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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

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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Jameson Heritage Centre, Old Midleton Distillery, Ireland

Jameson Heritage Centre, Old Midleton Distillery, Ireland

I visited this distllery in July 2006 and that trip probably more than anything else stirred my interest,  now a full fledged passion, in whiskey.  We were on vacation in Cork in part because my mother's side of the family (maiden name Bradley) came from Cork.  This tour was simply on our list of things to do.  Up until that time I was a social scotch drinker, probably because my father always had a bottle in the house growing up so my brother and I had to learn to like scotch or not drink at family events.  We chose to drink.  I dont remember much of the actual tour other than the guide at almost every point in the process pointed out the difference between Irish and Scotch and the reason why Irish was better.  It felt like they were actively trying to convert Scotch drinkers (I was once in Salt Lake City and the tour guides there also tried to convert you, in their case to Mormanisim, it pretty much felt the same).  They really pressed home that they they didnt use peat in the malting process and that triple distillation created a much sweeter and smoother spirit.  It almost came across as a bit desperate, as if they had an inferiorty complex, because so much attention was put into Scotch rather than focussing on their product.

At the tasting at the end of the tour they offered two samples, one of Jameson and the other of "scotch".  After tasting both (and the previous 30 minutes of indoctrination and brainwashing... Peat is Bad)  I was convinced Irish whiskey was the greatest stuff on earth.  For the next 3 years I drank almost exclusively Irish whiskey and it was not until I moved to Scotland in 2009 that I began to explore Scotch again.

A few years later I subsequently learned they use Johnnie Walker Black Label as the blended scotch in those comparison tastings, one I personally don't like (see my review) and so in reality I never stood a chance. 

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