Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – January 2015
Burns Suppers & Fine Whiskies
by Margaret Swaine
January 25 is Robert Burns’ 256th “birthday”, as great an excuse as any to pop open a fine whisky and spout poetry. Here are some suggestions on what to drink and how to celebrate.
Burns Suppers have been a long time tradition in Scotland and beyond for over 200 years. Visit Scotland has created a free downloadable 76 page guide all about Rabbie Burns (as he is often known) and how to hold your own Burns Supper including dress code, songs such as Auld Lang Syne, poems and recipes. See “Hold your own Burns Supper eBook”
Arran Distillery was granted a lifetime patronage from The Robert Burns World Federation in 2000, and their classic Robert Burns Arran Single Malt is an eloquent, value priced dram. The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish Single Malt, which has been matured in traditional oak and finished in ex-Amarone casks, has heat and a black peppercorn bite.
Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old Single Malt from Islay is deep, powerful and rich with a gingerbread nose. Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Vat not only is a terrific whisky but two dollars is donated from every bottle sold across the country in support of Wounded Warriors Canada. (To date, Wounded Warriors Canada has received over $300,000 in charitable support from Glenfiddich. Last November’s cheque was for $120,000.)
Mortlach, the oldest distillery in a town that has the world’s highest concentration of distilleries, was established in 1823. The Mortlach 15 Year Old Speyside Single Malt has personality plus.
Ardbeg Auriverdes Islay Single Malt is a special limited release that was created to celebrate the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and while pricy, it’s impressive. Closer to home, Glen Breton 14 Year Old Single Malt Whisky from Glenora Distillers in Nova Scotia has a true scotch whisky flavour.
On this side of the pond, I recently did the Whiskey Trail in America (www.americanwhiskeytrail.com). The American Whiskey Trail is a journey into the history of spirits in America, starting with the colonial era, where whiskey played an important economic and social role. The gateway is George Washington’s Distillery at Historic Mount Vernon. George Washington operated one of the largest whiskey distilleries in early America, producing 11,000 gallons in 1799.
The distillery was excavated and authentically rebuilt on its original foundation and opened to the public in 2007. Visitors can see a demonstration of how whiskey making was carried out in 18th century America and visit the gristmill and education center.
The bulk of the distilleries on the trail however are in Tennessee and Kentucky, where the indigenous limestone rock is a natural filter, cleaning the water of iron and impurities which would adversely affect the whiskey.
Charcoal filtering is the main difference between Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon both of which are majority distilled from corn and aged in new charred white oak barrels a minimum of two years. Only water is added to adjust the bottle strengths.
Each distillery has its own unique setting and story to tell visitors. George Dickel established in 1870 in Cascade Hollow near Tullahoma still has a rustic atmosphere. The property gets over 20,000 visitors a year. On their extended 75 minute tour ($10) visitor’s get to taste four of their whiskies. George Dickel Rye, made from 95% rye and the rest malted barley, has a nice spicy fruity character. George Dickel Tennessee Whisky No. 12 is more mature with distinct wood spicing. After their first use here, parent company Diageo ships the oak barrels off to the 26 Scottish distilleries they own.
Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg, the oldest registered distillery in the United States, is a crowd favourite drawing over 200,000 visitors annually. Tours talk tales of Jack, the colourful founder and highlight the special 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal that JD filters through drip by drip. Jack Daniel’s Old No 7 has been made since 1866 using this special charcoal mellowing technique. Gentleman Jack goes through the process a second time: through three feet of charcoal though not ten.
In Clermont at Jim Beam, the world’s best-selling bourbon, you might meet master distiller Fred Noe, great grandson of the founder. Tours start at the T. Jeremiah Beam home filled with family photos and heirlooms. Built in 1911, this home of Jim Beam’s son T. Jeremiah, master distiller from 1938 to 1960, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The old household knickknacks and kitchen gadgets take visitors back to another era.
The distillery makes about 1000 barrels of whiskey a day (13 million barrels since prohibition). Jim Beam White Label Bourbon is their basic corn based bourbon. The Jim Beam Devil’s Cut is more robust and interesting. The distillery does also experiment with various grains such as brown rice, soft red wheat and other grains for their Signature Craft collection.
Makers’ Mark in Loretto established in 1805 as a gristmill distillery, is the oldest working distillery on its original site. A National Historic Landmark, seven old Victorian buildings were preserved and restored on sprawling beautifully manicured grounds. Makers’ Mark is famous for its whiskey bottles sealed by hand dipping in red wax – visitors can watch the process. At the end of the tour, if they buy a bottle, they can try their hand at dipping their purchase in wax themselves.
Woodford Reserve near Versailles is in the middle of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region famous for raising racehorses. The historic distillery has been fully restored to its 1800s splendor. Hungry guests can enjoy the Picnic on the Porch restaurant and dine on menu items such as Bourbon Trail chili, Shady Lane chicken salad and Barrel Beef sandwiches. (It’s the only distillery with a James Beard award winning Chef in residence.) Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is the number one super premium selling bourbon in the world.
Wild Turkey on a hill overlooking the Kentucky River has a plain and simple outward appearance. However inside legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell cooks up ultra-smooth bourbons with sweet vanilla caramel tastes. Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon is nicely balanced with sweet vanilla smoothness. If you can get your hands on Forgiven or Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel – you’ll be in for a treat.
Raise a glass of whisky with friends old and new. It’s the perfect antidote to a cold, dark January night. It’s my birthday this month too so you can bet I’ll be celebrating in fine fashion.
To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits
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