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.