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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Auchentoshan, Glasgow, Scotland

While we lived in Aberdeen we didn’t get to Glasgow much, and with so many distilleries on our doorstep in Speyside and the rest of the Highlands it seemed I would probably never get to this one. However we took a brief holiday in February 2011 and landed in Glasgow airport late on a Friday night and decided to stay in hotel in Glasgow rather than drive the two plus hours back to Aberdeen. The next morning a detour via Auchentoshan was negotiated and agreed with Tammy and my daughter. I really liked this tour, they allowed our daughter to come along and it was just the three of us on the first tour of the day. The tour guide was knowledgeable and the tour was detailed, even explaining in considerable depth the complex triple (well more like 2 ½) distillation process unique to Auchentoshan in Scotch whisky. They also had some unique features on their tour, for example they allowed me to taste the fermented wash right out of the washback prior to distillation. I found it tasted like apple juice or rough cider but soured with some vinegar, brought back memories of the short lived Cider Gate in Exeter in the early 1990’s. They also allowed you to hit a barrel in the warehouse with a sledgehammer to pop the bung out! All good fun.

Did some tasting at the end of the tour from the Auchentoshan family, but had to restrain myself as I had to drive for next couple of hours and we ended buying a bottle of the 18 year old (as well as an unusual bottle of Drambuie made with 15 year old speyside whisky).

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St George's Distillery, Norfolk, England

St George's Distillery, Norfolk, England English whisky sounds like an oxymoron. How can whisky be English? Well apparently there is no reason why not, it just can't be scotch whisky, and here we go with some more Scotch and Irish whisky industry myth busting.  Apparently a good distillery doesn't require a special, preferably magical, spring of gentle soft water, a hundred years of tradition and a master distiller who has worked on the site since he was 6 years old and was born in a cottage in the distillery grounds.   Apparently you can just build a distillery and make good whisky.  Who knew (other than the folks at Penderyn)?  You can also build a nice gift shop and a small café to go with it and attract a healthy trade in tourists.

A different spin on the distillery tour, in that rather than a standard  tour guide (usual attire at the large Scottish tours include tartan skirt, blue jumper, a branded rain jacket or fleece and name tag) after a short video (I have seen better) the distiller comes and talks to you about the distillery and the process and then leads you around the small site.  I really enjoyed this interaction with the person who actually makes the whisky.  This particular distiller had been working in the brewing industry prior to coming to St Georges just a few years previously.  He was not born in a cottage on the site.  He also discussed St Georges water source, a hard water at 360 ppm Calcium, which is very different to the soft water espoused in Scotland.  Even Glenmorangie who famously use "hard water" in Scotland only has 160 ppm Calcium.  The process, other than aforementioned water hardness, is exactly the same as the major distilleries in Scotland with pot still double distillation at its core (unlike Penderyn) and as far as I could tell it would meet all criteria for being single malt scotch whisky if the whole operation was transplanted north of the border.  The other difference is they claim due to warmer climate in Norfolk, the whisky matures quicker so even the young expressions were comparable to the 10 to 12 years single malts from Scotland.

At the end of tour we tasted both the peated and non-peated expressions and I bought a bottle of Chapter 9, the peated one, and if you want you can read my review (3 out of 4stars).  I liked them both.  English whisky can be good.   I also a bought a coffee mug with the words "I would be rather be drinking English whisky" but that has since gone missing from my office!

I later realised that I had now visited a distillery in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (Jameson) and only a trip to Bushmills in Northern Ireland would be required to complete a distillery visit in every country in the British Isles.

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