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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Ardbeg, Islay, Scotland

This was the distllery I was most looking forward to visiting when we went to Islay in 2010.  Why?  Well Arbeg was the reason I even started drinking Islay's peated whiskies, though I had tried the unpeated Bunnahabhain before, and it was because of an expression called Blasda.   I tasted a sample of Blasda in Oddbins in Cults and thought it was delicious, very sweet and flavorful and with a lighter, more subtle peat taste.  So I bought a bottle and found it was the perfect entry into the world of Islay whisky.  The fact they made a whisky that was so approachable encouraged me to explore Ardbeg more and to look for the subtle, sweet flavors I loved in Blasda in their other expressions and to succesfully "look past the peat".  Before I knew it, I loved peated whisky.  The distillery is really well done with a great cafe, an expansive gift shop and a detailed tour with a knowledgable and passionate tour guide (all for about $3).  However the best part was the tasting as they pulled out the really good stuff.  They offered the standard 10 year old, Blasda (Tammy chose that), Uigeadail and even the amazing 60% abv Supernova.  I ended up buying the Supernova because it was so good.  Other distilleries take note, pouring your premium offerings can help sales, after all I am much more likely to spend $100 on a bottle of whisky if I have actually tried it.... just a suggestion.

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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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