Temples of Whiskey

As Angie said, if you just make a list, it looks like we didn’t do much on Thursday, but we made a pretty full day of it.

Sadly we saw very little of Nashville’s country music heritage because so much of what there is to see is stuff you can’t really do with a dog. Therefore, Angie and I have agreed that Nashville will be staying on our wish list. We feel even more strongly about it after our brief stop.

So we decided to try to make our brief sojourn in Nashville as Rebbe-friendly as possible. On Wednesday night, while relaxing in our hotel room, Angie noticed a picture of what looked like the Parthenon on the wall. She investigated and determined that Centennial Park, which was home to an exposition in 1897, was the site of a pretty much full size, and, unlike the one in Athens, Greece, “complete” Parthenon. The one we saw on Thursday was built several years after the exposition to replace the basic wooden model that was there originally. 



As far as Rebbe is concerned, what better way to start a day than a walk around a park? So, we were able to see the structure and get a walk. It wasn’t as much of a walk as we hoped because there’s a lot of construction going on at the park right now and half of the sidewalks are torn up or fenced off, but I think all three of us enjoyed it. In addition to the Parthenon, the park has some unusual features, including a concrete ship prow and a scallop shell. I think these were artifacts of the exposition too.



The park is in what I understand to be the trendy West End neighborhood. It’s near Vanderbilt University. It was also pretty close to a place that Angie had found out about, where she thought we might want to eat. The neighborhood was reminiscent of Denver’s Highlands neighborhood crossed with the area around the University of Denver, which, like Vanderbilt is a private university. Like both those areas, parking was also a bit of a hassle.

We did find the restaurant quite easily and plonked ourselves at an outside table. The place is called Fido, apparently because the restaurant is based in a former pet shop. They serve coffee, and breakfast all day, but also lunch and dinner. Since it was high noon, I dashed inside, grabbed two menus, took one back outside to Angie, who was waiting with Rebbe, and then went back in to get on line. The idea was that she would text me with her choices and I could figure out what I wanted while I was waiting in line. It worked out quite well. Angie ordered an Eden salad and a coffee drink called a Pepperton, which includes peppermint and cayenne! I ordered a latte and a burger. It was no ordinary burger, but one of the better burgers I can remember having. It wasn’t just that it was beef and lamb, but the meat was enhanced by caramelized fennel, fig aioli, and crispy onion. It was delicious. I was really glad I ordered it. I liked the feel of the place and the service. They have a focus on organic, locally-sourced food. I asked if I should do burger or brisket sandwich and server didn’t hesitate to recommend the burger. I really enjoyed it. I think Angie liked her salad too but I don’t think it was as satisfying as my meal.

Suitably nourished for the time being, we made the drive to Bowling Green, Kentucky. I have to admit that I had always thought that this was the home of Bowling Green State University, but Angie educated me that this is actually located in Bowling Green, Ohio.

The objective of stopping in this area was to try to get in a distillery visit on both days we were in the state. Angie had of course undertaken her usual sterling research and had identified a craft distillery in the downtown area. They offered hourly tours and we actually were part of a rather decent sized group. The tour was highly informative. The name of the distillery was Corsair, which our guide defined as a type of pirate, but with tacit acceptance from the government. I didn’t find a definition that included the latter part.

Our guide explained many aspects of the production process including the technique of the particular still they use, which is manufactured in Kentucky by a company called Vendome. All their drinks are made using one still, which I found rather surprising. They make a lot of different things, not just bourbon. Therefore, they make everything in batches for about a week at a time and then they clean the still for the next liquor they are going to produce. I can’t remember the name of the still used by Corsair, but it is a batch distillation system, which enables different things to be distilled and also has a place where you can insert flavorings for the gin and vodka. 



We learned a lot about the distilling/booze producing process for a small concern, which would provide great context for our anticipated visit to Maker’s Mark on Friday. We learned that Corsair uses small barrels, but that they cost the same to produce as large barrel and that they also produced gin, vodka and absinthe when they first started because it takes several years for bourbon to mature adequately before it can be sold. We also learned that by federal law, any barrel used to age bourbon must be new and must be charred on the inside. The barrels are really important, since this is how bourbon gets its flavor. Corsair gets its barrels from a company in Chicago. I’m not sure if this is because they’re not yet big enough to use full-sized barrels, since Maker’s Mark, as we were to learn, gets theirs from a cooper in Kentucky. 



We also learned that the federal taxes on liquor production are about $13 a gallon at 130 proof.



One other interesting tidbit we learned is that small manufacturers seldom sell their wares in states with state-controlled liquor sales because the state distributors don’t pay a supplier until an order is sold out. These states include Ohio, Mississippi, and Hawaii.

At the end of the tour was the really fun part, the tasting. We were each allowed to sample four of their offerings, which included everything currently sold by Corsair. I tried mainly whiskey because I didn’t expect to find the gins, vanilla-flavored vodka, or absinthe to my taste. However, Angie and I were also permitted to sample each other’s if we wish, so I did try a bit of the absinthe. I don’t remember all that I tried, except that I tried both the triple-smoke whiskeys, but found one of them to be way too smoky. I think I kind of liked the other one. My favorite by far was the Quinoa Whiskey. Angie really liked it too when she took a taste of mine. We were really happy with our experience at Corsair, and it was a pretty good deal for $5.

Friday was the last day of this leg of our journey and was as great a day as the last few days have been, except for the sucky part where we had to drive through a horrendous rain storm, which also meant we didn’t see as much of the lovely Kentucky countryside as we would have liked.

But, we started the day by checking out of our hotel in Bowling Green and finding our way to Elizabethtown to visit with Angie’s cousin Maria for a little while. I’d only met her briefly before but we had such a wonderful visit, catching up on family news and other stuff and enjoying her fantastic baking and cooking. We stayed a couple of hours, and then had to get out of her way so she could go to work. We needed to move on anyway, since we were planning on visiting another distillery, a mainstream one this time, before heading on up the road to Miamisburg.

Since it’s one of our beverages of choice we opted to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto.

We were made to feel very welcome by the woman taking our money, who it turned out would also be our tour guide. A woman of many talents apparently, since she is also one of the 28 tasters on staff at the facility. Which leads to a key point. Maker’s Mark bourbon is aged but the company does not determine when it is ready by date but by taste. So, it takes about six years to age the basic whiskey, but it could be as little as five years and nine months (the shortest our guide had ever heard of), or longer than six years. This could be affected by small differences in the barrels, weather, position in the warehouse. There are 32 warehouses in the county, all large, brown-painted buildings that look like a jail at first glance. They are built of wood to avoid creating sparks when the barrels are rolled around and are painted dark brown so they don’t need to be cleaned. The new barrels start at the top of the warehouse and are moved down, by hand, to age more.



The processes used at Makers are quite different from those at Corsair, which makes sense given that they are making much larger quantities and really only make four products, all of which are derived from the same mash. 



They use corn, red winter wheat and barley to make their whiskey (rye is common but not used at Maker’s). It’s crushed and put into huge vats 12 feet wide by 12 feet deep, where the yeast does its work (See picture above). The yeast is grown from the original yeast and some of the old mash is always kept in the vats to help maintain consistency of flavor. We could totally see the yeast doing its job and our guide explained this is a three-day process, with the mix becoming less sweet, and of course higher in alcohol content, over those three days. Once the mash has met the required standard, it’s off into the still. The still at Maker’s is from the same manufacturer as the one at Corsair, except it’s a continuous still, since the still is operating all the time.

 

The first thing that the company sells comes out of the production process at this point (distilled twice like all their offerings) but it’s only available at the gift shop. Nicknamed white dog, it’s marketed as Maker’s White. It’s basically moonshine. While not horrible, and quite useful as a mixer since it has no flavor, I don’t need to try it again. Angie thinks that Wahoo’s Fish Taco uses something like this in their margaritas.

Everything else that is sold by Maker’s is bourbon, aged the requisite time in the legally-mandated manner. They have three brands. First is the basic version we know and love. Second is 46. This was introduced by the son of the founder, who wanted to make his own mark (sorry) on the brand. He went to his experts and told them he wanted something different but it had to use the same grain recipe. So, they went to the coopers, who have numerous recipes for the wood used in the barrels, and chose (wood charring) recipe 46. The bourbon goes through the same aging process but then gets an extra step. It is put into barrels that contain the recipe 46 treated staves (inside the barrel, not as part of the barrel) and aged for an additional 12 weeks in the bottom of the warehouse, and only in the winter. This one was tasty and maybe a bit more reminiscent of caramel.

The fourth product sold by the company, which was introduced in September of 2014, is cask strength. The Maker’s we buy at the liquor store (or the supermarket if you’re lucky enough) is watered down to a lower proof. Since the federal tax is paid for a higher alcohol content, this makes sense. The cask strength is 113 proof, so it’s still not as strong as the law allows, but it is strong enough. It had a good burn without making you feel like you were choking. We got to taste all four brands at the end of the tour. Our final stop before the tasting was the bottling room. Each bottle is hand-dipped in a wax and plastic mixture and it was amazing to watch the staff work at this task.



Interestingly, each worker only works at a particular station for a half hour at a time before moving to a different area. This is mainly to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries.

We really enjoyed our tour but didn’t buy anything in the gift shop because the prices were not that attractive, and we are on a budget after all.

Finally, here are a couple more pictures, one of our tour guide, and one of the spectacular Chihuly ceiling in the Ambassador’s room. 





With the tour over, we set off to get back to Miamisburg. As mentioned, the weather was pretty awful, though the rain had eased and the clouds lifted for part of our journey into and out of the Loretto area, so we were able to see some of the lovely countryside there and around some of the pretty, horsey parts of Lexington before it started pouring again. Angie did most of this driving because it involved winding roads, when it’s easier for her to be in the driver’s seat. Sadly, it also meant she had to negotiate the awful rush hour traffic around Lexington too. We stopped shortly after we finally reached the interstate so we could get food and gas and switch seats. I drove the rest of the way through the pouring rain, with the GPS redirecting us on a detour in Cincinnati to avoid accidents caused by flooding there. We reached Miamisburg shortly before 8:00pm. As we turned into the subdivision, Rebbe perked up and got really wound up. He knew we were close to seeing Grandma, Grandpa, and of course Lucie, once more. It was a joyful reunion. 

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