A Visit to Vendome – Still Makers

September 30, 2013 § 10 Comments

Last week marks the 2nd private tour I’ve had in my life of a custom still making facility.   The first happened 1.5 years ago in Scotland when I went with my good friend Chip (Chip Tate of Balcones) to tour Forsyths (click HERE to see that post).  The second happened again with Chip but this time in Kentucky, USA when he and I were in Louisville to receive our respective Icons of Whisky awards (personal plug: YAY!!!!!! GO BRENNE!!!!  That was such an exciting moment for me.  I shared the experience in a short blog post on my Brenne site HERE if you’re interested.  Also, HUGE congrats to all of the winners, including Chip who won Icon’s Craft Distiller of the Year for the 2nd time!).

Much to our surprise, after the awards ceremony, everyone – including many of the guys who actually live in Louisville – took off to various cities leaving Chip and I all by ourselves.   …This was not a problem 😉

We piled our things into a taxi and took off to Vendome.  Upon arrival, Gordon Lung, Vendome’s Project Manager, and the Shop Foreman greeted us with smiles and hard hats (ok, there weren’t hardhats this time as we arrived right after they stopped working for the day – but I was ready to suit-up Safety Style like I did at Forsyths!)

AllisonPatel_ChipTate

I can only guess that we looked a bit like a fancy clown car.  Chip – whom I’ve seen for years almost exclusively wearing his carhartts – was nicely dressed in a fitted suit and I in stilettos and a silk dress … just the perfect outfits to tour a massive metal-smith shop!  With our Icons awards and our caravan of cases & bags holding bottles of Balcones & Brenne safely in the shop, we jumped right into geek-heaven, talking about alloys, welding techniques, still shapes & sizes (of which there were MANY!) and all the time comparing the different techniques between the Vendome & Forsyths artists (and artists they are).

1_Vendome_Still

From what I understand, there are only 2 still manufacturers left in the world who create truly customized stills.  And Gordon is the man who takes a distiller’s visions from dreams into fully functioning stills.  He showed us one still that he completely engineered himself based off a single, 2 dimensional drawing with limited information on size & scale – a skill I so deeply admire and find nearly impossible to get my head around.

There are other still-making companies out there who have set sizes and shapes which people can piece together to “design” a still suited for their needs – but to go from the ground up with a unique concept to full completion – there is only Vendome & Forsythe.   Both of these shops are not open to the public, you’re not able to tour them as they are fully working facilities that keep our great distilleries functioning all year round.  However, both were extremely generous to not just take Chip and I around but also let me take a few photos to share with you here on my blog.  So it’s my honor and pleasure to be able to show you a small glimpse inside Vendome, a magical place from which many of our great American whiskies get their start.

*** Please respect the photos on this blog as they are all owned exclusively by Local Infusions.  If you re-blog or share, please reference my photos as “© Local Infusions” and link them back to my blog.  Thank you.***

2_Vendome_Still

3_Coils

4_Still_TopThe stainless steel oval “bubble” on the above still tops right side (left side when looking AT the photo) is a gin ‘basket’ – where you would fill with your botanicals and direct the distillate to run through that area as it came off the still rather than having it go up the main copper neck.

7_Welding_Helmut

I saw this welding helmet out of the corner of my eye and maneuvered through a particularly complicated area (only tricky for a heel-wearing person) to get this photo.  In a sea of black welding helmets, I just thought this mask is so bad a** – so American – so right to see in the middle of a Kentucky still making facility.

The next 3 photos are all related to one another.  This is a small section (<though massive in size) of one of our country’s largest whisky distiller’s column stills.  It’s kind of like looking at a cat-scan of the column, allowing us to see inside a section their rather HUGE stills.

8_JackDaniel_ColumnInside these columns are thousands of cross sections of tiny copper tubs, creating ample opportunity for the distillate to react with the metal.  The sheer size of this blew my mind.  I couldn’t even stand back enough to get a photo of this piece in its entirety and this is only a SMALL SECTION  of just one part of one still(!!!), which alone was bigger then a few of the full-size stills around the shop.

9_JackDaniel_ColumnAbove are the sections of copper tubing that fit together like puzzle pieces inside the column (below) to create horizontal “beds” of copper tubing to react with the distillate as it rises through the column.

10_JackDaniel_ColumnI took the below photo because we were discussing just how tall the columns are on these stills and Gordon said that they couldn’t fit standing upright in Vendome’s space but would have to be laid down (and take up a majority of the room below – crazy!).

5_Vendome_ShopBelow Gordon, Chip and I took turns knocking different areas of this particular piece of cooling copper to hear how the pitches change when the metal is at various temperature (the different colors also indicate the variety of temperatures of the metal).

6_Copper_Cooling

11_Top

12_Still_Handles

13_CopperCLEARLY these pieces are hand-made … I love seeing the hammer marks and “dings” (above) of an artist’s work in progress.  These will get smoothed out in time (below) but it’s quite beautiful to see stills in the making.

14_Vendome_Still

One of the things I love most about “whisky” is the people.  It takes an army to keep this industry moving forward and there is a real brotherhood/sisterhood about it.  Obviously everyone wants (& needs) to make money – but the majority of people who actually make the spirits and the stills are here because they really love it.   It’s a true honor to work in this industry and be able to share some of these inside moments with you here on my blog.  I THANK YOU for your support of my posts which keep me coming back to share and write more & more.

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Balvenie – New Make Whisky Tasting Notes

April 20, 2012 § 19 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I had the ultimate whisky-geek experience of being temporarily uprooted from my busy life in NYC to partake in the more relaxed lifestyle of the Scots in Speyside, Scotland.  One of the highlights being a very personal and memorable visit with David Steward at the Balvenie distillery (see my post on that visit HERE).

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman 2012

While there, I tasted some very rare and exceptional drams which I’ll continue to write about in upcoming posts.  The first of which, however, was their new make (also known as “white whisky”) which is the distillate prior to any aging.  It’s clear, fresh and bright and is the important base of all of their beautiful variations.  This is not something that is ever bottled and sold by Balvenie, despite a trend across the pond by the American craft distillers who have been releasing their white whiskies & moonshines over the last few years.   Sometimes these new makes can be a bit hard to drink, but I assure you, Balvenie never does anything rough.

NOSE: Sweet grass, malty, pungent sweet, celery salt, salted honey

PALATE: Eucalyptus, rich, complex, sweet after taste, bright, yummy esters (yup, I did just write that!)

WITH H2O: Eucalyptus is still present with white pepper introducing itself, still sweet, beautiful and something I wish I could buy to have on hand always!

I love a good un-aged whisky and this one is particularly delicious (in fact, I wish I was sipping on this right now as I write this post!).  But if you can get your hands on one, and I’m talking about a good one, try it chilled in the summer or, my favorite way, paired with some kind of citrus dessert (think lemon bar or a crème brûlée seasoned with orange zest).

What about you?  Do you have a favorite un-aged whisky or a preferred way to enjoy this kind of spirit?

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman 2012

Distillery Visit: Balvenie in Speyside, Scotland

April 6, 2012 § 14 Comments

Between the rain and the recent snow, there were a few beautiful, dry, warm & sunny days in Scotland … and I was lucky enough to have been a visitor during just those days!

After an incredible tour of Forsyths, the Scottish still makers (see my post on that visit HERE), next on the itinerary was a visit to another place in Speyside which has a deep place in my whisky-heart; Balvenie.

Not only was I lucky enough just being there – but my travel buddy (head distiller of Balcones, Chip Tate) and I were given a private tour by Balvenie’s Malt Master (aka, head distiller), David Stewart and their distillery ambassador, David Mair.  And if that wasn’t enough – David Stewart was also in the midst of celebrating his 50th year at Balvenie!  Congratulations, David!!!

We truly had a lovely afternoon walking the grounds, geeking out about all things “whisky” and of course – drinking some seriously special drams – a few of which David poured straight from the barrels into our open palms.  Luckily, slurping was acceptable because I wasn’t letting a single drop hit the floor!

Below is a collection of photos that I took during the visit.  Hope you enjoy!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The Balvenie Castle … not exactly where we were trying to go (it’s not that close to the distillery) but it is quite cool to see.  Thanks to Google Maps for accidentally taking us here first!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Oh the Scottish weather!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The sign says, “Welcome To Dufftown” …. phew! Back on the right road and almost there!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

We made it!!!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

This is the view with our backs to the distillery.  Isn’t Scotland just so pretty?

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The Malting Floor.  One of only about 3-5 distilleries left in Speyside who still have an active malting floor.  It’s a lot of hard work, manual labor and expense for these distilleries to maintain so it’s a real treat when you get to see one with your own eyes.  Highland Park is another one who malts some of their own barley.  I don’t know if there is a single distillery left who currently malts 100% of their own barley… if you know of one – please share in the comments below!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Love their old, red grist grinder!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Inside a giant mash ton

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

This is what they’re talking about when they say, “wooden wash backs.”  Not many places ferment their grains in wood anymore.  Stainless steel is far more common.

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Check out their shiny gold (ok, brass) spirit safes! This is where the distillate cuts are made.  Meaning that during the distillation process, the distiller uses the switches and the hydrometer (the device that reads the % of alcohol content) to move the new make through the stills, the low wines receiver and the spirits receiver. Fancy, huh?

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Sorry – no photos allowed of the aging rooms (though they were really cool!) – we need to let that liquid gold get it’s beauty sleep!  Off to the tasting room we go!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

This was the “planned” tasting round … but as luck would have it, the cabinet doors were opened up and we were treated to a few bonus rounds!  David & David gave us to some really special pours which I’ll certainly share my tasting notes to later … so stay tuned!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Needless to say, it was a really special afternoon.  Thank you David, David and Chip for the laughs, whisky and lasting memories.  This day will stay with me for a very long time.

Sláinte!

A visit to Forsyths – the great whisky still makers

March 30, 2012 § 16 Comments

Forsyth copper still - in the making. Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Last week I had the opportunity to be a part of the most unique tour in Speyside, Scotland.  A tour that is quite uncommon and not available to the public – and one that I will remember for the rest of my life  (in a way that only a true whisky-geek could).

I walked the grounds of the Forsyths facility – the Forsyth facility.  You know the guys … the ones responsible for creating and maintaining all of the equipment that goes in to making that beautiful dram in your hand.  The stills.  The beautiful copper stills.  To the likes of Balvenie and Bruichladdich, from Kavalan to one day soon, Balcones.  These are the original still masters and they continue today to make the stills by hand – 3 generations later.

A most sincere THANK YOU to Richard Forsyth for being such a generous host and to Chip Tate (Balcones) for the awesome & unforgettable invitation.

So, put on your hard hat and your ear plugs, this Whisky Woman is going to let you peep inside this magnificent palace of constant construction!

A massive Irish still in the making - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Hello beautiful! Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Forsyth stills - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

That's a mighty large fermentation tank, you got there!
Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Safety first! Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Base of a massive still destined for Ireland - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Copper talk @ Forsyth - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Yours truly modeling her hard hat - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The neck of a still being worked on by hand - so cool! - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The day ended with a few shared glasses of whisky and a solid game of pool.  Naturally, I was on the winning team – kicking butt with my rock-star partner, Richard.

A great game of pool - I won (but only with a ton of help from my partner, Richard Forsyth) 😉 - Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

And just to come full circle, Richard’s father (also Richard Forsyth) was awarded the Icons of Whisky Lifetime Achievement Award in London later that week.  Congratulations Richard on receiving such a high honor and much deserved recognition.

Whisky Review: Kornog – Celtic Whisky Compagnie (part 2)

March 14, 2012 § 8 Comments

In preparation for my fast-approaching trip to Europe where I’ll be attending the World Whisky Conference, the Icons of Whisky awards, Whisky Live UK and doing a few days in both Scotland and France, I thought it best to do a pre-trip detox.  Limiting myself to only the necessary sips of spirits and events that my life requires.

…But then again – I AM a whisky blogger…

I can’t totally abandon all fun drinking for a week, can I?  I say no.  So I have found myself wishing to revisit a beautiful bottle of Kornog that was gifted to me by the ever-talented head distiller, Jean Donnay, of the Celtic Whisky Compagnie.  And since I already published my post about my visit to his picturesque distillery (click HERE for Part 1), I thought today was the day to abandon my carrot+kale+celery concoction and reunite myself with my trusty Glencarin glass.  Here it goes!

Goodbye Juice-on-the-Roof

The Whisky Woman's Juice on the Roof - a silly attempt to detox

Hello Friend!

Happiness in a glass

ABOUT: 46% abv (92 proof), Peated Single Malt Whisky, twice distilled in copper pots over live flame, wooden washbacks, aged in French Oak on an earth floor where it rested in the salty-air climate of Brittany, France for at least 3 years

NOSE: Definitely classic, pure “peat” (think Sharpie marker), toasted cereal, hint of dried tropical fruit, ripe banana

PALATE: Sweet, buttery grain, smooth approach in the beginning, obvious peat appears in the middle which morphs into the black pepper that cuts through the buttered grains

FINISH: Happily strong, travels nicely through the mouth with a long, lingering finish.  Black pepper re-appears on the tip of the tongue at the very end.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The little time in the barrels makes it very light and approachable and gives space to let this whisky’s classic peat notes shine through.  If you’re new to whisky and want to find out if you like peated malts, this is a GREAT place to start.  Not many barrel notes – which is expected.  Very enjoyable.  A PERFECT whisky to drink during the transition from Winter to Spring.  The peat is there to add a little warmth while the lightness is refreshing.

Photo courtesy of Celtic Whisky Compagnie

Distillery visit: Anchor Brewing & Anchor Distilling

February 1, 2012 § 3 Comments

Almost 2 weeks ago, I had the amazing & somewhat unexpected pleasure of spending an afternoon with Bruce Joseph inside the famous Anchor brewery & distillery in San Francisco, California.

Bruce is a legend.

After a long history of working in the brewery, he spearheaded Anchor Distilling with Anchor’s long-time former owner, Fritz Maytag.  They started in the early 1990’s looking back into America’s history to understand and re-create the original American whiskey (we’re talking about figuring out what and how our first president, George Washington, distilled, folks).  Turns out, it was 100% Rye whiskey that was aged in toasted, not charred, barrels.  Thus, Anchor’s 18th Century Style Whiskey was born!

Anchor continues to make the 18th Century Style Whiskey and their Straight Rye Whiskey in small batches.  They have also added two gins to their portfolio: Junipero (which is beautiful & I encourage you to get your hands on if you haven’t already) and Genevieve; a unique, 17th-style gin.  This was the first time I had tried the Genevieve and was happy to have done so.  It is very pleasant on the palate, light citrus and herbs with some serious complexity & viscosity as well.  And this baby goes down very easily … almost too easily.  This is not a gin to be used in a martini – no – this is to be enjoyed neat, over ice or, as per Anchor’s suggestion, shaken with ice.

After a five hour tour that was a perfect balance of tech talk, industry speak, distilling geek-out moments and, of course, some sampling of products, it was a magical afternoon that started with a random knock at the door and the luck of good timing.

Ok, enough chit-chat!  Let’s get to the photos!

(c) Local Infusions, 2012

Hello Anchor! … the excitement grows!

(c) Local Infusions, 2012

Yay! Whole, beautiful HOPS!

(c) Local Infusions, 2012

Oh beer, how crisp, refreshing and lovely you are!

(c) Local Infusions, 2012

That’s some serious Steam Beer, baby!

(c) Local Infusions, 2012

Look at all of that gorgeous, shiny, whiskey-producing copper

(c) Local Infusions, 2012

Fermenting 100% rye, upon which we did a little impromptu tasting!

(c) Local Infusions, 2012

Bruce Joseph & me, Allison Patel … the Whisky Woman 😉

(c) Local Infusions, 2012

Celtic Whisky Compagnie in Brittany, France (part 1)

December 12, 2011 § 20 Comments

Earlier this year, I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the distillery of perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the whisky world (but not for long!).

Celtic Whisky Compagnie’s most popular brands are Kornog and Glann ar Mor.  (Specific product reviews in part 2 of this series).  On the heels of the Winter issue, before you send your 1st edition Fall 2011 Whisky Advocate magazine out to the recycling bin (or storage bin), check out their nice mention!

Photo courtesy of the Whisky Advocate

Stepping off the train from Paris to Brittany, you arrive in this beautiful, small, sunny, sea-breeze soaked town where it’s easy to start imagining ones’ early retirement.  Shortly there after, we were graciously picked up by my dear friend and head distiller, Jean Donnay.   As he drove us down the windy coastal streets, we watched the tide quickly retreat and the oyster farmers rushed in to collect their crops.  After a blissful tour of the distillery, we shared the most delicious seafood lunch on the top floor of the distillery where we talked about and drank Jean’s amazing whiskies.

The Whisky Woman & head distiller Jean Donnay

And amazing, they are.  This is truly a labor of love.  Everything they make is hand-crafted and produced by Jean and his wonderful wife, Martine.  They do everything right; 100% Scottish malt, live fire, slow distillation, wooden washbacks, worm tube copper stills … but still, given the right skill, patience, investment and knowledge, all of that can theoretically be duplicated anywhere. However, in addition to their passion and drive, what Celtic Whisky Compagnie has that you can’t copy is their perfectly strategic location for “Seaside Maturation.”

Remind you of somewhere?  Starts with an “S” ends with a “land”… exactly.

This carefully produced spirit comes off the stills and relaxes on the earthen floor right by the sea.  The warehouse is on the tip of a peninsula so you get the wonderfully moist, salty sea air continuously swirling around the aging whiskies.  When you sip Jean’s products, you are transported to this place and the amazing journey for your senses begins.

Photo credit and owned by: Local Infusions (c) 2011

Those of you in Europe – get your hands on a bottle or two (if you’re lucky!).  As for us Americans, definitely pick up a bottle on your next pass through Europe!  You’ll be glad that you did!

The distillery with owners Jean & Martine Donnay

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