If you ever visit Kentucky, the most beautiful distillery (in my opinion) is Woodford Reserve. Found amidst cattle area where you can see some Kentucky thoroughbreds,the distillery boasts big stone barrel aging houses, which are cool due to the insulation from the thick walls. The company also has its own cooperage enabling them to be involved in the crafting of the whisky on the wood side as well. But, the biggest difference comes directly in distillation – they use pot stills (originally imported from Scotland) rather than the column stills used in the other Kentucky distilleries. As the distillery was founded by a Scotsman, it follows that they use the traditional Scottish pot still distillation. They have three pot stills, and their spirit is triple distilled.
This is a blend marketed towards connoisseurs, presented very nicely and non-chillfiltered – which means that many of the natural oils from the whisky aren’t stripped out providing a bit better body to the whisky. It is pronounced “Chey-Vek”, which, in gaelic, means “a wee dram”. It, according to the back label, contains a high percentage (40%) of single malt in the blend (blended scotch is composed of both single malts and other grain whiskies) and was originally produced for the Hebridean Islands (a group which includes Islay, Skye, and Jura).
If you ever make it to Maker’s Mark distillery – an attractive and quite beautiful distillery – they let you dip your own bottles in their signature red wax. It was so with these bottles for me, after a trip down to Kentucky – a bit of a personal touch. However, really the treasure of this bottle has to do with what is inside. This whisky was only released this fall – a surprise, perhaps, for a distillery that has been long known for only having 1 brand (nearly for 50 years, before Maker’s 46 came out in 2010). Initially, it has just been sold in the distillery and in limited quantities elsewhere, but soon it will be a bit more widespread, though, undoubtedly, hard to find. I have batch 14-02.
Maker’s Mark is interesting in that they only produced one product, produced the same way, but for over 50 years (our standard Maker’s Mark). Until August of 2010, when they released this whisky, Maker’s 46, just before the retirement of Bill Samuel’s Junior, the son of the Bill Samuels who started the Maker’s Mark (as we know it today with new recipes and the famous red wax bottles). The wood going into this is air dried for 12 months (called “seasoning”) which changes the character of the oak – most oak is seasoned in some way, but usually not this long.
Maker’s Mark is a distillery which has been run by the Samuel’s family since 1780. The present distillery was built in 1953 by Bill Samuels after prohibition. Though his family had been in the business for some time, the whisky which was produced was not very drinkable. Bill Samuel’s wanted a return to making whisky, with a slightly different bourbon – a bit lighter and more premium than before.
One of the most well known brands, the Macallan has been producing whiskies since 1824 – and, at least a few years ago (and perhaps still) was the third highest selling single malt brand in the world. It is often equated with luxury – if stereotypes hold, it might be the one drunk by lawyers and it was James Bond’s drink of choice. It has some of the smallest stills in Speyside, resulting in a heavy spirit coming off the stills into the barrels as there is less copper contact to strip away some of the heavy elements. The Macallan also uses two yeast strains in their fermentation, which is uncommon in Scotland where most distilleries only use one strain of yeast.
William Teacher, like many of the early Scottish whisky blenders, was a grocer, and started blending in 1832 in his wife’s grocery shop. He was a bit of a pioneer – had Teacher’s dram shops by the1850s where people could go in and have a glass of whisky. They weren’t rough pubs – they were upstanding and aimed to the middle class. In 1832, Highland Cream was launched, and it continues today, with stock from Ardmore Distillery being a significant component. The blend claims to be 45% single malt, which is a decent percentage for a blended whisky.