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Travel

A tippler's paradise

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DRINKS ON THE HOUSE: Many American distilleries are located in idyllic surroundings, featuring forests, streams and picturesque villages.

If you take care not to get too drunk on this tour, you'll return much the wiser for it - and in good spirits. As America offers an intoxicating trip for the thirsty, TOI-Crest hits the whiskey trail in the hope of getting some Southern Comfort.

President. General. Proud farmer. 300 years ago, George Washington embodied all this. It was only recently that his career as a brand ambassador was launched. Washington has emerged as a poster boy for his country's beleaguered whiskey industry, grappling with new social reservations against the consumption of distilled spirits versus wine and beer which are considered 'softer' alternatives. Officials of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) say making whiskey more acceptable to the masses is now a tough job. The problems are deep-rooted. "Even getting retailers to stay open on a Sunday is difficult. Many shut for the entire day citing the neighbours' sensibilities. That's hard to overcome, " says Danielle Eddy of DISCUS. Such throw-backs to the prohibition era are acting as speedbreakers on America's whiskey industry, but the trade is fighting back, using precisely the emotive elements of 'family' and 'society' to regain its popularity.

Hence, over the last decade, all the major names in bourbon and Tennessee whiskey have started organising public tours of their distilleries while deftly playing the 'family card'. Be it a Jack Daniel's or a Jim Beam, different branches of the business flaunt the family associations they bear in their grain recipes or yeast strains. Whether 'historical accuracy' proves to be the best foil to social prejudices, only time can tell. For now, however, the distilleries have been turned into mini-museums. The safe that Jack Daniel kicked in a fit of rage before dying of gangrene stands proudly in the distillery churning out the beverage named after him.

And at Jim Beam, the VIP tour includes an account of the brand's journey narrated by, well, Jim Beam. Okay, it's a theatre actor but the effect is superb, especially when he casts a longing look at whiskey glasses and declares, "I am thirsty. . . but so would you be if you had spent a 100 years in a musty grave."

The Maker's Mark distillery is a historical treasure trove, its collection including a letter from Abraham Lincoln refusing to run for presidency when he thought he was not ready. One year later, he had changed his mind. Little wonder the spot is a American heritage site. In many ways, it is only appropriate that distilleries in the American South - known for its conservativeness and preoccupation with family - should play on these as marketing tools. The white patio-ed houses of Tennessee and Kentucky, set by green meadows where thoroughbred horses graze, create the perfect ambience for these enterprises. The Southern countryside with its villas, sweet tea and leisurely pace of life, is a far cry from conventional perceptions of the United States as the land of high-rises and maddening pace. In fact, just a few hours from Louiseville's massive KFC Centre lies the Woodford Reserve Distillery featuring pristine charm complete with its own stream - distilleries take immense pride in their water source, believing this gives their products a unique taste. Equally impressive is the Jack Daniel's distillery, with its fragrant stacks of maplewood and a serene stream, located just a few hours away from the busy industrial area of Manchester.

In all this, Washington is the star of the whiskey brigade's 'fight back' campaign. The latest addition in America's Washington memorabilia is the resurrected Washington distillery in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Its assistant director, Dennis Pogue, says, "If Washington were to enter through the door now, he would recognise this as his own distillery." The staff still wears the typical 18th century gear of a country miller. The distillery's historical accuracy was part luck and lots of hard work. Burnt down in a fire soon after Washington's demise in 1799, the distillery's brick marks could be traced in its heavily forested location. Extensive research ensured that everything known about the distillery, as it was between 1797 and 1799, could be used to resurrect it. And for those who dive into the 'Bourbon versus Scotch' debate, here's an interesting fact;widely considered the 'father' of American whiskey, Washington was actually egged onto producing spirits by his Scottish manager whose quarters in the distillery prove the fact that American whiskey owes itself to one Scotsman.

All the Beams, Daniels and Samuels of the world cannot change that.

Here's what you can expect at some of America's leading distilleries...



WASHINGTON'S DISTILLERY

LOCATION:
Mount Vernon, Virgina

HOW TO GET THERE:

16 miles south from Washington DC, Mount Vernon is an hour's drive from the US capital.

WHAT TO SEE:

George Washington's house, now a museum. The quaint little village is a feast for eyes over-fed on DC's architectural extravagance.


JACK DANIEL'S DISTILLERY


LOCATION:
Lynchburg, Tennessee

HOW TO GET THERE:

Lynchburg is 75 miles from Nashville. The oldest licensed distillery in the USA can be reached in an hour and a half from Nashville Airport.

WHAT TO SEE:

The spring which, legend says, brought Jack Daniel here is beautiful. Stacks of maplewood give out a wonderful smell. Try an olfactory testing session to learn that the same whiskey may smell like vanilla to you and cocoa beans to another.


JIM BEAM'S DISTILLERY

LOCATION: Clermont, Kentucky.

HOW TO GET THERE:

18 miles from Louisville Airport, a brief drive to Clermont transports you through time.

WHAT TO SEE:

The Southern villas are beautiful. The distillery impresses with its scale and computerised technology. The history tour from 'Jim Beam' himself or the typically delicious Southern dinner that follows is what you will cherish the most. Besides the whiskey, of course.

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