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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Bowmore, Islay, Scotland

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

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

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Jim Beam, Kentucky, USA

Jim Beam, Kentucky, USA My first major US distillery and the first stop I made on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in May 2012.  To call this a distillery visit is a bit misleading... as the official name is the Jim Beam Heritage Tour and you don't get to see any of the actual working distillery (except for one warehouse).  Instead the focus is on the Beam family distilling history (which begins with Jacob Beam.... not Jim) and and also learn about their product range.  This is not the artisanal style of distillery I have been used to seeing in Scotland, this is a major whisky factory wth over 475 employees (thats about 450 more men than you find in Tain and 472 more than Benromach).  I learned that 95% of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky and 50% of that is made by Jim Beam.   Their range is a bit of a mixed bag for me... I like Jim Beam Black (but not the standard White label), I like Booker's but not Baker's and I love Knob Creek but don't like Basil Hayden.  All of these Beam brands are made at this facility and interestingly all made with the usual suspects of corn, rye and malted barley... not a wheated bourbon in the range.  Highlight of tour was probably learning our guide was 8th generation Beam family and seeing the pride and passion in her for bourbon (and she was cute which also helped).  The tour was free and included a short video and samples of Jim Beam Black and Baker's small batch bourbon (and a sample of choclate to try with the Baker's... a recurring theme on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail).  The facility is currently undergoing an upgrade with a new store and a cafe and will in the future the tour will include the actual distillery.... so I will have to come back and revisit when that is complete and hopefully get the same guide.
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