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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Spontaneity

When Leslie and I landed in Nashville last Wednesday we had four reservations: the hotel for our first two nights in Nashville, rental car for a week, hotel for Saturday and our plane tickets home ten days hence. So we had four of our nine nights, transportation and getting home covered. Our second night in Louisville, a decision to stay made after we checked into The Brown Hotel, I put in the map where the distilleries are that I wanted to visit, but no concrete plans as to which ones in which days. At dinner we talk about what we want to see the next day, as we drove around each day we would get an idea of where we may stay the night and usually would start calling hotels about 5:00 to see where there might be a room.

Spontaneity on a road trip has many upsides, like going to dinner, setting a ballpark and deciding to have dinner there instead. Or like our day in Wednesday.

Tuesday night we were discussing where to go on Wednesday. We had a reservation for Thursday night in Nashville that we made last Friday morning as we were checking out, but no plans on where to go on Wednesday. I was looking at the map and thinking about driving further east into Virginia and the Appalachians, then circling south and west toward Chattanooga. Leslie asked what I wanted to see or do and my reply was I pretty much just wanted to see the area.

"What about Indianapolis?" she asked, "have you ever heard of 'Funky Bones'?" I had not, so I Googled "funky bones" as she explained the art work to be and that it was featured in a book and movie the girls like, "The Fault in our Stars."

I looked at the map and noticed that a route from Lexington to Indianapolis to Nashville can include a trip to Cincinnati. As we continued to talk about Indianapolis, I was on my phone. The mlb.com app specifically. "Are you looking to see if the Reds are in town?"

"They are, St. Louis is in town."
"Let's go."

We back tracked a little bit on Wednesday morning, heading back into Lexington near where we had been Tuesday when we finished our Bourbon Trail at Town Branch. At the Lexington Visitors Bureau we showed them our "passports" fully stamped and were given t-shirts saying we completed the Bourbon Trail. Leaving the tourist office we pointed our Chevy Malibu rental north.

About three hours and two hundred miles later we pulled into the parking lot of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and asked where we go to see Funky Bones. Abutting the IMA is the 100 Acres Park, donated to exhibit sculptures and installations, including Funky Bones.

The park is a combination of open fields, woods and a big pond or small lake, with paths winding around. We spent almost an hour taking pictures of Funky Bones and walking around the park.

Back in the car it was around 2:00 and we started to head to Cincinnati, about two hours and just over 100 miles away. We took surface streets across Indy, the IMA is on the western part of the city, driving by the Indianapolis Speedway and finding an old drive-in for lunch. The sign for the Mug n' Bun is Indy's oldest drive-in and they make their own root beer. I went for the foot-long with cheese and "sauce" (beanless chili) and the delicious root beer, Leslie went for the Mug n' Bun special, a bacon cheeseburger on toast. There is a reason they've been around since the 1930's.

On our drive to Cincinnati we found a room at the Radison in Covington, which is in Kentucky right across the bridge from Cinch and the Great American Ballpark, home of the Reds. A bonus feature we discovered when we got there was the free shuttle to and from the game.

Great American Ballpark is great. It sits on the edge of downtown and the Ohio River. While on the green minute shuttle ride across the river to the ballpark I procured two seats about 15 rows of the field down the left field line on StubHub.com. We were dropped off by the hotel shuttle about 6:15 for the 7:15 start about two blocks from the stadium. The streets were packed with Reds and Cardinal fans, bars and restaurants were also jammed, a very festive atmosphere as we headed into the park.

We had one of our favorite meals for the second time in the trip, beers, peanuts, and dogs. In this case a bratwurst with sauerkraut for Leslie and a hot sausage for me. We had a great time, leaving the 3-3 fans in the 11th, catching the shuttle back to the hotel and seeing the 13th and final inning in the hotel bar. The bar closes at 11:00 and we showed up about 11:15, the bartender stayed open so the seven or eight of us there could watch the end of the game, "because you don't get this channel in your room."

A great day as a result of having no plans tying us down to a schedule.


Today's pics are out of order, but I'm too frustrated dealing with my Kindle to try and deal with putting in order.


One of the entrances to Great American Ballpark

Statue of my all time favorite, number 5, Johnny Bench

Using old nickname for the Queen City to sell sausages

First she finds a bourbon vending machine....

The best seat in any ballpark is next to this pretty lady

 Leslie at Funky Bones

Internationally Famous

Locally Famous



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mission accomplished

Around 5:30 this evening, 2:30 in California, Leslie and I completed the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail as defined by the Kentucky Distillers' Association. Visiting the nine distilleries on the trail and getting our "passport" at each. From Sunday through Tuesday we visited eleven distilleries and has tastings at ten. So you don't think we are driving around all whiskeyed up, each tasting is no more than an ounce and it is at least an hour between tastings, often more than two.

The beginning of the end of the trail began early this morning at an "off-trail" (a distillery not part of the nine on the list from the USA) at Buffalo Trace, which distills some of the best bourbons on the market, including the most sought after, and expensive, Pappy van Winkler, as well as one of my favorites, Blanton's.

The tour at Buffalo Trace was excellent. We learned that whether you have a good tour and/or tasting or not is very dependent on the guide. Jeff at Buffalo Trace was excellent giving us some very good information on the history of the area and on the Buffalo Trace distillery and its products. For instance the bottle of Col. Taylor Tornado Survivor bourbon I received as a gift some years back that enjoyed every drop of us now selling for up to one thousand dollars or more.

It was neat to see the Blanton's single barrel being hand bottled and labeled. As well learning that the horse and hockey on the bottle's cork has eight different styles. Each of the eight versions has a letter on it and if you get all eight you can spell B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S. One more twist to the cork topper is that is you line them up it the horse is running a race with the first one being the horse standing still, the next one breaking from the gate, etc. Fantastic tasting as well, alas no Pappy though...my notes below.

Next up was Woodford, about twenty minutes away through some beautiful horse farm country. One of the highlights of this trip has been the journey through the Kentucky countryside. Rolling hills, twisty roads, immersed in woodlands then breaking into open fields. At one point today I commented that when we return around 2018 to buy bottles made from the barrel with my name on it at Maker's Mark that I hope my buying window includes the end of September/early October so we can see this country in fall foliage colors. (Regarding my barrel at Maker's Mark, if you go to their website and sign up to be an ambassador they will put your name on a barrel. In about seven years our so when your barrel of ready to be bottled they will notify you and you have a the ninth window to buy bottles from your barrel--and you have to buy them at the distillery in Loretto.)

We had a great experience at Woodford, another one of my favorites. Instead of the standard tour and/or tasting we signed up for a food paring. No one else signed up so it was just Leslie and I with our guide, who looked a lot like George W Bush. We went out on the patio and set out on a barrel had was a full shot of Woodford Select Reserve and a plate with very small piece each of parmesan cheese, dried cranberry, orange, dark chocolate and a tiny bit of sorghum molasses. Also on the table was "flavor wheel" and W talked about the ingredients in bourbon and how foods being out different flavors in the bourbon, much like food does with wine. A great experience reading the small bites and then taking tiny sips of the Woodford.

From Woodford we had another lovely half hour drive to Wild Turkey. We cheated a bit on our Bourbon Trail passport as we had it stamped but didn't tour or taste. I asked what was being poured in the tasting room and there was nothing I either wanted to taste or had not tasted before.

We took off towards Four Roses stopping in the way for lunch at a local chain we had seen a few of the last two days, Huddle House. Think of Denny 's in the space of a Waffle House or old Taco Bell. We try very hard to not eat fast food on our trips, this was somewhat compromise, not really fast food but not real fresh either. (For Sharon, smoked sausage melt for me, chicken sandwich for Les.)

Four Roses is a good looking place, but the tour and tasting were like their standard bourbon, not that great. Tasting notes below.

It was just after four when we left and our final stop was Town Branch Distillery in Lexington, a half hour away and closing at 5:00. Town Branch is interesting because it is part of Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company. In Louisville I had a few Kentcky Ales from Alltech and it was very good so I was intrigued to try their whiskey.

We got the too late for the tour, I wanted to go to great about the layout and how they operate as a better brewer and distiller. They did however let us join the final tour group at their tasting. No beers but some really good whiskey, notes below.

Finding a nearby Best Western we checked in and found a really good roadhouse for dinner. Pretty slow to get our food but with the wait. Smoked meat combo for me with excellent smojed meatloaf, pulled pork and brisket, Leslie went for the brisket sandwich.

At dinner we discussed our plan for Wednesday since we are back in Nashville Thursday night and flying home Friday. I was thinking pudding further east and south. Leslie asked, "how far is Indianapolis? Google 'funky bones'." Indianapolis is just a few hours away, Cincinnati is en route and the Reds are hosting the Cardinals. There are storms going through the region which may impact some of the planning. We'll see what happens.

Stay tuned.


TASTING NOTES:

I've been asked about good values, hard to quantify but once we get back I will try to put together a list of bad values and then what seems to deserve to be in certain price ranges.

BUFFALO TRACE:

Wheatley vodka: yes we had a distillery sneak in a what vodka. I'm not a vodka drinker, Leslie is, but this was really, really good. Incredibly smooth, distilled ten times, perfect for drinking straight in a martini, wouldn't waste it with a mixer.

White Dog: like other distillers Buffalo Trace pulls its "white" off the still before the barrel, cuts the proof and bottles it. Unlike what we tried at other distilleries Buffalo Trace White Dog is pretty tasty and without a burn. A very good cocktail bar, or for your friends telling them you have some 'shine.

Eagle Rare 10 Year: very good, especially for the price range. Smooth, very good flavor, can serve as your base bourbon for mixing, sipping, cooking.

Bourbon Cream: think Bailey's but bourbon. Very good, we tried a small amount with an outstanding root beer and it was very good.

WOODFORD:

See above, we just tried the Woodford Select Reserve, which is an excellent bourbon, triple distilled so very smooth, one we usually have on hand as one of our premium bourbons in the home bar.

FOUR ROSES:

Yellow Label: no reason to buy this. At the tasting they even said, "this is your everyday bourbon..." trying to compete with Jack, Jim Beam, etc. Spend a few more bucks and get something that tastes a little better even if just using for mixing.

Small Batch: Another dud, not much different than the yellow label so not worth the extra money.

Single Barrel: Now we have a good bourbon. The one we tasted at the distillery was good, no burn, pleasant to drink. I received a birthday bottle from my brother that is also pretty good. Four Roses uses a different recipe for its single barrel, they should use it for Yellow Label and Small Batch.

TOWN BRANCH: Newer outfit that fits as far west as Texas in current distribution.

Sparse Lyon Reserve Single Malt: Another tasting that is not a bourbon, and since distilled in Kentucky it cannot be called "scotch". With the Scottish and Irish heritage in Kentucky and the bourbon history it is surprising no one else does a single malt. These guys do and it is good, I'd put it in my bar is we could get it California.

Town Branch Straight Bourbon: strong rye effect and finish for me, smooth, good for sipping or mixing with the flavor profile.

Town Branch Rye: Excellent flavor, very smooth, another rye that has me becoming a fan.

Bluegrass Sundown: an interesting drink. Liquid that you put a few tablespoons into a glass, add boiling water and it makes a coffee flavored drink, top with cream. Tastes good, don't think I'd buy it.

Blanton bottles being corked, sealed, labelled

Blanton's going into the bottle

Pre food and bourbon tasting at Woodford

 The Town Branch tasting area next to stills


Combination beer bar and liquor store in Lexington

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

It's all about the mash

Monday found us waking up on the Bourbon Trail in Bardstown. Our itinerary was nearby Heaven Hill, (the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience to be exact) and then Maker's Mark, then heading towards Frankfort.

Having been through How-we-make-bourbon tours at Evan Williams and Bulleit, my interest was less in looking at stills and more in tasting. Our experience is that all the tours give you a little history, explain the process from making the mash and that the percentage mix of grains will determine flavor, and if it is a bourbon or not, explain the distilling process, and then barreling. 

As well the five rules that must be followed if you are making bourbon in the United States:

1) The grain mixture must be at least 51% corn

2) It cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof (80% alcohol)

3) Must be aged in new, charred oak barrels

4) Enter the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof

5) Be bottled at 80 proof or higher.

No flavor, coloring or other additives can be made to the process and be called straight bourbon. There can be some variations, one of which I'll discuss below.

We arrived at Heaven Hill close to its 10:00 opening and asked the Man at the desk if we had to take the tour or just taste. We had to take the tour. There were two tours available, the one hour regular tour for $12 or the half hour "connoisseurs" tour for $20. The connoisseurs tour had three labels I have never tried, and may never again so we sprang for the more expensive tour. 

We had impeccable timing, "there's Kathleen with a group ready to enter the tasting room, if you all don't mind missing the history go join them..."

Kathleen warmly welcomed us to the group. Kathleen led us into the private tasting room and we proceed to try one bourbon that did not belong in the room and three that were fantastic, my notes below.

Leaving Heaven Hill for Maker's Mark, about thirty minutes away, we saw a sign less than a mile down the road for Willett Distillery and we quickly swung off the road. Arriving in the gift store I inquired if we had to take the tour to taste. "No, and here comes a group now, just had up to the tasting room." Impeccable timing.

We tried two excellent bourbon and a great rye (for a rye the mash must contain at least 51% rye). We all were poured their Pot Still Reserve bourbon and then got to choose one of their other labels. Since I had Noah 's Mill before (one of my all time favorites), and we have a bottle of Rowan's Creek in the bar at home, I chose the Pure Kentucky and Leslie chose their 2 Year Rye; notes below.

When we set up the trip my primary destination distillery was Maker's Mark. Maker's was my entry bourbon and was my Dad's preferred drink later in life. When we put his ashes in San Francisco Bay we all had a shot of Maker's and dropped our shot glasses into the Bar with him (biodegradable shot glasses). Since he passed away I've put a bit of Dad in different water ways of places that had meaning for him. I wanted to honor him at the home of the place that provided him with a relaxing drink in the evening to enjoy with family, friends or just alone.

The Maker's tour was a very good one. Our timing was bad as they were shut down for spring cleaning (a lot of distilleries shut production in August evidently so the best doesn't kill their yeast), but we saw the vats, aging warehouse, etc. The tasting was interesting as we were given the "white", the distilled whiskey before it enters the barrel.

By now it is 3:00 and we need lunch. I see the town Lebanon on the map and since we can head that way too get to Frankfort we went looking for lunch. As much would have it at a stop light a restaurant had a sign, "Pork Tenderloin Sandwich $5.99." We parked and entered Hennings were I had the pork tenderloin sandwich, asking them to add come slaw and Leslie went for the BLT. Getting my sandwich I remembered that pork tenderloin is not what it would be at home. Here, like most of the South and Midwest it is a fried pork cutlet. Yes, it was very good!

Taking county roads from Lebanon we arrived in Frankfort around 6:00. Doing research we discovered slim pickings for dinner options outside national chains so on the recommendation of the desk man at the Best Western we went across the street to Cattleman's, a local chain, and had decent steak and potato with pretty good salad bar.

Our tastings:

HEAVEN HILL:
Larceny: trying to compete with Maker's Mark and missing the Mark. Much better bourbon in the price range and cheaper. Did not belong in the room.

Heaven Hill Select Stock 11Year: This bourbon is finished in cognac barrels. It is a bourbon because it aged in card charred New oak, but finished in the cognac barrels. 124.4 proof. My first note is simply, "WOW!" Fantastic flavor and very smooth. Cost is $146 a bottle so unless a gift it won't be in my bar for a long time.

William Heavenhill Small Batch Bottled in Bond: a bit more affordable at $125 a bottle but still out of my range. As you would expect a wonderful flavor, very smooth with a nice finish.

Elijah Craig Aged 23 Years: Kathleen asked each couple to pick their favorite and who would guess Leslie and I would choose the $249 bottle? Can taste the rye (14% I think) on the finish, if you get a chance to try this one say "Yes please!"

WILLETT:

Pot Still Reserve: A wonderful bourbon hitting all the right taste bottons, would be a very enjoyable drink to sip for an evening.

2 Year Old Rye: given how young it is it is very smooth, this one made Leslie declare, "I like ryes."

Pure Kentucky: not quite Noah 's Mill, but a great bourbon that matches up with anything in the price range, and beats most at $35 or so.

Maker's Mark:

White: cut to about 140 proof, it was surprisingly smooth, if you get this you do so for mixing

Maker's Mark: we all know what it is, a good bourbon. Mix it, cook with it, sip it, very useful to have on hand. It is our "bottom shelf" and sites is job well.

Maker's 46: A bit sweeter than Maker's Mark, but not worth the hype and marketing.

Cask Strength: Maker's trying to expand its offerings, the proof on this can vary depending on the proof coming out of the barrel. Ours  at the tasting was 113.3 proof. Definitely need a bit of water to cut it. My notes, "not as good as other premiums, not worth price above regular Maker's."

 Our line up at Heaven Hill, the bottle on the
right did not belong


 Tour and tasting guide Kathleen taking
pictures of guests with their favorite bottle


 Leslie and I with Elijah Craig 23 Year Old


Maker's Mark is very picturesque

Honoring Dad

Leslie discovers the Griswold's were visiting Maker's
in their Family Truckster



Sunday, August 2, 2015

On the Trail

We couldn't say goodbye to Louisville without making two more stops on our way out of town.

The Stitzel-Weller Distillery barrels the Bulleit brand (not a misspelling, though I acknowledge I have frequent words misspelled) bourbons and ryes. On the Southside of Louisville they have the "Bulleit Bourbon Experience" on the grounds of the Old Fitzgerald distillery, which shut down in the early '90s. There is a still there now that is producing experimental recipes and a warehouse aging barrels. It was an okay tour, going in the aging warehouse was neat, smelled great.

In the tasting room we tried: the signature Bulleit Bourbon orange label (you can tell they use more rye than other distillers, a good non-premium bourbon), the Bulleit Rye green label (tasty, Leslie liked it a lot and things it will make a good Manhattan, a good quality whiskey at a pretty good price) and the Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon (over 91 proof, nice caramel, a bit of water have me the mellow I needed with the higher proof).

From Bulleit we headed about fifteen minutes down the road to an interesting place that abuts the University of Louisville. A place called Churchill Downs. We took a brief tour of the place, were given a lot of history of the track and the Kentucky Derby, saw a great movie and looked at some exhibits. It was set up pretty well and I'm sure for house racing enthusiasts it is for them what Cooperstown (or the Louisville Slugger plant) is to me.

Our next destination was south on the I-65 to the town of Clermont, home to Jim Beam. On the way we found a small sandwich so on the edge of the UK campus. (For Sharon: really good chicken salad on Texas Toast for me, egg, lox, capers on sea salt bagel for Leslie.)

Jim Beam sells more bourbon than anyone else. The have several brands they make, some of which are the excellent, among them Booker's, Knob Creek, Baker 's.

This tasting will be hard to top. They give you a card with a small chip, each card is good for two half ounce pours. In the tasting room are two stands with four sides. In each of the side are four bottles, at the top of each bottle is a little spigot then in the top of the stand is a place to put in your card. You put in your card and above each of the four bottles a little panel lights up. You put you shot glass under the spigot of the bottle you want to try, press the button above that bottle and your shot is poured into your glass. See the picture of Leslie belle to get an idea of the bourbon vending machine.

What was really great about it was they had all their premium brands, along with the lesser levels and all the flavored crap, I mean brands. So we could try Bookers, Knob Creek Rye, Bakers and Jim Beam White Label Single Barrel since between Leslie and I we had four tastes. We bypassed Hayden 's because it's in my bar. I am interested to see if other distilleries provide us tastes of such premium brands.

Tasting notes: Bookers, excellent, if you can spend the money but it and you will be rewarded with a very smooth and flavorful bourbon. Knob Creek Rye, I really liked it, Leslie liked the Bulleit Rye better, I think I like this a bit more--could be because I had an excellent bourbon before I tasted it. Bakers, like the Booker's very smooth with great flavor. Jim Beam White Label Single Barrel, a lot better than their mass produced product, very good to drink.

On the property was a small shack selling some barbecue and other items, one of which was Graeter's ice cream from Cincinnati. We've been fortunate to have Graeter's before, it is one of the best anywhere (one year for Leslie's birthday I had four pints delivered). We had a chip with half peach and half boubon chip (with chunks of chocolate and pecans). Mmmmm.

By now it was about 4:30 and no time to sample any where else do we drive a short distance into Bardstown. The Welcome to Bardstown sign claims it to be the bourbon capital of the world as well as being voted most beautiful small town in America. From what we've seen hard to dispute either.

Dinner was a southern supper at Kurtz. They've been around since 1937, used to be kitchen and dining room on the ground floor and family living on the second floor. Great dinner, Leslie had skillet fried chicken, white meat with mashed potatoes and gravy. I had the Kentucky Combination, also a quarter chicken fried (dark meat), with fried Virginia ham. We shared a delicious biscuit pudding with a bourbon raisin sauce. I asked for a beer with dinner but they can't serve alcohol on Sundays. Unless it is in the bourbon raisin sauce.....

One of the aging warehouses at Bulleit

The inside of the aging warehouse smells so good




Leslie a little happier after our Bulleit tasting



Leslie demonstrates the bourbon vending machine at Jim Beam

So creamy and delicious

Bardstown

Seems our dog has a side business we didn't know about....


Batter Up!

If you ever stay at The Brown Hotel, I recommend you spend a bit more and stay in a Club Level room. This allows you use of the Club Room for breakfast in the morning and in the evening beer, wine and hors d'sources (didn't look it up, his how's my spelling?). Very relaxing and great chance to meet folks from around the country.

From the Club Room on Saturday morning we put on our walking shoes and headed towards the Ohio River, which is parallel by Main Street in downtown Louisville. The walk took us past some great older buildingsand it was very clean, though pretty empty at 10ish.

Turning west on Main we arrived at our destination about a mile from our hotel. (Sidebar, seems all of our walks on this trip have been about a mile, though unlike Nashville, Louisville is pretty flat. End sidebar.)

The Hillerich & Bradsby factory and museum.

Baseball fans know this is the home of the famed Louisville Slugger bat manufacturer, the preferred bat of many major league players for close to one hundred years.

Fantastic place, almost like the Baseball Hall of Fame. The short tour showed how bats used to be made and how they are made today. While place smelled like sawdust, which I liked. One of my favorite things was the wall that was covered with the signatures, burned into wood just like on the bats, of every major leaguer who has had a signature Louisville Slugger (below my Dad's hero and one of mine). 

 Whether you are a baseball fan or not I recommend a cost.

A few blocks to the east of the bat factory and museum is the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Heaven Hill, owner of the Evan Williams brand, has built a Disney like tour using interactive videos and short tour to give the history of Evan Williams, first licensed distiller in Kentucky, which was pretty good. The pay off is the small tasting at the end where we received three samples, about one-quarter ounce each. Of the three we sampled one, the Evan Williams biggest brand, was not good, one, the single barrel was pretty good, and the third, Larceny was okay--not great--to my tastes.

Hoofing back to the hotel we stopped for some lunch (soup and salad, because my sister likes to know). We relaxed in the room and plotted our stategery for the Bourbon Trail and dinner options. 

One more cocktail in the bar eavesdropping on the many different wedding parties starting at The Brown, then up to the Club Room for some bites and beer for me and wine for Leslie refreshed.

We got the car out of the garage with the intent to head up river to eat at a fish type place on a creek that does into the Ohio. On our way up the interstate going along the river we saw Louisville Slugger Field and a game was in progress. We quickly pulled off the freeway and found out way into the park where the Louisville Bats were hosting the Toledo Mudhens (M*A*S*H fans will recall that the Mudhens are the team of Col Klinger).

I had the bologna stack (Bologna cooked on the grill with grilled onions on white bread), growing up on fried and barbecued Bolognese I couldn't pass it up. Leslie had a really good hot dog. A few beers, a beautiful night, and the Bats win a well pitched game 1-0.

A night cap in the bar with a piece of the famous Derby Pie and our day was full and complete.

Sunday we see Churchill Downs and start bourbon tasting in earnest.



The huge bat outside Louisville Slugger 

 My hero growing up


 Dad's hero


Along Main Street the Walk of Fame, bat and engraved
home plate of many proficient players who used Louisville Sluggers

Our tasting flight at Evan Williams


A great night at the ballpark



I just like how the flag is backlit, 
bridge over Ohio River to Indiana in background



Derby Pie



The Brown Hotel is very old, lobby phone