Lil Ol’ Morley St Botolph, Norfolk, England
Great whisky memories are made by people, not places. And if I had to describe what I do, I’d say it’s not tasting – Murray and Broom do that better than I ever will – it’s bringing whisky alive by introducing the people I meet in the industry back home to a whisky tasting group.
When the places are as pretty as George Dickel, Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark, though, the job just got all that much easier.
A few years back at the Tom Moore distillery on the edge of Bardstown, Kentucky, I met a guy named Greg Davis, a young, happy and enthusiastic new master distiller with a product due on the market soon called Ridgemont Reserve 1792.
It was hot and Greg showed myself and Gordon Dundas, then sales manager at Whisky Magazine but now a brand ambassador for Bowmore, a tour of the site. American warehouses can be seven stories high, are made of metal, and if you want to understand bourbon you need to visit one in summer. At the bottom the temperature is about 30 degrees in summer, but at the top, it can hit 50. So we ran up the stairs, drank cask strength Barton bourbon straight from the barrel then came back down, tripping from the heat and the alcohol, and we lay on the grass in the warmth of the sun, laughing until we were choking. Greg and I have been friends ever since and one of my proudest possessions is a signed bottle with the words “you were here before the brand was even the market place and you are always welcome in my distillery.”
So meeting up with Greg on my last day was always a hope. He’s now master distiller at Maker’s Mark, anither pretty distillery only this time at Loretto, Kentucky, a Catholic community where statues of Our Lady decorate the gardens and picket fences keep the thoroughbred horses penned. And where the statues often sits in bath tubs – though my fellow journalists are cynical about my explanation why.
But it’s true because Maker’s figurehead Bill Samuels told me and he would never make stuff up or exaggerate.
The sun is shining – as it must here – and sure enough, Greg joins our party. For me, that’s job done and the trip’s complete – and time’s running out anyway.
Just time for a quick visit to Beam and a chance to say hello to Fred Noe. With several new products on the way and the distillery being expanded significantly to accommodate a full visitor experience, nowhere epitomises what’s happening in Kentucky more than this site. Much as I love visiting the State, until a couple of years back little changed here and pickings for a journalist were slim.
Not any more – with the world of whisky opening up new territories by the week the distillers here are on the move and Kentucky is as vibrant and dynamic as anywhere else. It’s a building site and it’s producing great new whiskeys, though the downside is we’re not going to see them in Europe any time soon.
I have to leave mid tour, along with my four new Israeli friends, and the one downer on the trip that they don’t make it airside to share one last beer. Turns out their Newark flight is too delayed for them to leave Louisville so they return to the trip. I love going home but sitting in a soulless airport in Louisville or on Islay when I don’t know when I’ll be back is always a tough gig for me. Hard leaving a part of your heart anywhere.
Great group, great whiskey, great times.
I’m outta here…
Coming next: No more smoke and mirrors! So much for the sentimental stuff, now read my problem with American whiskey and the people who try to define it. I guess I ought to do something objective!!
Read it here this afternoon…