Travel

A country beyond kentucky

Think American whiskey and you think Kentucky. But across the United States there are other options – including the biggest of them all
By Rob Allanson
At the risk of appalling racial stereo-typing it’s always been of some amusement how Americans blow either hot or very, very cold;how they veer from one extreme to the other, barely pausing for the middle ground.It’s what makes America so utterly irresistible.And it’s a particularly true trait when it comes to food and drink.The standard traditional American fayre? Burgers, hot dogs, bland American mustard and Americanised pizzas.What do they all have in common? They tend to be taste neutral, inoffensive and forgettable.And yet where do you find the hottest chilli sauces on the planet, with names such as ‘Too Flippin’ Hot’, and ‘Tongue Buster’ ? Right.Same with drink.In recent times we’ve tended to think of American beer as little more than alcoholic water.And even when reasonably decent beers such as Anchor and Sam Adams came along what did our American friends do? Froze the flavour out of them, that’s what.Then a few years ago the idea of flavoured beers took hold.Did they go for just a modest degree of favour? Nope.They have out fruited Belgium, out hopped India Pale Ale, out flavoured most European beer and even invented a new category of extreme beer.Only in America.To be fair on them, though, bourbon has never compromised on taste and flavour. In fact it’s what defines great bourbon.There are few other drinks styles that go even close to matching the pure explosiveness of a drink such as George T Stagg, the Harley Davidson of the drinks world with its engine revved up and its chrome gleaming.So when the news started to filter out that a micro-distillery culture was starting to emerge in America you couldn’t help but get excited by the fact. It’s very early days yet, of course,because of the length of time that maturation takes with whisky.One or two, though,have worked round that problem by using other forms of maturation, such as dipping bags of apple wood and spices in to the mix.Not whisky at all under European legislation, but not illegal Stateside (or elsewhere in the world) and still worthy of consideration because it’s still a grain-based spirit, it’s competition.Outside Kentucky there are a range of different distillers making a range of different whisky styles, including Scotch-like ones. In one example they’re even using a peated version of Scottish barley to make a pretty good replica of an Islay malt.Here then is a guide to the other American distilleries that can be visited, starting off with the big lad down the road from Kentucky and his neighbour George.AMERICAN DISTILLERIES
It’s fitting that America’s biggest whiskey,indeed one of the biggest spirits in the world,is made on a huge site that is the nearest thing the whisk(e)y world has to Disneyland.The owners of Jack Daniel’s manage tomaintain a delicate balancing act between wide-scale production of a truly globalised brand and the goodol’boy image of the advertising.So you get a lot of references here to Jack himself, shown around by good ol’boys and girls,and are kept well away from the grubbyhigh tech of the operation.That’s okay,though,because as tours go,this is a real goodie.Seeing howthe maple wood is burned and prepared for the charcoal mellowing process is worthwhile,the distillery itself is prettier than many bourbon plants,and seeing where Mr Daniel is buried and the safe he kicked and inadvertently started the process of infection that would finally kill him is all good solid historical stuff in a land not best noted for having that much history.Best of all is the factthat there are special bottles of Jack that are way better than the standard version.This part of Tennessee is dry,too,so it’s good you can get a drink at all.If you’re a Jack Daniel’s fan then there is more than enough to keep you happyin the town.You name a product and they’ve stuck a Jack Daniel’s logo on it somewhere and you’ll probably find it here.www.jackdaniels.com

AMERICAN DISTILLERIES (continued) GEORGE A DICKEL & CO
The George Dickel Distillery is about halfway between Nashville and Chatanooga (yes,as in choochoo) a little off the beaten track at a place delightfully called Cascade Hollow.There’s a plentiful supply of limestone-rich water here and while the whisky – no e because they see their standards as those of the Scots – is similar toJack in that it uses the charcoal mellowing system as defined by the Lincoln County Process,there is one key difference.They believe that their whiskey tastes better and smoother in winter so at other times of the year they chill it before it is put through charcoal,removing more heavier fats and oils.The distillery is open from Tuesday through to Saturday and offers tours as well as having a well stocked gift shop,a working post office in the distilleryand a visitorcentrecrammed with antiques and historical artefacts.To get there you turn off Highway 24 at exit 105.And if you’re heading here after you’ve been to Jack Daniel’s it will only take you about 20 minutes by car.Take Highway 55 to Tullahoma,turn left on to 41A North,right in to Hunters Lane between the Hampton Inn and the Ruby Tuesday Restaurant.Turn left at the end of Normandy Road (Highway 29) and drive seven miles to Normandy.At the stop sign turnright across the railroad tracks.Turn right in toCascade Hollow Road and carry on for 1.5 miles.www.dickel.com WHAT ELSE TO DO IN TENNESSEE
Go to Nashville and see a show.Once of course it was all traditional country stuff but Nashville now boasts anew country scene,some great jazz and blues and some fine rock venues.The city also has a pretty acceptable downtown area where one big street turns in toback to back bars and clubs.Steer clear of the redneck bars with Fabulous Baker Brother impersonators taking requests.If you like eating big and bloody,you have to go to the Stockyard Restaurant,regularly voted one of the top 10 steak houses in the whole of America.Have a big appetite though;males are expected to go for at least a 24 ounce steak and a 32 ounce monster is quite common.WHERE TO STAY
All the usual suspect motels such as Days Inn and Hampton Inn litter each and every highway; Nashville has all the biggest names and there are some quite stunning but reasonably-priced super hotels down town as well as a selection of stylish and more personal boutique choices.GEORGE WASHINGTON’S MOUNT VERNON MANSION
One of America’s biggest tourist sites lies a few miles outside Washington DC and visitors can visit the mansion and his grave,and see a replicaof the farm that he owned and worked.For whiskey enthusiasts,though,the attraction is the rebuilt distillery and grist mill that has been restored with the support of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.The gristmill contains a five metre working watermill and demonstrations are given by millers in traditional costume.At the distillery distillers demonstrate 18th century distilling techniques using fivestills and a mash tub,and thereis a museum with exhibitions and audio-visual aids.It is open daily throughout the year though the hours vary.There is a small admission charge.There is also a restaurant and food court on site.www.mountvernon.org ANCHOR BREWERY AND DISTILLERY,SAN FRANCISCO
One of America’s best loved breweries also makes whiskey.This is the home of Old Potrero rye,which has been winning plaudits across the world and the distillery here also makes a whiskey which attempts to recreatetraditional American whiskey.Thereis one tour a day and they are highly popular so advanced booking is essential.www.anchorbrewery.com AMERICAN DISTILLERIES (continued) VIRGINIA MOONSHINE,CULPEPER,VIRGINIA Belmont Farms makes Virginia Lightning,a corn whiskey,and Kopper Kettle Virginia Whiskey made in the traditional southern way and to a secret recipe.You can learn the whole story and history of moonshine here through video and exhibits.There are also rare artefacts from the Civil War and a gift shop.www.virginiamoonshine.com CLEAR CREEK DISTILLERY,PORTLAND,OREGON
Clear Creek is a family-run orchard that started making an array of fruit drinks and spirits more than 20 years ago.Among its offerings are eaux de vie,grappas and brandies.But it also does an Oregon version of an Islay malt using Scottish barley.There is a store and tasting room and on Saturdays there are two tours lasting about an hour.www.clearcreekdistillery.com EDGEFIELD,TROUTDALE,OREGON
The Edgefield estate is a leisure centre run by McMenamins and it includes everything from a golf course to a theatre,and from a range of bars serving hand-crafted ales to pottery demonstrations.Among the attractions is a distillery making a range of spirits including Hogshead whisky.You can watch it in operation while enjoying a drink and of course the whisky is on sale.www.mcmenamins.com ST GEORGE’S DISTILLERY,ALAMEDA,CALIFORNIA
Among other spirits this distillery uses a smoky brown ale as distiller’s beer to make its single malt.Maturation takes place mainly in ex-bourbon casks but some French oak is used as well as port.There are tours at lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays.www.stgeorgespirits.com STRANAHAN’S COLORADO WHISKEY,DENVER
Stranahan’s whiskey has been distilled for four years and uses local barleytomakewhiskeythat is matured in new oak barrels,so it’s a single malt-bourbon cross.Tours are held Monday to Thursday and need tobe pre-booked.www.stranahans.com WOODSTONE CREEK,CINCINNATI,OHIO
The whisky – spelled without the e – is still maturing here but bourbon,single malt and blended Scotch-style whisky are all in production on a small pot still and will be bottled from single barrels.The distillery can be visited all year and the tasting room is open everySaturday afternoon.www.woodstonecreek.com