bistro

Day 4

On our final full day in Kentucky, Saturday, we decided to make it a “horse” day.  Our group started the day back near Lexington where we visited the famous Claiborne Farm which is home to some past Kentucky Derby winners and is where Secretariat is buried.  We were able to pet Orb, the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner, and to see many other horses and areas of the farm that are used for stud purposes.  It was a great way to spend the morning and a get a good sense of the significance of horses and history in Kentucky.

At Claiborne Farm
A horse staredown

For lunch we tasted beer at the West Sixth Brewery and had food at Smithtown Seafood in Lexington.

West Sixth Brewing

Back in Louisville it was time to head to Churchill Downs to visit the Kentucky Derby Museum and spend the rest of the afternoon at the track.  It happened to be the same day that the Preakness Race was running in Baltimore, so we were able to watch the live stream feed on the main screen at Churchill Downs.  It gave us a sense of what it might be like at the Derby, but without all of the people!  Some day…

At Churchill Downs

Our last evening was spent dining at Butchertown Grocery, a great newer restaurant in Butchertown area of Louisville.  It was a nice way to end our tour as a group.

At Butchertown Grocery

Final Thoughts

Wow, it was a fantastic trip and a great group!  I learned a lot of things about each distillery and Louisville.  We had an aggressive schedule but the breaks between each visit helped.  There were a few things that I would change or add, but overall it was the perfect balance of tours, tastings and fun.  I look forward to the next tour.  Please let me know if you are interested in joining.  All of the whisky tours can be found at: Whiskey Tours

Distilleries Visited:

Angel’s Envy – 500 E Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202

Maker’s Mark – 3350 Burks Spring Road, Loretto, KY 40037

Willett Distillery – 1869 Loretto Road, Bardstown, KY 40004

Heaven Hill – 1064 Loretto Road, Bardstown, KY 40004

Jim Beam – 526 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont, KY 40110

Peerless Distilling – 120 N 10th Street, Louisville, KY 40202

Woodford Reserve – 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles, KY 40383

Wild Turkey – 1417 Versailles Road, Lawrenceburg, KY 40342

Buffalo Trace – 113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, KY 40601

 

Restaurants:

Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse – 127 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40207

Harvest – 624 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40202

Bourbon’s Bistro – 2255 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

Butchertown Grocery – 1076 E Washington St, Louisville, KY 40206

 

Bars:

Haymarket Whiskey Bar – 331 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40202

Old Seelbach Bar – 500 S 4th St, Louisville, KY 40202

Brown Hotel Lobby Bar – 335 W Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202

META – 425 W Chestnut St, Louisville, KY 40202

The Silver Dollar – 1761 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

Hilltop Tavern – 1800 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

The Hub – 2235 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

Teeling Whiskey Distillery

Visit #29, September 24, 2016

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The last stop on our week-long Ireland distillery adventure was to The Liberties area of Dublin to visit the Teeling Whiskey Distillery.  Dublin was once home to over 30 distilleries, but the last one closed in the mid-70s. Teeling opened just recently in 2015 and is the first new distillery to open in Dublin in the last century.  Similar to some Tullamore D.E.W. branding, Teeling Whiskey uses a phoenix on its labels to represent the return of Irish whiskey to Dublin and to the Teeling family.

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Our tour started with the history of whiskey in Dublin and in Ireland, its rise and fall and now resurgence across the country.  A video described the roller-coaster ride of Irish whiskey history and the construction of the new Teeling Distillery.  They sure did not hold back on the building of this modern distillery with a very nice gift shop, bar, tasting area and semi-museum of artifacts and timelines.  And the inner workings of the distillery were just as impressive.

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Here are some notes from our tour of the “working” area of the distillery:

  • they use a wet mill – the water reduces the risk of explosion
  • 15,000 liter lauter tun used, holds 30 tons of grist at 60 degrees
  • 6 fermentation tanks – 2 wood (for looks) and 4 metal – 30,000 liters each
  • fermentation takes between 3 to 5 days
  • each of their stills has a name
    • Alison is the Wash Still – 15,000 liters – temp at 90 degrees
    • Natalie is the Intermediate Still – 10,000 liters – temp at 84 degrees
    • Rebecca is the Spirit Still – 9,000 liters – temp 78.2 degrees
  • stills come from Siena, Italy – each are 5 tons and valued over $1 million
  • aging is done outside of the city in Louth – too dangerous to mature whiskey in the city due to fire concerns
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Lauter Tun

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Wooden washbacks in front of metal ones
Wooden washbacks in front of metal ones
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Natalie, the Intermediate Still
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Rebecca, the Spirit Still
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Alison, the Wash Still

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Description of the barrels and aging

Our tour ended with a premier tasting of the following:

  • Teeling Single Malt
  • Teeling Single Cask
  • and a distillery only Single Malt finished in Cabernet casks
The tasting
The tasting

Overall it was a good tour.  Unfortunately it was on a Saturday and the distilling floor was non-operational.  It’s always nice to be able to see the whiskey being made.  It was a very different experience from our other 5 distillery tours in Ireland earlier in the week.  Just being in Dublin made it more crowded and busy.  The tour was on a strict schedule and there was not much time to linger.  We also rushed through the tasting at the end which was less than ideal.  But this is part of being in a big city on a weekend too.  Teeling is becoming a very popular destination and I am glad we were able to see it now in its early stages.

Charles’ Notes:  I had very high expectations for this visit.  It was our last distillery visit during our week in Ireland which included Kilbeggan, Tullamore D.E.W., Jameson Midleton, Dingle, Walsh and Teeling.  But there was something off about the visit.  Our reservation was lost, even though it was guaranteed in advance with a credit card.  The tour felt rushed and the tasting too.  I had read so many great reviews about distillery visits here so maybe my expectations were too high.  Or it’s possible my earlier distillery visits during the week were competing with each other.  But whatever the reason, it seemed off.  I do think they have a good thing going there with lots of potential and I will definitely be back to make another visit on another Ireland distillery tour.  The bar was a very nice touch and the space was well planned out.  I am still a big Teeling fan!  It’s great to witness the new Irish whiskey renaissance.

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Walsh Whiskey Distillery

Visit #28, September 22, 2016

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On a rare “blue-sky” day towards the end of September in County Carlow, Ireland, we visited the newly-opened Walsh Whiskey Distillery.  Set on a beautiful estate, home to a mansion that dates back to 1755, Walsh Whiskey Distillery is a prime example of the “new” Irish whiskey producers that are quickly popping up across the country during this Irish whiskey renaissance.  Only opened in June, 2016, to the public, the distillery is the latest installment by the Walsh family that started to produce The Irishman back in 2007 through the Irish Distillers.walsh-ii

Located near the River Barrow, the distillery is set in the barley basket of Ireland on a property with 200-year old oak trees.  With an natural aquifer 70 meters underground, the distillery sources many of the ingredients necessary to make whiskey locally.  This farm concept is important the Walsh family where the owner in the introductory tour video states that the purpose of the distillery is to “get back to what it is about.”walsh-xvii

Our high-spirited tour guide for the day was Woody Kane.  He met us in the tasting room and guided us through the distillery, step by step.  Here are some notes from our tour about the “manual” distillery and its process of making whiskey:

  • After the intro video we started with a refresher on the grains that are used by the Walsh Distillery including maize from France
  • Grain stored in 60 ton silos / 30 tons a week are used
  • Hammer mill and roller mill used to grind the grain
  • Mashing is a 3-hour process – 140 degrees for 40 minutes, the heat is released and dropped down to 64-65 degrees for another 40 minutes
  • 3 tons per mash, 10,500 liters of water
  • They have a cooker that can do 4-5 mashes (this was unfamiliar to me)
  • 72 hour fermentation process in 14 washbacks in total producing an 8% ABV wash
  • They have a continuous column still which is 22 meters high which runs close to 24 hours a day, the spirit has a very high ABV of new make and the spirit is taken up around 75% high off the still
  • The pot stills include a 15,000 liter wash still, a 7,500 liter intermediate still and a 10,000 liter spirit still
  • The pot ale tank water is given to the farmers for pig meal
  • Barrels used for aging include Bourbon, Sherry & Marsala
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One of the sample bags of grain near the entrance to the working distillery

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Woody Kane

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The continuous still
The continuous still
Our group
Our group

Overall, we had a great tour and Woody answered all of our questions.  It was great to be able to go through all of the different working stages of the distillery.  The workers on site were also very kind with answering questions.  Being so new I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it seemed like they had planned out the visitor experience very well.

Our guide for the day, Woody Kane
Woody starting the tasting

Our tour ended with a tasting back at the tasting bar near the entrance.  We tasted the following whiskies:

  • The Founder’s Reserve – 70% single malt & 30% pot still
  • Writer’s Tears – Redhead – no age statement, sherry-barreled, single malt
  • The Irishman 17 year old – first-filled sherry butt, single cask, single malt

We ended up purchasing a Writer’s Tears and Irishman 17 to be used at a future Saratoga Whiskey Club tasting back in the States.  Woody was a great host in the limited time that we had and we appreciated the tour and visit.walsh-xiv

Charles’ Notes: We had just spent the entire previous day doing a Whiskey Experience Day at the Dingle Distillery on the Dingle Peninsula.  This included hands-on activities and a full day of whiskey knowledge.  So I wasn’t sure how excited the group would be to go to another distillery the day after such an experience.  But it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise where we learned a lot about another distillery vision with a unique, different story.  It was quite amazing to see the scale of the Walsh Distillery.  Still shiny new, the distillery was obviously built for a lot of growth with a long-term plan.  I remember Woody mentioning that they had a 200-year plan.  It was nice to see year One of the distillery being opened.  We were also very pleased with the product during the tasting.  In fact, the Irishman 17 that we brought back home with us was a very solid whiskey at the tasting that we held with our club.  I do look forward to returning to the Walsh Whiskey Distillery at some point in the near to future to check in with them and see what’s next.

Matt, pretending it is 1755
Matt, pretending it is 1755

Dingle Distillery – A Whiskey Experience Day (In Pictures)

The highlight distillery visit of my recent Irish whiskey adventure in September was on the Dingle Peninsula on the west coast of Ireland.  The Dingle Distillery, in the town of Dingle, was launched in December of 2012 in the converted Fitzgerald sawmill.  I had arranged for a Whiskey Experience Day, a day of learning about distilling and spending time with some of the operators and managers of the distillery to truly understand their vision of Irish whiskey and the future of unique “frontier” Irish distilleries.  It was perfect timing as well as their new whiskey is set to be released at the end of November.

Our group spent the whole day at the distillery, from 9:30 am until 5:00 pm that afternoon.  The distillery closed for tours that day which made our group of six quite excited and honored.  The host for the day was Michael Walsh, the Production Manager at the distillery.  Michael was an excellent host who explained everything we wanted to know about the distillery and walked us through their entire process of making their whiskey.  We also had “hands on” experiences throughout the process.  Dingle is run by 10 employees, 7 days a week.

Below are photos, videos and descriptions of our Whiskey Experience Day.

Initial Founding Fathers List
Initial Founding Fathers List – the first 500 “investors” of Dingle whiskey
The coarse grist that is used at Dingle
The coarse grist that is used at Dingle
Michael Walsh filling up the Mash Tun
Michael Walsh filling up the Mash Tun
Quite magical!
Quite magical!
An explanation of the mashing process, coffee slowly kicking in...
An explanation of the mashing process, coffee slowly kicking in… only 10:30am
Shutting down the fill of the Mash Tun
Shutting down the fill of the Mash Tun
The stills in the back with the Mash Tun in front and washbacks on the right
The stills in the back with the Mash Tun in front and washbacks on the right
Testing the potency of the fermentation process in the washback
Testing the alcohol levels of the fermentation process in the washback
Michael testing the levels
Michael testing the levels – the yeast is doing its thing
Nice copper stills, only the wash and intermediate stills were running on our day
Nice copper stills, only the wash and intermediate stills were running on our day
The spirit coming off of the wash still
The spirit coming off of the wash still
Matt working the spirit safe
Matt working the spirit safe
Michael explaining the spirit right off the still
Michael explaining the spirit right off the still
Checking the fermentation again
Checking the fermentation again
Barrel love
Barrel love
More barrels all housed on site right now
More barrels all housed on site right now
We got to sample straight from the barrel
We got to sample straight from the barrel
Michael climbing high to get us a dram
Michael climbing high to get us a dram
Samples
Samples
Bottling line
Bottling line
Special bottle of Cask No. 2 - no sample but fun to look at and dream
Special bottle of Cask No. 2 – no sample but fun to look at and dream
Great line of seasonal gins that we did sample
Great line of seasonal gins that we did sample

Here is also a YouTube video link to our day at the Dingle Distillery: Dingle Distillery Visit Day

Overall we had an incredible day with Michael Walsh and the crew at Dingle.  They will be remodeling their entire operation in the coming years so it was great to be there early on to see how they started.  And what fun to taste some of their new whiskey that is coming out in the next few weeks.  I look forward to returning and spending more time with the great folks at Dingle.  They are really headed in the right direction.

 

An Irish Whiskey Perspective

Recently I returned from an 8-night whiskey adventure through Ireland.  The goal of the trip was to understand the history of Irish whiskey, the process of pot and triple distillation, and the reason behind the buzz of new whiskies being released.  My familiarity of Irish whiskey was somewhat limited due to the lack of selection or “interest” in this category at our local drinking establishments in Upstate New York.  Over the last year I had purchased more Irish whiskey out of curiosity including the Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix and Green Spot and had tasted others including the Red Breast line.  But my true interest was getting to Ireland to see first-hand and learn from the source.

Jameson Midleton Distillery
Jameson Midleton Distillery

Over the last year I have visited over 20 distilleries in Scotland and the United States.  Each of these distilleries taught me something different which is why I continue to make plans to visit more.  In Ireland I visited 6 distilleries during my week-long trip.  They included the Kilbeggan Distillery, Tullamore D.E.W., the Jameson Midleton Distillery, the Dingle Distillery, the Walsh Distillery, and the Teeling Distillery.  It was in this order that I visited these distilleries and it worked going from the older traditional distilleries learning about the history of Irish whiskey to the newer ones with their fresh perspectives on the future of Ireland and its whiskey.

The old Kilbeggan water wheel
The old Kilbeggan water wheel

Here are some of my conclusions from this whiskey trip:

  • Irish whiskey is really trying to brand itself. At Tullamore D.E.W. we learned of the fire in the town of Tullamore in 1785 and of the phoenix of their Irish whiskey distillery rising out of the ashes in the early 19th century bringing the town back.  Teeling also uses a phoenix in their branding.  This theme could be seen at each distillery where there was a new hope for the future for Irish whiskey.  They accept some failures or circumstances in the past and are really looking to take off in the future.  The new Irish Whiskey Museum in Dublin had a great section describing the roller coaster ride of their whiskey history.

    The Teeling phoenix
    The Teeling phoenix
  • When visiting the Kilbeggan, Tullamore D.E.W. and Jameson Midleton distilleries, the tours were mostly about the history and past. They all included a detailed process of the stages of creating their whiskies, but they used props or antiquated equipment to show each stage.  There was very little “working” distillery viewing.  In fact, the Tullamore D.E.W. experience was in their old bonded warehouse which was converted into a visitor’s center.  You can visit the actual distillery if you do their high-end day tour, but most visitors are not able to see this.  This was different from many of the distilleries in Scotland or the United States that I had visited.  There is something exciting about seeing the stills in action and the washbacks full of bubbling yeast.  Kilbeggan and Jameson Midleton did have some stills that you could see where they did experimental distilling, but they were not the main working stills.

    Kilbeggan washbacks
    Kilbeggan washbacks
  • “Sourcing” of whiskey in Ireland reminds me of the challenges that some U.S. distilleries face when they are not transparent of where their whiskey comes from. I understand that the Cooley and Midleton distilleries supply many of the newer brands of Irish whiskey, especially the ones that have whiskies labeled over 5 years old.  I remember how big of an issue that became in the United States when this “sourcing” was not clear.  We didn’t visit West Cork Distillers or Hyde, but I would have liked to understand more about their whiskey production.  I understand how difficult it is to start a distillery and the reality of having to wait as your whiskey ages, but if you are coming out with a 10-year old whiskey, it would be nice to know where and by whom it was distilled.

    The "working" distillery at Jameson Midleton.
    The “working” distillery at Jameson Midleton.
  • Triple distillation is truly Irish. If there was one common theme among all of the distilleries we visited, it was triple distillation.  It almost seemed sacrilegious if whiskey was double distilled.  Sorry to the rest of the world… But it does give the Irish a unique way of labeling it “Irish”.

    Wash, Intermediate & Spirit stills at Teeling Distillery
    Wash, Intermediate & Spirit stills at Teeling Distillery
  • There is no love lost with the Scots. The Coffey still was a good example of this.  Invented by the Irish, it was determined that the whiskey distilled by the Coffey still was bland and tasteless.  Mr. Coffey then took his continuous still to Scotland where it was used to produce a lot of whiskey which eventually hurt the Irish through competition.  The other thing that we constantly heard was that “all” Scottish whisky uses peat.  It almost got to the point where I just smiled and laughed inside when I heard this.  But this is the image that they are trying to get across: Scotch is smoky, Irish is smooth and easy to drink.  To each his own…
    The old Coffey stills at Kilbeggan
    The old Coffey stills at Kilbeggan

    The new continuous stills at the Walsh Distillery
    The new continuous stills at the Walsh Distillery
  • It seemed that they all knew each other. It was amazing to see the connections and/or relationships among the distilleries, especially the newer ones.  Maybe this is due to the fact that this new era of Irish whiskey is just starting, or that they all worked together at some point in the past.

    At the Shelbourne Whiskey Bar in Cork
    At the Shelbourne Whiskey Bar in Cork
  • A lot of money is being invested in the new Irish whiskey distilleries. It was amazing to see the new Walsh and Teeling distilleries.  They were the most polished distilleries I had ever seen!  The Walsh distillery was interesting in that they said that this was the beginning of a 120+ year history.  They were looking generations out.  The Tullamore D.E.W. experience was also high tech with videos, lots of different lighting and effects, and a nice tasting room.  We saw Dingle’s plans for the future as well, and they are going to redo their whole visitor experience with a new remodel.

    At the Walsh Distillery
    At the Walsh Distillery
  • The highlight of the trip was the day we spent at the Dingle distillery. Being able to spend an entire day “working” with the crew was unforgettable.  Not only did we get to see and work their process, but we were able to discuss their vision for the future and the industry in general.  They were gracious hosts and I can’t wait to go back to Dingle.

    The Dingle Distillery
    The Dingle Distillery

Overall, it was an incredible trip and I came back with a new appreciation and knowledge for Irish whiskey.  I look forward to returning in a few years to revisit some that I visited and many of the new ones that are just starting.  Here are some interesting bottles that I picked up that we will use for our next tasting with the Saratoga Whiskey Club (www.saratogawhiskeyclub.com).20161002_112345

If you are interested in any of our future trips around the world visiting distilleries, make sure to check out: http://mytraveldirections.com/whiskey-tours/

 

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

ABERLOUR III

ABERLOUR XIII

ABERLOUR IV

ABERLOUR VI

ABERLOUR V

ABERLOUR VII

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

ABERLOUR XI

ABERLOUR IX

ABERLOUR VIII

ABERLOUR X

ABERLOUR XII

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

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

    GlenmorangieVIII

    Warehouses
    Warehouses

    GlenmorangieIII

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 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

Dalmore VII

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
    Mash Tun
    Mash Tun
    Mash Tun
    Mash Tun
    Farm milk tank
    Farm milk tank

    Spring IV

    Kothe Still
    Kothe Still

    Spring XVIIISpring XVII

    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

    Spring IXSpring VIISpring VIII

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

    GLENFARCLAS XI

    Spirit Safe
    Spirit Safe

    GLENFARCLAS XIII

    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!