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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

The Glenlivet, Speyside, Scotland

If Glenfiddich is now the heavyweight champion of Speyside and in many ways the father of the modern industry, then The Glenlivet certainly deserves an honorable mention and perhaps should be considered the grandfather.  When the 1823 Excise Act was passed one of the first to apply for a license was George Smith of Glenlivet, and in 1824 The Glenlivet was born.   It was such a popular and presumably good whisky that soon many regional distillers were using the name Glenlivet on their whisky as a sign of quality.  So many whiskies in fact claimed to be Glenlivet that it became known as the longest glen in Scotland.   In the end it went to court in 1880 (when Glenfiddich was still a twinkle in the eye of William Grant) but it only resulted in a partial victory for the Smith family, and some whiskies continued to use the name in part, and today you can still see old bottles or marketing material that refer to "Craigellachie-Glenlivet" and other similar hyphenated names.  Anyway this is one of the "must visit" distilleries, considering it is the third most popular single malt in the world, and one of the increasingly few that still offers free tours and samples (at least they did in April 2010).  They have a great visitor center, which was rebuilt in 2009, with a café, shop and nice tastings including their 12 and 18 year old expressions and the 100% bourbon cask matured Nadurra.  

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Garrison Brothers, Texas, USA

Garrison Brothers, Texas, USA

This visit had a lot of firsts for me.  It was my first bourbon distillery, my first US distillery and the first distillery where we were greeted by the founder and owner of the distillery, in this case Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers.  Pretty cool.  Located in Hye, this is Texas’ first legal bourbon distillery since prohibition and is producing a very nice product.  They charge $10 for a tour but this is one of the most interactive distillery tours I have ever been on and as they patiently waited for their whiskey to mature while resisting the temptation to sell white dog spirit or put an immature product on the market I didn’t mind paying.  My favorite aspect of this tour (other the laid back hospitality I have come to love about Texas) was the fact we were able to try and taste at every stage of production.  We could taste the mash after the corn, wheat and malted barley had been cooked (it was bit like sweet breakfast oatmeal), then taste the distillers beer during fermentation (quite sour but with some fruit), white dog spirit off the still at 140 proof (hot and herbal) and finally (of course) the matured, Texas straight bourbon.   

What are the main differences between a single malt and bourbon distillery? The first was the grain recipe.  Garrison Brothers use corn, wheat and malted barley (but no rye which is often found in bourbon recipes) while single malt distilleries of Scotland use only malted barley.  In Scotland the sugars are extracted by adding hot water to the grains, in bourbon making the process involves actually cooking the grains in water to extract the sugars.  The fermentation process in most malt distilleries produces a “beer” of around 8% ABV, Garrison Brothers beer was closer to 16% ABV.  Finally the distillation of the bourbon was done in a single still but single malt is always double distilled and sometimes triple distilled.   Garrison uses 500 gal of beer at 15%  ABV which is put into the steam heated stills and in turn produces about 150 gal of 140 proof (or 70% ABV) white dog spirit that is aged for at least 2 years in oak casks so that it can be called “straight” bourbon.  Garrison Brothers use a #4 char, also known as alligator char (and the "alligator" in the Ardbeg Alligator).

They have no license to sell liquor so we couldn’t actually buy a bottle at the distillery so I bought a T shirt instead, but there is a licensed store when you turn off the main road for Garrison Bros.  I believe if you are whiskey loving Texan you will love this place and being in the middle of Texas wine country (yes that really exists) there are plenty of other reasons to make the trip and visit the area as well.  If I had to complain it would be the price per bottle.  At almost $80 / bottle retail this is very expensive for a bourbon, but there are good reasons for that.  In it's defence it is not bad when compared to the price of many Scotch single malts in Texas and hopefully with some sustained success, time (and of course increased volumes) we will see the price point reduce. 

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