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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Four Roses, Kentucky, USA

Distillery number two on day two of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (KBT).  A very interesting Spanish Mission style building, with no warehouses (which was a pity because apparently Four Roses unusually only use single storey warehouses) or bottling hall on site and so the tour focussed on the recipes, actual fermentation and distilling of spirit.  Four Roses was one of the first bourbons I ever tried in 2009 (after getting "into whiskey") while living in the UK and liked it, but  as part of the tour we learned that in USA the name had been associated with a very poor blended whiskey and so while it popular overseas, especially Japan where it is the number one bourbon, the Four Roses brand is "rebuilding" as a bourbon in the USA.  It is rather unique (or at least appeared to be) in that they actually make 10 different recipe bourbons using two different mash bills, one with high rye and one with a low rye content, and then use 5 different yeast strains for fermentation.  5 yeast x 2 mashbills = 10 recipes.  This was interesting as my experience in Scotland had been yeast was bit of commodity (packs of Anchor Distiller's Yeast could often be seen around the washbacks in Scottish distilleries) yet in USA, and especially at Four Roses, yeast is treated with same reverance and importance to the final product as the Scots tend to reserve for their water supply.   I have to say the impact of yeast on final taste seems a lot more credible to me that the mythical water source stories ever did.   That is not to say Kentucky distilleries don't talk about their water.... they all do, but they talk about the more generic "limestone filtered water in this part of Kentucky" rather than their specific source or spring.  Anyway the tour finished with three nice samples, the Four Roses Yellow Label (blended with all 10 recipes), the Four Roses Small Batch (made with 4 of the 10 recipes) and the Four Roses Single Barrel which of course can only be one recipe and contains the higher content rye mash bill.   Another free tour and one I truly enjoyed (perhaps in part because there was no bottling hall to endure).  Definately a distillery on the rise and a gift shop that actually sold 5 cl mini bottles, 4 of the previous 5 distilleries (if they sold at all due to licence issues) just sold 70 cl standard bottles at prices, due to local KY taxes, much higher than I can buy the same whiskey in Texas.

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Ranger Creek, Texas, USA

Ranger Creek, Texas, USA

Even though this was my 44th distillery visit, it was the first time I visited a brewery and distillery, or as they style it... a brewstillery.  This tour actually began with the question “Would you like a beer?” That makes for a really good start. However let’s go back a few steps. I got in touch with one of the founders, Mark, after I posted a review of their bourbon (http://www.somanywhiskies.com/reviews/item/364-ranger-creek-36-texas-bourbon ) and asked about tours. As I said some nice things in my review he kindly offered to show me around if I was ever in San Antonio and we got to meet for the first time at World of Whiskies in Austin a few weeks later. Soon afterwards I confirmed a date in December 2012, and even though it was a busy weekend for them, he was good enough to spare my wife and I an hour, pour us an excellent beer and take us around their operation. This is not your Scottish distillery tucked away in the hills, or located by the shores of Loch Indaal oozing “shortbread box” charm. Nope, Ranger Creek is based in an industrial park off a freeway a few miles from downtown San Antonio. However, despite the “terroir”, they happen to make good stuff. Forget that, they make great stuff. What these guys do proves to me, what I have long suspected, you don’t need all that ambience, history and lame stories about water sources etc. It appears to me you just need passionate people who care about making really good product (and these guys do, to the extent they run the place part time while maintaining full time jobs), some nice brewing and distilling kit (again check the box for Ranger Creek) and a little imagination… their malt cold smoking “room” is a great example, as are the rickhouses made from 40ft shipping containers. The “tour” ended not with whisky samples (archaic Texas licensing laws.... please take a bow) but with the gift of a couple of beers. We also bought some Ranger Creek t-shirts so I could type the words “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” without any irony. I can’t wait to see what else they come up and I am really looking to future batches of bourbon as well as the single malt and rye they have maturing.

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