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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

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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Penderyn, Wales

Penderyn, Wales Interestingly this welsh whisky, or wysgi in welsh, would barely scrape under the bar as a "whisky" in Scotland.  It certainly wouldn't be considered single malt for several reasons I will discuss later.  I should also disclose some bias for Wales at this point, as I graduated from the University of Wales and lived in Cardiff for four years.

The  Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) rules and regulations rightly protect the process and traditions of the industry, but it doesn't means that other methods and technology can't product a whisky (and this is whisky) of exceptional taste and quality.  In fact find it slightly ironic that the industry that was in many ways born from developing the new ideas for manufacturing whisky (the Coffey still, grain whisky and blended whisky) is so entrenched in its thinking today about what defines Scotch whisky, and inversely the sticking to old ways and traditions was one contributing factors of several that nearly completely killed the Irish industry.  Remember that those that don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

That said Welsh whisky is not about to take over the world, but this is very good stuff.  The distillery in the village of Penderyn, near Brecon is modern and compact.  One reason for this compactness is that the wash is made in Cardiff at the Brain's Brewery and brought to the distillery in tanker trucks.  That in itself would exclude Penderyn from the ranks of "single malt" if it were located in Scotland.  The tour is also compact, in fact it consists of two rooms.  One room houses a history of welsh distilling and the more recent history of the distillery.  The second room is basically the tasting room and has a glass wall.  Behind the wall is the unique still Penderyn use to distill the Brain's wash into an 86 - 92% ABV spirit and a small bottling line.  

The Penderyn still is a combination of a pot still and a column still and this would again probably prevent this being considered single malt whisky, were it in Scotland, as it is not a traditional pot still.  The spirit is diluted with water drawn from a well below the distillery and put into bourbon casks, matured offsite, and then finished in Madeira casks before being bottled on site.  They also do a peated version of Penderyn which is matured in scotch casks that have previously held peated scotch and a sherry cask finished version.

After the tour they pour samples from their range of whiskies and also they offer a cream blend called Merlyn.  We also got to smell and taste the new make spirit.  There is the ubiquitous whisky shop as well.  This is an interesting distillery that makes a great product, and is well worth a visit.

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