Monday, October 19, 2015

Lebanon, Kentucky

Greg & I were awake at 5 am since that is the usual wake-up time for both of us so we chatted a bit and planned our day before going down to the breakfast area of the Ramada Inn in Elizabethtown.  We departed for Lebanon, Kentucky by 8 am and arrived at Independent Stave around 9 am for a 9:30 tour of the cooperage.  We were very impressed with the quality and craftsmanship of barrel production at the facility that produces aging casks for most Kentucky Bourbon producers as well as for many wines and other products.  The tour took us through the stages of making barrels from the point where the logs enter the facility to the finished barrels that are ready to hold raw white whiskey for many years in the rickhouses to make fine Kentucky Bourbon.  Many of the barrels from Independent Stave are reused after storing and aging Bourbon.  These barrels may hold Tennessee whiskey, Scotch, hot sauce or other liquids that would benefit from aging in a 53 gallon charred white oak barrel.
There was a group of about 10 men from Wisconsin on the tour of Independent Stave with us.  These men are a bunch of friends who enjoy Bourbon and are visiting some of the Central Kentucky distilleries.  They were a very friendly group and we saw them several times throughout the day as well traveled to distilleries.
When we left Independent Stave around 10:30, we drove the short distance to Limestone Branch Distillery where Steve and Paul Beam make their moonshines and whiskeys.  We were met by a pleasant and gregarious host, Stephen, at Limestone Branch who gave us updates to everything that Limestone Branch is doing since our last visit there in April 2014.  Perhaps the biggest news is the release of Old Yellowstone by Limestone Branch.  This is an old brand that was made by Steve & Paul’s maternal ancestors, the Dant Family.  Old Yellowstone has been considered a bottom shelf recently and the Steve Beam wanted to restore the pride in the family’s product. 
To that end, he found some great old barrels of 7 year old Bourbon, 7 year old rye and 12 year old rye and blended them together to make an excellent whiskey.  Old Yellowstone is bottled at 105 proof to honor the 105 years that the brand has been out of the Beam family control.  Because of the blend, Old Yellowstone has an excellent taste and mouthfeel with an incredible finish.  The 105 proof made the first taste start a bit hot and the high rye in the mashbill made it seem very spice forward but the second sip of Old Yellowstone was an explosion of taste with the infamous “Kentucky Hug” in the chest.  With supplies of the component rye and Bourbon going into Old Yellowstone, the supplies are very limited and the price is a bit high at $150 or so for a bottle.  However, the experience was quite good.
While at the tasting, we tried Limestone Branch’s Precinct No. 6 whiskey.  This whiskey is corn whiskey that has been aged in used Bourbon barrels.  Like all of Limestone branch’s other products, this is another quality spirit.  There were distinct vanilla and cinnamon notes with just enough oak in the nose.  The taste carried the subtle corn flavor with hints of smoke and almond.  It was a pleasant drink.  We also tried some of the moonshines while we were there.  I always enjoy the T. J. Pottttinger Sugar Shine and Mary likes some of his flavored moonshines.  I decided to sample the jalapeno pepper moonshine this time.  It wasn’t unpleasant but just not what I expected.  I don’t know that I would purchase a bottle because I will stick with his regular Sugar Shine.  While we were at the tasting, Steve Beam came out and chatted with us.  It is clear how much passion for the spirits at Limestone Branch and for the Beam family name he has.  Steve shared a ton of information with us about many of the members of the Beam family from Jacob Boehme to Minor Case Beam, Jim Beam and Toddy Beam.  Having Steve Been come and meet with us was a highlight of the trip.
Our guide, Stephen, took us into the small but efficient distillery where we saw blue plastic drums and used oak whiskey barrels for mash tubs and the copper pot still at work.  We sampled the 160 proof white dog that, after taking our breath momentarily, was actually very flavorful.  We saw the small storage area where Limestone Branch spirits are barrel aged and the two bottling lines.  The entire operation was very compact and designed to operate with a small staff.  We finished our visit to Limestone Branch in the gift shop, buying a few things before heading to Maker’s Mark.
We got to the new Maker’s Mark visitor center at noon and got tickets for the 12:30 tour.  The trip to Maker’s Mark from Lebanon was much easier since there is a new road that is far less winding.  We also learned that there is a new larger parking area and a new visitor center.  Greg’s Coast Guard service got him a free tour and mine was only $9.  We walked around the grounds some as we waited for our tour to begin.  The group was very large and included a variety of people.  There was even a man there wearing a Marshall sweatshirt who was visiting from Berlin, Germany.  He apparently has family in the Huntington area. 
We walked to facilities where grain is stored and ground, to the mash cookers and fermentation areas.  We went to the large column stills where Maker’s Mark is distilled twice before going into the barrels for storage.  In the rickhouse, we saw how Maker’s Mark stores their aging Bourbon and that they are among a very few Bourbon makers who rotate barrels in the rickhouses during the aging process.  
After leaving the rickhouse, we went to the high tech bottling facility where Maker’s Mark bottles are filled and dipped in hot wax before being boxed for shipment to distributors.  From the bottling and shipping center we walked the short distance to one of the new tasting rooms where we tried the white dog, Maker’s Mark, Maker’s Mark 46 and Maker’s Mark Cask Strength.  We enjoyed all of the sample but we were already very familiar with Maker’s Mark Bourbons with the exception of the Cask Strength.  While it was a very high proof intense Bourbon, it was not rough at all and full of Bourbon flavor.  The wheat mashbill made for a very sweet taste with a ton of caramel and oak.  The Cask Strength wasn’t subtle at all but was a serious Bourbon that was, despite the 114 proof, very good to drink.
Of course, the tour ended at the gift shop where we bought a few items while was chatted with some of the other visitors on the tour.  We left Maker’s Mark around 2 pm and headed back to Bardstown where we hoped to visit Barton Brand’s 1792 Distillery.
When we arrived in the Bardstown, Kentucky home of Barton Brands, we saw a large group of visitors.  Fortunately, this was a prior tour that was just leaving.  As we waited on our tour to begin we enjoyed the intoxicating aromas coming from the mash cookers, fermenters and stills.  The shifting winds brought a variety of wonderful smells as we waited in the afternoon autumn sun. There were only four other people in the group with our tour, a couple from Austin, Texas and a couple from Amarillo, Texas.  Our young and enthusiastic guide, Jerica, gave us a very good tour of most aspects of the Bourbon making processes at Barton Brands.  We went from grain delivery to cooking, fermentation, distillation and storage.  Unlike other Bourbon producers that we have visited, Barton’s 13 giant fermentation tubs are not inside a building.  Rather, Barton covers the containers and pipes water around the mash to heat or cool it depending on the weather.  We hoped to see the bottling operations but that area of the distillery is being renovated and tours will not be available there until spring or summer.
The number of beverages that are either distilled, prepared or bottled at the Bardstown Barton Brands Distillery is wide and varied.  We were familiar with 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon and Very Old Barton Bourbon.  We also learned that a number of vodka, gin, tequila and rum products are produced or bottled there.  Even the Margaritaville pre-mixed drinks are made there and distributed worldwide.  Our tour ended with a tasting of 1792 and a Bourbon cream liqueur before we left.
We tried to call Ian to see if he was available to join us for dinner in Georgetown but he had to work late.  Greg and I had an excellent meal of double smoked brisket, beer cheese grits, beans and greens at Red State BBQ.  While the double smoked brisket was excellent, I will probably go back to my usual sliced brisket since the double smoked was in chunks that included more fat than I prefer.  Our server, Mandy, was very attentive and our meal was excellent. 
After leaving Red State, we drove the short distance to the Liquor Barn in the Hamburg area of Lexington to stock up before cold winter weather.  Greg picked up bottles of Buffalo Trace and Bernheim Wheat Whiskey.  The Liquor Barn was out of stock on Eagle Rare and Johnny Drum Private Reserve.  Fortunately, my friend, Janina, gave me a bottle of Eagle Rare yesterday as a gift.  I was able to get bottles of Elijah Craig, Wild Turkey 101, Bulleit Rye, Ole Smokey Moonshine, Larceny, a 1.75 liter bottle of Jim Beam, Skyy Vodka, Bacardi Silver Rum and Jose Cuervo Tequila.  I also got a bottle of Wild Turkey American Honey for my hunting pal, Dave Smith, some John J. Bowman for Steve Minor and a bottle of cream liqueur and Bourbon ball candy for my mother.  I got a premixed mojito bottle for Mary and some distiller’s grain pancake mix.  It was quite a shopping trip but we don’t plan on having to buy anything there soon.  The scarcity of many of the types of Bourbon is evidence of the current popularity of Bourbon, especially among young adults.
We left Lexington around 7:30 and enjoyed our drive back laughing about the stories of the week and the interesting people we met.  Greg and I never fail to have adventures in our travels and enjoy meeting as many interesting characters as we can.  As we drive we have to solve all of the world’s economic, educational and political problems as we reminisce on our 40 year friendship.  We can’t wait until we take another road trip adventure.  We may even let our wives join us the next time if they will have us!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bardstown, Kentucky

I needed to take some annual leave so one of my oldest and best friends. Greg, and I decided to take a few days in central Kentucky visiting a few distilleries and sightseeing.  I picked Greg up at his house around 8 am and we headed to the Bluegrass State.
Our first stops were at the ruins of the Old Taylor and Old Crow distilleries near Millville, Kentucky.  The Old Taylor Distillery must have been a massive operation.  There was a large building for fermentation and distillation as well as a huge rickhouse for the storage and aging of barrels of Bourbon.  The office building is a European style of building with limestone towers and a castle like appearance.  The distillery's founder, E. H. Taylor, a former mayor of Frankfort, Kentucky and state senator, was a descendant of both James Madison and Zachary Taylor.  Taylor built this distillery in 1887 and his passion for the purity of his product was in large part responsible for the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897.
We have read that the site is being renovated as a destination for weddings and parties along with a micro craft distillery.  That appeared to be the case since there was a great deal of construction equipment on the grounds and a sign stating that the facility was expected to reopen in Spring 2016.  We could see that the sunken gardens have been restored and that outdoor areas are being restored to the former beauty of the old distillery. A van with four ladies from Cincinnati stopped at the distillery while we were there and took a few snapshots.
We continued along Glenn’s Creek Road to the closed Old Crow Distillery.  Although no whiskey had been made there since the early 1990s, there was a distinct aroma of Bourbon in the air.  At first we wondered if the smell was coming from the Woodford Reserve Distillery a few miles away.  We dismissed the idea that the smell of Bourbon persisted from the past 25 years.  Since the property was purchased by the parent company of Jim Beam Bourbon, we wondered if the historical Old Crow rickhouses were being used to age Jim Beam products.  Although we still don’t know if we are correct, we did see some trucks on the property with the Jim Beam logo on the side.
After taking some snapshots, we continued toward Bardstown, Kentucky to visit some additional distilleries.  Our first stop was at the Bourbon Heritage Center which is Heaven Hill’s visitor center.  We arrived a little before noon.  This is perhaps the most educational of the distillery visitor centers.  Although we elected to not take a tour, we walked around the visitor center and read the informative signage and displays.  We like the interactive displays showing the processes of making Bourbon from bringing the grain into the distillery through grinding, cooking, fermenting, distilling, barreling, aging and bottling.  Many of the products of Heaven Hill like Evan Williams, Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig and Parker’s Reserve were for sale at the Heaven Hill visitor center although the prices were at full retail and are a good deal more expensive than nearby liquor stores.
From the Bourbon Heritage Center we drove the short distance to the Willett Distillery.  Willett is the largest of the micro craft distilleries.  We were able to get in on a tour that was just starting as we arrived.  Thanks to Greg’s military service in the Coast Guard, we were able to get our tour for free rather than the usual $12 fee.  We toured the areas were the grains are cooked and fermented for 3 – 5 days.  From there, we went to the large column still where the first distillation takes place then we went to the copper pot still that finishes the spirits that are produced at Willett. 
The distillate is pumped to cisterns where the raw ethanol is adjusted to 125 proof and dispensed into new white oak barrels.  These barrels are all stored on the grounds of the Willett Distillery.  We entered one of the rickhouses and saw the many barrels in the five story unheated building.  From there, we went back to the visitor center for a tasting of Willett’s products.  We both sampled Willett’s signature product, Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon.  For our second sample, Greg chose Willett’s Pure Kentucky Bourbon and I had the Willett Rye.  Both of us enjoyed our samples as we left the distillery.
We went back through Bardstown to the Oscar Getz Museum.  We were met by a friendly volunteer who gave us a great deal of information on the museum.  Although there is no fee for the museum we both made a donation and the guide gave me a beautiful cut crystal Bourbon decanter.  I will keep a good Kentucky Bourbon in the decenter after I give it a thorough washing.  We were very impressed with the number and variety of bottle, memorabilia, advertising and photographs from the Bourbon industry before and after Prohibition.  We took a lot of photos of many of the interesting artifacts and displays.  We stayed there for over an hour until nearly the closing time of the museum.
We drove by the Barton Distillery that makes the 1792 Reserve Bourbon but didn’t stop since they are not open on Sunday.  We drove by the Old Bardstown Historical Village then on to our motel in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.  We were met at the Ramada Inn in Elizabethtown by Scott, the friendly desk clerk.  I had used some of my expiring points from Wyndham Rewards for a free room and Scott was very accommodating giving us recommendations for dinner as well as nearby attractions.  Our room was very nice and had a refrigerator, microwave, television and comfortable beds.  The room is all the better knowing that it was free.  We walked a short distance to a Shoney’s Restaurant for dinner where we both had the buffet that included, fried catfish, turkey & dressing, chicken and lots of side dishes.  We both had our fill for dinner.  We felt like a couple of senior citizens (which we both are) since we were having dinner at 5 pm but since we had missed lunch, we were both hungry.  We walked back to the Ramada Inn where we crashed, watched National Geographic on TV and had a sip of some Eagle Rare, my favorite Bourbon.
We are looking forward to going to Independent Stave, Limestone Branch Distillery, Maker’s Mark Distillery and perhaps Barton’s 1792 Distillery.  We hope to finish our day by stopping at Liquor Barn in Lexington and pick up some of our favorite beverages.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Family Weekend at Berea, Kentucky

For my Father’s Day gift this year, my daughters and their families gave us a weekend at Berea, Kentucky.  For a number of years we have been wanting to have a weekend where we could all congregate and have things to do that would appeal to everyone.  Berea was the perfect fit.
We picked Gran up at 8 am and took the drive down I-64 West to I-75 south taking about two and a half hours.  We parked at the large modern Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea and picked up the free trolley that travels all around the small town.  The driver was an excellent guide giving us a lot of information on the history of the college and the town.  When the trolley arrived in the Old Town part of Berea, we saw Ian and Emily parking so we beckoned them onto the trolley to take the rest of the tour with us.  By the time we arrived back to the visitor center Greg, Sarah and Peter were at the college area so we met them there.
Lunch was at the Main Street CafĂ© which is in the same block as the Boone Tavern.  The salads and sandwiches that we had seemed to suit everyone.  After lunch, we all walked around some of the many shops and crafts in the Old Town and college areas of Berea.  There are glass blowers, a pewtersmith, weavers, painters, a dulcimer maker and many other artisans and craftsmen.
When we were tired we sat on the porch of the Boone Tavern being entertained by Peter while we waited for our rooms to become available.  We enjoyed catching up and playing with the baby.  We were able to get to our rooms around 3:30 and rested a bit before dinner.  The rooms in the old somewhat small but that is not surprising for a hotel that opened in 1909.  The rooms were furnished with beautiful well-crafted cherry furniture.  The furniture was built by Berea College students in their classes.  The bed was comfortable and the rooms were quiet.
We met for dinner at 5:30 in the Boone Tavern.  Until very recently, a jacket and tie were required for dinner. Although there is no longer a strict dress code, diners are generally appropriately dressed for dinner at the restaurant.  Servers and much of the kitchen staff are students at the college.
We all had some of the spoon bread for which the Boone Tavern is famous.  Popular menu items for our family were the pork chops, rabbit pot pie, lamb meat loaf and southern shrimp and grits.  We all enjoyed our meals and had no room for dessert.  We believed that the $220 price for the seven of us wasn’t bad considering the quality of the meal and service.  Gran treated us for the dinner.  We changed clothes after dinner and took a short walk around the campus and up the observation tower a couple of blocks away.
We awoke early and enjoyed being lazy on a Sunday morning.  As people started to awaken and move about, Emily and I took breakfast orders and made a run to McDonalds.  Emily, Ian, Sarah and Greg took a drive toward Bighill while Peter hung out with us.  He played for a bit then took a short nap on our bed.  We walked around town for a little then went to lunch at Papaleno’s where Emily and Ian treated us to some good Italian food.  Many of us had the baked spaghetti or one of the pizza varieties they offer.  We enjoyed the lunch.  After lunch we walked the short distance to the Log House Craft Gallery where student arts and crafts are sold. 
Most of the items for sale are made by Berea College students so we all bought a few things and enjoyed looking around.
We made our way back to our cars and said our goodbyes after a great weekend as we went to Cincinnati, Georgetown and Huntington.  On the way home, we stopped for a couple of geocaches along the way and still made it back by 5 that evening.  Everyone had a great weekend and look forward to seeing each other soon.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Cleveland Museum of Natural History & Cuyahoga Valley National Park

We woke at our usual 5 am time this morning and caught up on emails and other tasks before we started our day.  We grabbed some cereal and fruit from the breakfast area of the Days Inn and checked out.  Although the motel was plain, it was in a very good location and at $50 per night was quite a bargain.  
Many of the museums in Cleveland are within a few blocks of each other over near Case Western Reserve University.  We decided to start our days at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens.  Parking in a premium in the area but visitors can park in the garage at the botanical garden for half price ($6) with paid admission.  We paid the $11 each admission to access the huge area.  We started in the two story glasshouse where there are many tropical plants from jungle and arid tropical regions.  Inside the glasshouse are a variety of brightly colored tropical birds and butterflies.  Trays of fruit were out for the fruit eating birds as well as the butterflies.
We really liked the many cacti, kalanchoe and other desert plants that are indigenous to the desert regions of southwest Madagascar.  The butterflies were spectacular.  We were especially impressed with the Blue Morphos that are beautiful in flight but fold their wings to expose only the drab undersides when resting.  When we were in Bleize several years ago we spent a lot of time chasing them and trying get a good snapshot.  We had the same problem in the glasshouse.  The morphos tended to stay in the least accessible areas making them difficult to photograph.  We were, however, able to get some photos of many of the smaller butterflies.
Upstairs in the glasshouse were many colors and varieties of orchids, vines, heliconia and other tropical plants.  Most plants were well marked with identification tags and information about the plants’ uses and unique characteristics.  There was a stream running through the glasshouse with an attractive waterfall.  There were also tortoises and chameleons loose among the plants.
From the glasshouse, we walked outside to the many themed gardens, starting in the herb garden. Like the plants in the glasshouse, everything outside was clearly labeled and maintained.  The herb and medicinal plants were arranged in attractive plantings with stone and decorative concrete paths.  We also went through the woodland garden, rose garden, topiaries and the perennial garden.  When we were in the kitchen garden we saw a family with a young woman in a Xavier sweatshirt.  Turns out that she is an occupational therapy graduate student there.  We told her about Sarah being an alumnus and that she still maintains her connection to the Xavier’s OT department.  She may well meet Sarah through a class or internship.
After leaving the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, we walked across a small urban park to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  I stopped along the way to purchase a hot dog from a street vendor’s cart and arrived at the museum.  With our Cincinnati Museum Center membership, our admission was free, saving us $28.  We started by walking through a collection of beautiful landscape photographs from some iconic locations around the world.  Photos from Grand Canyon, Denali, Norwegian fjords and South American rain forests.  The images were stunning in their colors and composition.
From there, we walked through the dinosaur exhibits.  They had a number of skeletons and interactive displays to give visitors a view of the diversity of dinosaur life across the world but especially in Northern Ohio.  I especially enjoyed a life sized model of a 60 foot long sauropod that had video projected on it to show how the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and reproductive systems may have functioned.  Using the projected video, the model appeared to move as the dinosaur breathed, moved blood through arteries, ate and produced eggs.  A good narration provided a lot of information on how the internal anatomy of herbivorous dinosaurs may have functioned.
We walked through the geology sections to learn more of the history of the area from the formation of the North American continent to the glaciation that shaped the Great Lakes.  There were a number of displays that show the diversity of minerals both as ores and as finished products.  We also enjoyed the display of fluorescent minerals.  Large cases around the geology area held polished egg shaped samples of minerals from around the world.
Nice displays on the area’s Native Americans gave views into the life of indigenous people in Ohio dating back as far as 10,000 years.  A replica of a burial mound showed how the same burial mounds were used by multiple cultures over the course of thousands of years.  They have artifacts from many Native American cultures even those who are not from the area that is now Ohio.
As we were leaving the Museum of Natural History we went to the outside area to see some of the plants and animals in the small courtyard.  They have two river otters in a pond area where they were romping and playing.  A small copse across from the pond had two coyotes that were relaxing and a pair of red foxes.  We sat on a bench for a while and watched the otters play then went to the car to start back toward home. 
Rather than going home on the highway we decided to come back through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  When Ian and Emily were in the area a few months ago they said that they enjoyed stopping in the park for a visit.  It was interesting to learn about the canal system that was built in the area to connect the Great Lakes to the Ohio/Mississippi River system.  However, by the mid 1800s the proliferation of railroads made the canals all but obsolete.  Many canals, locks, mills and other vestiges of the canal system remain in Ohio.  We visited a couple of nearby geocaches and walked out to Brandywine Falls in the park then drove on to Akron where the National Parked ended. 
We picked up I-77 near Akron and drove through heavy traffic down through Canton.  That was not surprising since we were there at rush hour.  We made it to Cambridge, Ohio by around 7 pm and stopped at Bob Evans for dinner then drove home by 10:30.
This was another very enjoyable short trip for us.  We benefitted from the tips from Ian & Emily who had been there recently.  We consulted the AA Tourbooks and got restaurant advice from TripAdvisor. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cleveland Zoo

As with every other day, we awoke a little after 5 am but it was nice to stay in bed for a bit and just be lazy.  After watching all we could stand of the morning “news” shows, we walked down to breakfast at the Days Inn Cleveland Airport.  Since we were paying only $50 for a room with a king sized bed, we didn’t have terribly high expectations for breakfast.  However, there were several types of cold cereal, the ubiquitous waffle maker, some mini omelets and an assortment of breads for toasting.
After breakfast, we came back to the room to catch up on emails and plan for the day.  We were only 20 minutes from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo so we didn’t want to leave much before 9:20 since the zoo opens at 10 am.  Like yesterday, the weather was unparalleled today.  It was perfect for being out at a zoo.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the light breeze felt great in the mid-70s temperatures. 
The zoo wasn’t crowded at all when we arrived and we got right in.  Our Cincinnati Zoo membership got us in for half price so admission for the two of us was only $13 and parking was free. 
We were impressed with the size of the zoo that has a nice collection.  The Australia exhibit was especially good with several species of kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and other displays.  They have a great elephant exhibit with a number of animals in a large open area.  They have a number of primates and big cats in open enclosures.  We also liked the giraffes where there were at least six adults and some young.  Visitors could pay a few dollars to get lettuce leaves to feed to the adult giraffes.  Mary was happy that there are red pandas at the Cleveland Zoo.
We were also impressed with the botanical displays in the zoo.  It was obvious that many of the plants are brought in for the cold Cleveland winter.  There are a number of sedum and other succulents that are winter hardy.  Many of the late summer flowers were blooming this week. We stayed at the zoo until around 2 pm then walked over to the Rain Forest area which is included in our admission but has a separate facility next to the zoo.
The Rain Forest building is a large geodesic dome that has two main floors.  There many tropical species that were clearly labeled.  In addition to the rain forest plants, there are a few animals on display that are indigenous to the rain forest regions.  We especially liked the sloths and tree porcupines.  We stayed at the Rain Forest for a little over an hour and left for our motel around 3 pm.  Since we had skipped lunch, we ate some of the snacks that we had packed.  Most of these were Trader Joe’s items from my Christmas stocking last year.  We enjoyed munching on the figs and dried jackfruit on the drive back.
Mary had called her cousin, Kim, who lives in the Cleveland area and arranged to meet up for a bit this afternoon.  We had iced tea with Kim and her husband, Gene, at the Bob Evan’s near the motel.  It was nice seeing them.  Kim is the cousin who is closest to Mary’s age.  We had a really great time seeing them and catching up.  We promised to get with them soon for a longer visit.
This evening, we went to dinner at Campus Grille next to Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, OH.  We had checked TripAdvisor and Campus Grille had excellent reviews for their Cuban food.  Since they were only 2 miles from our motel and we love Cuban food, we gave it a try.  The restaurant is very small with only about 8 tables inside and another 4 or so outside.  The staff there greeted us warmly and made sure we were happy with our meals.  I had chicken empanadas which had very moist chicken inside the masa flour shells with a generous amount of annatto added.  Mary ordered the Cuban sandwich, her favorite every time we go to a Cuban restaurant.  Her sandwich had a couple of slices of ham and a huge portion of some excellent roast pork and Swiss cheese.  The kicker that we have never had on a Cuban sandwich was the horseradish mustard.  The whole sandwich was toasted in a sandwich press.  The pork was falling apart and the juices dripped from the sandwich.  We had an exchange of entrees.  I gave her one of my two empanadas and she gave me half of her sandwich.  We were both happy with our meals.  We shared an order of tostones (fried plantains) that came in a large aluminum plate.  Most of the tostones came back to the motel with us.  Our bill was less than $20 for both meals.
Tomorrow we plan to go to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and perhaps the nearby Cleveland Botanical Gardens.  After we have seen all we want to see in this area we will drive back home since we have obligations over the weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Since we are programed to wake early even if we are on vacation, we were out the door today early and on the road by 7 am.  The route to Cleveland couldn’t be easier, we went straight up I-79 for five hours and we were there!  Along the way we passed some interesting towns that have a history with the canal system or in the early settlement of the region.  When we come this way again we plan to stop along the way and visit more.
Elvis' gold suit
We were in the parking lot next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before noon and had the sandwiches and snacks that we had packed for our lunch.  Parking seemed a little high at $10 for the day but we wanted to be sure that we were in a safe place.  Later we saw parking for $7-8 but we were pleased with where we were.  We had purchased our tickets online which was a little more expensive than buying them at the door but we didn’t want to have to wait in a line.  However, when we arrived we saw that there really was no line and we could have easily bought the tickets there.  We still think it is a good idea to buy tickets in advance.
Jimi Hendrix' suit
We had been wanting to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a number of years but there always seemed to be something going on that prevented it.  We were really happy to be able to go this year.  We took a lot of time at the displays and exhibits.  The first displays were on the 2015 inductees then there were cases of artifacts and displays that are generally organized by genre or era of music.  We spent a lot of time in the early period with the displays from blues, jazz, rockabilly and other rock and roll influences.  We also enjoyed the displays on the early rock icons like Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke and Little Richard.  We spent the most time in the sections devoted to the rock of the 1960s and 70s.  There were cases for Motown, San Francisco and LA music that we enjoyed a lot.  This was the music of our high school and college years.
Ringo Starr's drum kit
Scattered through the museum were screens showing biographies or documentaries of notable groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones or of trends in music like the Memphis sound.  There were also a number of touch screen kiosks with things like One Hit Wonders and Songs and Most Influenced Rock.  We stopped at each of these and enjoyed reading the information.  At a theater area there was an hour long presentation of all inductees since 1986, the first year of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The movie provided a sample of many of the performers’ music as well as photos or video.  Some of the inductees were producers or writers and were shown still images. 
Mary on the cover of Rolling Stone
We found that we didn’t agree with all of the inductees since many seemed to either have only a few hits or didn’t have a major influence on the direction of the music.  However, groups that were hugely popular in the 1970s like The Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller Band and Chicago were not in the Hall of Fame.  We just couldn’t understand how The Stooges (not Moe, Larry and Curly) were in but not Michael McDonald or John Denver.
We finished our visit on the top two floors of the museum which are for the traveling exhibits which is now the photography of Herb Ritts.  He photographed many of the best known rock artists for magazine covers like Rolling Stone and others.  He also did album covers and posters.  His most frequent subjects are Madonna, Tina Turner and David Bowie, however, he had many photos of Elton John, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and many, many others.
It was after 5 pm by the time we had completed our visit.  We could have spent more time there but we saw most of what we had come to see.  We passed quickly through exhibits on music genre that do not especially interest us.  There were some great items on display like one of Ringo Starr’s drum kits and guitars owned by Mother Maybelle Carter, Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger.  There were also displays of George Harrison’s grade school swimming certificate and Jim Morrison’s Cub Scout uniform that were of less interest to us.  Although some bands that would be considered “Southern Rock”, like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd were inducted in the Hall of Fame, there were no displays for that genre.
Since we didn’t want to drive to the Days Inn Cleveland Airport at rush hour, we walked along the lake shore for a bit after leaving the museum.  The GPS guided us for the 20 minute drive to the motel and although traffic was heavy, it moved well and we arrived without incident.  After checking in to the motel, we did a search for highly rated restaurants nearby and came up with an Italian place called Bucci’s.  It was only a quarter mile from our motel.  I was getting all ready for some chicken Parmesan with Gary Bucci but we learned that this location has closed.  The next highest rated was Maya Mexican Restaurant with is about 2 miles away.  When we arrived, the restaurant was busy but we didn’t have to wait for a table.  Mary had a beef tips enchilada and burrito combo and I had chili rellenos which were good but had too much melted white cheese.  Everything was tasty but not much different than we get at any local Mexican restaurant.  Since we had eaten a small lunch and had built up a hunger, we had no trouble enjoying the meal.  We have had Mayan food and this place definitely did not offer Mayan cuisine but was more of a typical Mexican restaurant.  It was neither especially good nor bad but the service and prices were good and we were satisfied with our meals.

We came back to the motel and crashed with responding to the day’s emails then reading a little before bed time.  We plan to visit the Cleveland Zoo on Thursday and are especially excited about the rain forest exhibit.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Buffalo Trace Hardhat Tour

After a winter of snow and cold wind followed by heavy rain resulting in local flooding, we were anxious to take advantage of a beautiful day and take an outing with friends.
We picked up our longtime friends, Greg & Janina Michael for a tour of a couple of our favorite Kentucky Bourbon distilleries.  The drive to Frankfort, Kentucky was very pleasant and gave us a chance to catch up with our companions arriving at Buffalo Trace Distillery a little after 10 am.  Our Hardhat Tour didn’t start until 10:30 so we walked around the visitor center and gift shop in the midst of a major construction project.  Like most distilleries, the current boom in the Bourbon industry has created a flood of visitors to distilleries.  Bourbon makers have expanded and improved the visitor centers and tours to accommodate the growing number of foreign and domestic tourists.  We learned that the gift shop will now expand to include most of the first floor of the visitor center while displays and tastings will move to the building’s second floor.
Although we have taken the standard tour of Buffalo Trace on many occasions over the years, we had never been on a hardhat tour.  Our knowledgeable guide, Shelly, a 30+ year employee of Buffalo Trace, took us through the distillery from where the corn, malted barley and rye enter, through hammer mill areas, to mash cookers, coolers, fermenters, yeast tanks, stills, rickhouses and even bottling operations.  I didn’t know that Buffalo Trace doesn’t combine their grains until after cooking.  Milled corn is cooked at the highest temperature and for the longest time, rye is cooked for a shorter time and at a lower temperature.  Since germination processes have begun converting the barley’s starches into sugars in the malting process, very little cooking is required prior to fermentation.   
Some of the best things about a distillery tour are the smells.  I love the scent of the grains being crushed in the hammer mill. The sweet smell of corn mingled with the spicy rye aroma is very pleasant.  Moving to the fermentation areas, the acrid smell of sour mash, fermenting corn and the intoxicating layer of carbon dioxide is a smell that is quite unique and not unpleasant.  My personal favorite scents of the day are in the old dimly lit rickhouses. Oak barrels, cold Kentucky air, aging Bourbon leaking between oak staves and old wood from the decades old post and beam buildings give a unique and pleasant smell.  The final aroma of the day was in the bottling area.  We were in the area where the premium single barrel Blanton’s Reserve is hand bottled and labeled.  The smell of the outstanding barrel proof Bourbon made us anxious to enjoy a sip of Buffalo Trace products in the tasting room.  We had sips of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Wheatley Vodka and White Dog.  We followed with a sip of Bourbon Cream and a Rebecca Ruth Bourbon Chocolate.
Unlike some distillery tours we have taken, the group on the Buffalo Trace Hardhat Tour was small.  In addition, nearly everyone but us was in the spirits industry.  One member of the group was the national sales director for Blanton’s Reserve.  He had two of Europe’s leading Blanton’s distributors where there from France.  Once gentleman was with Everclear and a couple of other Buffalo Trace employees were on the tour.  It was great to interact with so many people with so much knowledge of Bourbon and spirits.  We bought a few gifts at the gift shop and left the distillery at 12:30.
Emily recommended a restaurant in Frankfort called Gibby’s for lunch.  The sandwiches we each had were very good and the prices were quite reasonable.  We were able to park right in front of the restaurant and were able to get a table easily.  After we finished our lunch, we drove the short distance to Lawrenceburg to tour the Wild Turkey Distillery
We got to the distillery a little after 1:30 and signed up for a 2 pm tour and enjoyed the warm sunny day while we waited on our tour shuttle to arrive.  Our guide at Wild Turkey was interesting and well informed.  We saw the Bourbon making process from milling grain through barrel aging in Wild Turkey’s many rickhouses.  We were unable to see the mechanized bottling operations but were able to see all other aspects of making the wide variety of Bourbon made there.  
The highlight of the trip was a visit by Master Distiller, Eddie Russell.  He took time from his busy schedule to meet with us and give us an insider’s view of how premium Bourbon is made.
After our tour, we arrived back at the newly built visitor center for a tasting.  Sips of most of Wild Turkey’s products were available including Wild Turkey 101, Wild Turkey 81, Rare Breed Barrel Proof, Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Small Batch, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, Kentucky Spirit, Wild Turkey Rye, Russell’s Reserve Rye, American Honey and American Honey Sting.  We enjoyed our sips and conversation before taking the short drive to Four Roses Distillery.
We arrived at Four Roses a few minutes too late to take the day’s final tour.  We really like the visitor center and distillery tour at Four Roses but have been unable to get a knowledgeable guide on any of our previous tours.  We like Four Roses Bourbon and enjoy the beautiful distillery and wish that we would get a guide at some point that can communicate adequately about the variety of Four Roses Bourbons.  Although we couldn’t take a tour, we were able to purchase ($5) tickets for a tasting that included Four Roses Yellow Label, Four Roses Small Batch and Four Roses Single Barrel.  Our tasting fee included the souvenir rocks glass.  We walked around the newly remodeled visitor center then left for Lexington to do some shopping and for dinner.
We arrived at the Liquor Barn off Man O’ War around 5 pm to shop for some of our favorite Bourbons and to chat with the Liquor Barn Bourbon concierge to get additional recommendations.  We tasted a featured Irish Whiskey but neither of us was impressed.  We picked up some Ole Smokey Moonshine and were browsing the Bourbon selections, noticing that they were out of stock of our favorites, Eagle Rare and Johnny Drum Private Stock.  The concierge recommended a bottle of Buck’s Bourbon, an eight year old Bourbon from Kentucky that has a low rye mashbill and a balanced flavor.  She also recommended the New Make Bourbon White Dog from New Riff Distillery in Newport, Kentucky.  This clear spirit is supposed to have the delicate flavor of fresh corn that I really enjoy in an unaged whiskey.  We purchased a bottle of each of these as well as a premixed mojito for Mary that she really enjoys.  Greg got a bottle of his favorite, 1972 from Barton and we made our way to Ramsey’s for dinner which is in a nearby strip mall.
We got a table quickly and had a short wait for Emily to join us after she got off work.  We all enjoyed our meals and especially the dinner conversation.  The food at Ramsey’s is always excellent.  Janina had a vegetable plate, Greg had a huge buffalo chicken salad, I had the Kentucky hot brown sandwich and Mary & Emily had the country steak and gravy.  Emily especially enjoys the corn oysters from Ramsey’s.

After saying our goodbyes, we drove back to Cabell County on I-64 enjoying our chat and planning to get together again soon.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tons (literally) of manatees

Since we had turned in early on Saturday night, we awoke early at the Days Inn in Deltona.  Although we hadn’t taken breakfast or showered, we left for Blue Springs State Park before 7:30.  The park was a short drive from our motel but was closed the evening before because of the number of guests.  State parks in Florida close when all of the parking spaces have been taken and only reopen when adequate parking is available.  
We were second in line to enter the park and paid our entry fee of $6 per car to enter the grounds. We walked along the boardwalk and saw increasing numbers of manatees as we neared the stream’s source, Blue Spring.  The large spring puts out over 100 million gallons of water at 72 degrees all year.  In winter, the manatees swim up the St. Johns River over 150 miles to the warm spring.  The manatees stay at the warm spring during the night then venture out into the river to feed each day but may return to the warmth of the spring as desired each day.  
There were close to 300 of the manatees there today ranging from 3000 pound adults to young manatees with their mothers.  We enjoyed walking along the spring and the runoff water watching the manatees in the clear water.  Since the spring water came from underground, it is very lacking in oxygen which is not a problem of the air breathing mammals like manatees.  The only fish that we saw in the stream and spring were those who are tolerant of low oxygen levels like gar, topminnows and the invasive tilapia and carp. 
We spent over an hour at the spring watching the manatees swimming until our hunger and need to shower overcame us so we drove back to our motel.  The temperatures were up into the mid 70s and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  It would be impossible to imagine a more beautiful day.  It was tempting to stay out in the beautiful Florida weather but we needed to check out of our room by 11 am.  We spent the morning packing and preparing for our return back home.  We finished our cereal that we purchased earlier at Publix in Holly Hill then packed our bags to fly back home.
We took the short drive to Sanford as we made our way to the airport.  As we were driving we saw a hawk flying low just over the height of our rental car.  Turned out that the hawk had a large live snake in its talons and the snake was still writhing as the hawk flew away.  It was quite a site but since the cameras were already put away we were unable to get a snapshot.
drove to Sanford and spent some time at the Riverwalk where we read the signs on the history of the area as a citrus and vegetable farming area.   We learned a great deal about how the exceptionally cold winters in the late 1800s caused the orange trees to die.  After that, the area grew celery very successfully.  As we walked along the riverwalk, we found a few geocaches and took advantage of the sunshine.  We were surprised to notice that the redbud trees there were already in bloom in mid January.  Redbud trees in our area don’t typically bloom until mid April.  Although the temperatures were in the mid 70s, the wind off the river was sharp.  We cut our walk short because of the wind and drove to a nearby Subway for lunch were we split a meatball sub.  Along the way to the airport, we topped off the tank of the rental car with $1.99 gas.
Although we were early, we drove to the Sanford Airport and turned in the Nissan Sentra rental car.  The Sentra was a good choice for us this week.  The car was large enough to accommodate our needs but small enough to get great fuel economy.  The weekly rate on the car was quite affordable as well.
We had no trouble at checking since our bag was slightly under the weight limit at 39 pounds.  We sat with a couple at the terminal who sat on the airplane behind us last week.  They enjoyed their time at Cocoa Beach.  Our flight left on time at 4 pm and we arrived at Huntington Tri-State Airport before 6 pm.  We got our bag from the carousal and drove home to get ready for the coming week.

As with our prior Florida trips in January, this one was interesting and relaxing,  We saw from beautiful areas and learned about the history of the region.  It would be difficult to say which part of the state we found to be the better visit.  Each region has merits in their own right.  We hope that we can get low cost airfare to Punta Gorda next winter and seeing some of the Gulf Coast that is south of Tampa Bay then perhaps going east into the Everglades area.  We have some time to plan for that trip in 2016.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ocala National Forest

After checking out of our room at Daytona Beach, we drove inland to De Leon Springs State Park.  This park was a popular vacation site in the 1950s and 60s.  The main attraction of the park is a spring that puts out a huge volume of water that forms a small pond flowing into a river.  Today the spring is popular with SCUBA classes and locals wanting to cool off in the water.  However, 50 years ago there were a number of attractions there including a water skiing elephant!  It would be difficult to imagine an elephant on skis in the small pond but we saw the pictures at the small visitor center.  Another popular attraction is the old sugar mill where sugar cane was converted to sugar back in the early 1800s.  Today, the mill houses a popular restaurant where guests can make their own pancakes all day. 
Many locals come there for breakfast throughout the day.  Since we had just eaten breakfast of cold cereal back at the motel, we didn’t stay for breakfast.  We did chat with some divers who were there for a certification class.  The main part of the spring is very funnel shaped and not large at all.  However, the spring has a cave at the bottom where divers can go nearly 200 feet back along the underground stream.  There were also a few nature trails where we walked through wetland areas and saw cypress swamps and forested areas.
We headed out from there toward Ocala National Forest.  This forest is a huge expanse of land that includes prairie, pine forest, wetland, scrub and lakes.  We drove out many of the smooth sand roads to several trailheads and walked around some of the short trails.  There were a number of places where camping is permitted and many people came and put their canoes and kayaks in the river.  It was a very pretty area. 
We came back toward Orange City were we have a room at the Days Inn.  This is an older style roadside motel with three sections of one story rooms arranged in a U shape with parking in the center.  We were pleasantly surprised that the rooms had been recently updated and were very large.  We have a bedroom with a king sized bed and a small dining area with a refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker and table.  Perhaps the best part of our room is that it was free.  We had a number of points through Wyndham Rewards and used some to get the room tonight for free.
After resting for a bit, we drove to Gemini Springs Park, a small Volusia County park that offers canoe and kayak rental, soccer fields, and hiking paths.  People where there picnicking, flying radio controlled airplanes, bicycling, and playing.  We found a few geocaches in the park as we walked around and stayed until the park was closing at 5:30. 
On the recommendation of the motel desk clerk, we drove to Brian’s Bar-B-Q.  Turns out that it was an excellent choice.  Mary ordered the brisket and I had the smoked turkey.  We both ordered cheesy bacon grits and cole slaw on the side.  We swapped half of our meats with each other.  Although the brisket was outstanding, we both agreed that the smoked turkey was among the best we had ever eaten.  Our meal was around $20 and we left unable to eat another bite.
We were surprised to learn that John Stetson, maker of the famous Stetson Hats, lived much of his life in DeLand, Florida.  Since he donated generously to DeLand University, the school was renamed John B, Stetson University in 1889.  Stetson University was the first law school in the state of Florida. 
Since our flight isn’t until 4 pm on Sunday, we will have a little more time here.  We hope to drive over to Blue Springs State Park in the morning to see manatees.  We will come back to the motel afterward to pack up and prepare for our return home.

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