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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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George Washington's Distillery, Virginia, USA

George Washington's Distillery, Virginia, USA

I can't say how excited I was when I realised I had a business meeting less than 30 minutes from this distillery in Arlington.  This is really more of a museum than a working distillery, but twice a year (March and November) the months immediately before and after the distillery is open for tours, they fire up the only LEGAL open fire stills in the United States and make whiskey to George Washington's original recipe.  The whiskey is extremely hard to get hold of and only available at the the distillery shop or the Mount Vernon (George's plantation a few miles away).  At the time of my visit they had sold out and I was unable to try it.  The tour costs a very reasonable $5 and consists of two major attractions... a working water mill (not original but an authentic recreation) which was used to grind the various grains on the Mount Vernon estate and a recreation of the original distillery based on an archeological dig.  The tour guides explain the history of the mill and George's decision to enter the distilling business very late in life, the disillery was built in 1797 and GW died in 1799, and how it was briefly the largest distillery operating in the USA.  More of an historical tour (understandably) than a whisky tour it was however interesting to see everything used in whisky making process on a relatively small scale and how it would all done by hand. 

Only one complaint.... no whiskey.  I feel that considering the relatively small volumes it can produce (open fire stills and whisky production is obviously limited to the times that there are no tourist wandering around) surely keeping it to pour at end of tours as a sample would be a much more democratic way to treat the limited production rather than seeing be snapped up by "collectors" and hoarded.  Personally I think it is what George would have wanted.  Add a few bucks added to the tour price for those who want a sample and I bet you would still sell for same price (or close enough anyway) per bottle.

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