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.

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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!

Glenfiddich Distillery

Visit #4, September 22, 2015

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It was a cool, damp Speyside morning.  One that begs to be distilled.  The visit this morning was to the Glenfiddich Distillery just outside of Dufftown.  Upon driving into the parking lot, you are greeted by huge antlers shaped from two-by-fours and other plant material.  Quite a sight.  The antlers are appropriate since Glenfiddich means “Valley of the Deer” in Scottish Gaelic and they can be seen on every bottle.P1020288

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Founded in 1886 by William Grant and sons, Glenfiddich is one of the few remaining distilleries to remain family-owned.  You could feel the pride in this from our tour guide.  This is quite amazing since they are such a large producer of single malt Scotch and since 2000 they have received more awards than any other single malt Scotch whisky in both the International Wine & Spirit Competition and the International Spirits Challenge.  We took the Explorers Tour, one of three tours that are available at Glenfiddich.

The water that sources the world’s best-selling single malt whisky is the Robbie Dhu spring.  100 tons of barley a day are used and this is taken down to 9 1/2 tons during processing.  They use two mills for grinding the barley and two mash tuns that hold up to 60,000 liters each.  The three water sparges in the mash tun are at 68 degrees, 75 degrees and 86 degrees.  41,000 liters of mash are converted into wort and then cooled in a heat exchanger before being sent to fermentation.  Glenfiddich uses 32 washbacks made of Douglas Fir for fermentation.  It was an interesting note that they use the high branch line of the Douglas Fir (over 17ft) for their washbacks.  Fermentation takes approximately 72 hours and produces a wash of 9.6% ABV.

Mash Tun
Mash Tun

WASHBACK

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There are two still buildings at Glenfiddich containing a total of 28 stills.  The life of their stills is between 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 years and they use gas heating, not coils.  Once the wash stills have started to produce the condensed, cleaned-up spirits, the first 1/2 hour comprises the head or the foreshots and this is then taken to be redistilled.  The heart, or the runoff with the proper high percentage of alcohol, runs for about 2 1/2 hours at 21% ABV.  This tail or the feints are the last runoff and they last for about 1/2 hour and are redistilled.  The low wines (heart) is then heated and condensed again in the spirit stills.  Glenfiddich has two differently shaped spirit stills, one that is a pot belly where vapor spirals up and the other which is a witches hat or lantern where the vapor goes straight up.  The heart from this new distillation will produce a ‘new make’ spirit of about 70% ABV.

Entrance to one of the still buildings
Entrance to one of the still buildings

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Glenfiddich houses its own onsite cooperage where the coopers build and char new casks and do repairs as needed.  They store 1 million barrels and casks among 46 warehouses.   Amerian oak and Spanish Oloroso oak casks are used.   We visited one warehouse with a marrying tub where spirits of 85% bourbon and 15% sherry were being married.   Here also is where Glenfiddich uses the Solera process for its 15-year old whisky.

Warehouses
Warehouses

Our Explorers Tour ended with a tasting of four Glenfiddich whiskies.  The first taste was the 12-year old which is comprised of 85% bourbon casks and 15% sherry casks.  The second taste was the 14-year old Rich Oak, also a mix 85% bourbon casks and 15% sherry casks.  The third taste was the 15-year old Solera Unique Reserve.  The last and my favorite was the 18-year old which is comprised of 80% bourbon casks and 20% sherry casks.

Matt and Charles taking notes
Matt and Charles taking notes
Tasting Room
Tasting Room
Glenfiddich Artwork
Glenfiddich Artwork

Charles’ Notes:  I was not sure what to expect from this distillery visit.  I was thinking it was going to have more of a corporate feel since it is such a large producer worldwide, but the family influence came across nicely.  Our guide also made it feel that way which was nice.  I think he was the only guide on our 11-distillery visit that even wore his tartan clothing!  The tour itself was very well done with a movie to start in a nice facility and then a full visit to each stage of the operation.  The tasting room was nicely laid out with artwork and Glenfiddich memorabilia.  It made me want to come back and do their other tours which I will definitely do the next time I am in the Speyside.   Just a quick note, if you are a driver and visit this distillery, they do provide “to go” drams so that you can taste at your leisure when you return back to the hotel or home.P1020279

 

Tomatin Distillery

Visit #3, September 21, 2015Sign

Located in the Northern Highlands of Scotland, the Tomatin Distillery was our third distillery visit on our 9-day whisky tasting tour of Scotland.  Reservations were for the Taste of Tomatin Tour.  The distillery is approximately 20 miles south of Inverness and is set in a good location on the Alt na Frith, which is a water source that means ‘free burn’.  Founded in 1897, Tomatin is named after the Gaelic word for the Hill of Juniper Bush.  There are currently 30 families that work at the distillery.

In the 1970s, Tomatin saw its largest growth with the addition of 6 new pairs of stills totalling 23 in all.  At this time they were producing 12.5 million liters of spirit a year.  They were the largest distillery in Scotland.  During the tough times of the Scotch whisky industry in the 1980s, Tomatin was forced into liquidation in 1984 and was purchased by a Japanese company in 1986.  The current production is circa 2 to 3 million liters of spirit a year.

Tomatin gets its malted barley from Berwick-upon-Tweed which is southeast of Edinburgh on the coast of the North Sea.  They work with 120 tons a week and 8 tons per batch.  The grinding of the barley takes about 1 1/2 hours.  The production cycle runs from Sunday to Friday where they do three mashes producing 45,000 liters of wort using three temperatures of 60, 70 and 90 degrees.  We were actually able to walk into a mash tun (which was a first) and it was quite impressive to see the blades on the bottom and the size from within.

Malt Bin
Malt Bin
Grinder
Grinder
Walking into an open MashTun
Walking into an open Mash Tun

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12 washbacks are located on the site where fermentation takes approximately 56 hours.  During the distillation process, the heart run lasts about 4-5 hours.  The stillman swings a rope to hit the still to listen to what is going on.  Depending on the sound that the still makes, the stillman is able to adjust or even repair if necessary.  This was something that we did not see at most distilleries and it takes a good amount of skill and experience.  The spirit is then put into the barrel at 63.5% alcohol.  At the Tomatin distillery, they store 180,000 casks on site.  They do have an on-site cooper that repairs barrels.  We were able to visit the workshop and see them working on constructing and repairing barrels.

12 washbacks
12 Washbacks
Still room
Still room

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Cooper
Cooper

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One other interesting note: Tomatin is one of the greenest distilleries.  They work with a biomass plant that reduces the distillery’s energy cost and greenhouse gas emissions.

Our Taste of Tomatin Tour concluded with a tasting of 6 different whiskies.  This was held in a tasting room which was nicely decorated with bottles of whisky in marked containers along the walls.  The first taste was the New Make, or the spirit that gets placed into the barrel at over 60% alcohol.  The second taste was the Tomatin Legacy, which is a non-age statement whisky but we were told it probably uses a combination of 5 to 8-year old whiskies.  The third taste was the Tomatin 12-year old.  Both the Legacy and the 12-year old whiskies were 43% alcohol content.  The fourth, and my favorite, was the Bourbon-barrel Cask Strength whisky at 56.4% alcohol and a 12-year old aging.  The fifth taste was the Sherry-barrel Cask Strength at 57% alcohol and 12 to 13-year old aging.  Our last taste was the Cu Bocan (the sprectral dog) which is a peated whisky (15 ppm), non-age statement but aged approximately 8 years.  Overall, it was a great tasting.

Oloroso20150921_16375920150921_164913

Charles’ Notes:  Our Tomatin visit was extremely informative.  Being a larger operation, you sometimes do not know what type of experience you will receive, but our guide provided  great information and took us through their whole facility.  It was a nice combination of history and the working process of this distillery.  Highlights included the mash tun visit, where we could actually step up into a mash tun to feel its immense size.  It was also nice to see the cooper at work and be able to ask questions directly.  This is something that would be difficult to do at a cooperage where everything is on such a timed clock.  The tasting was also well planned with a good selection of all of the various Tomatin whiskies.  The tour and experience well exceeded my expectations.

Ben Nevis Distillery

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Visit #2, September 21, 2015

The amazing thing about travel is the unexpected.  Our Scotland whisky-tasting tour initially planned on visiting the Ben Nevis distillery in Fort William, Scotland, but a reservation was difficult to make so we planned on skipping it.  But while passing through Fort William, we stopped at a BP gas station to take a break.  Across the street from the BP station is the Ben Nevis distillery (picture above), staring at us and enticing us to visit.  What did we have to lose…  Upon entering the distillery, our expectation was to visit the gift shop, but we were pleased to find out that a tour that was starting in a few minutes.  How great!  I explained the difficulty we had with initially communicating with them and they apologized and mentioned that some employees were away and this caused some of the issues.  It turned out to be one of the best distillery visits we had out of the 11 that were visited during our Scotland adventure.  A truly special treat.

The Ben Nevis distillery sits at the base of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles.  It is an impressive and beautiful mountain and area where many outdoor enthusiasts search for their time in nature.  The water that is used for the distillery comes from the Allt a’Mhuilinn, which is a stream descending from the northern slopes of Ben Nevis.

It was founded in 1825 by Long John McDonald (from where the blended scotch, Long John, was named).  The distillery is now owned by a Japanese company Nikka which acquired the distillery in 1989.  10 people currently run the distillery.

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The are two malt bins at the distillery where Ben Nevis stores the malted barley it uses.  The process begins on Sunday at midnight.  The mash tun is 21,000 liters in size.  There are four stainless steel washbacks and two wooden washbacks on site.  Eight years ago, these two wooden washbacks, made of Dougles Spruce, were reintroduced to the distillery.  Each washback holds approximately 43,000 liters and fermentation takes about 15 hours.

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Ben Nevis Mash Tun

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Washbacks - Two wooden
Washbacks – Two wooden

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The two pot stills and two spirit stills are made of copper.  Our guide, John Carmichael, stated that this was due to the fact the stainless steel was not available 1400 years ago…  14,000 liters of spirit are made weekly at the distillery.  The spirit is taxed at 87.2%.

Pot Stills
Pot Stills

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Ben Nevis uses a mix of Spanish, French and American oak for their barrels and all barrels are made on site.  Some of their casks are from Jack Daniels.  They typically can do up to 5 different fillings per cask.  Sherry casks are also used since they are large and have less evaporation.P1020252

Once the tour ended, we were back in the gift shop and tasting counter where we all were able to taste the 10-year old.  Before we knew it, John, our guide, came back over to us and led us outside and upstairs for an unexpected treat.  He had set up the executive conference room for us to taste some of their aged bottles.  We tried the newmake straight out of the still, the 12-old and the 25-year old.  Wow, how great this was.  We went from almost passing by the distillery on our way up north, to getting a great tour, followed by a special tasting.  The 25-year old Ben Nevis was one of the best whiskies I have tasted.  At 56.4% alcohol, it had a kick but the age smoothed it out.  We tried bottle #151 out of 227.  It was a fantastic treat and one that I will never forget.  Cheers to John Carmichael for making this distillery stop one of our favorites.

25-year old
25-year old
12-year old
12-year old
Mr. Carmichael
Mr. Carmichael
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Matt with John Carmichael

Charles’ Notes:  The Ben Nevis distillery was a great stop.  Not only is it located at the base of  one of the most beautiful mountains in Scotland, it felt real and didn’t have that corporate feeling that you can find with some of the larger distilleries.  We had full access to take photos, to ask questions, and to explore each room on the site.  John, our guide, made this extra special as well with his humor and Scottish charm and, of course, the special private tasting that we had.  We are already looking forward to our next visit at Ben Nevis in the future.