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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Strathisla, Keith, Scotland

This is the malt at the heart of the Chivas Regal blends and much of the tour is focused on that.  Unsually for a whisky tour they gave us a dram of Chivas 12 year old at the beginning while we waited for the tour to start (but as they charged over $10 to take this tour and they have no cafe or other facilities it seemed like the least they could do).  They also have some interesting old Chivas memorabelia on display as well.  ( The original Chivas grocery store in Aberdeen is now a Chinese restaurant called Sam's on King Street and by all accounts if you ask them they will take you into the back to look at some of the old Chivas Bros fixtures and fittings).  The site is attractive and photogenic with a nice waterwheel feature and next door to Strathisla is the old Glen Keith distillery which they told us will re-open in 2 years time (see my blog "Return of the Dinosaurs?").  I made a note on the tour that apparently just one man runs the whole distillery such is the level of automation now, which might make at least 15 men in Tain quite nervous.  We finished the tour with samples of Chivas blend 18 year old and Strathilsa 12 year old single malt.  I find the Strahisla single malt, like the distillery itself, doesn't really stand out (maybe why it is used in blends) although I always get some banana notes when I taste it.  I sometimes get those same notes in the Chivas Regal blends although part of me wonders if that is just power of suggestion, would I taste banana if I didn't know Strathisla was in the blend? 

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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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