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May 2019

2019-05-01 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Louisville, KY and Churchill Downs! – Day #7

Every now and then we forsake our various pickup trucks and take a chartered bus on our tours.  Today is such a day; we are going into Louisville, to Churchill Downs…

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We are here during Derby Week (Kentucky Derby will be Saturday…), so the museum and grandstands are all relatively busy.  On a normal race day they only have about 5,000 people in attendance.  Today there were about 20,000, and on Derby Day there will be 160,000 people here!

We entered into the stables area and had breakfast in a restaurant overlooking the back stretch.  Daily workouts are going on, and we watched the horses coming and going, as well as the various folks grooming the track.  We had a guide to whom we could ask questions and who told us about what was going on.

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Eventually we entered the main gates; we tried to get another group photo, and we spent some time in the Museum and on a short tour which brought us out adjacent to the track at the finish line…

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Our seats for this afternoon’s races are on the third level, waaayyyyy down at the end of these grandstands…

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And they’re off!  We watched seven races.  In most races, the lead changes several times along the home stretch as the horses approach the finish line.  Eventually, one usually pulls away from the pack and wins, as we see here…

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We were able to see the track workers set up the starting gates, and other exciting things going on between races…

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Most races are on the dirt track…

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Today one race was on turf…

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It was fun, but it was also a tiring day.  We were grateful to be able to sit back and doze on the return trip…

We arrived back at the campground in time to make some Old Fashioneds for Happy Hours;  BBQ pulled-pork sliders were on the menu tonight; an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-30 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Bardstown, KY; My Old Kentucky Home and Bourbon – Day #6

This morning we left early for our appointment at Jim Beam for our tour.

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Again the tour was pretty typical.  Jim Beam is arguable the largest producer of bourbon in the world and is distributed all over the world.  Their brands include not only Jim Beam, but Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s, and Booker’s… It is a huge industrial plant, all controlled by computers and other machines.  Once the fermented mash is pumped into the still it takes about 90 seconds for one barrel of whiskey to be produced.  Also, we learned that Jim Beam and their other bourbons are about 70% corn, plus rye and malted barley.  (Remember, Makers Mark uses wheat in lieu of rye…)

One VERY fun thing we did is fill our own bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon.  We started by rinsing a bottle (with Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon), then putting our initials on the bottle, and setting the bottle on the bottling line…

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The final product:

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We dipped the bottle into the wax (twice) then once again just enough to allow us to put our thumbprint on our bottle…!

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This was a unique experience for us!

We asked why the barrel Houses are black.  The tour guide denied that the barrel houses have mold.  She claimed they were painted black out of tradition, but they also have them in all colors… Also, they do not rotate barrels like Makers Mark does – they select 1,000 barrels from various locations in the barrel house to blend and bottle…

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At the tasting our guide selected for us the Single Barrel Knob Creek and Jim Beam Black.  Lynda selected Baker’s and I selected the Jim Beam Devil’s Cut for our third choice.

As most of you know, Angels’ Share is the term distillers use for the bourbon that evaporates from the barrels while they are aging.  After 5-6 years a 53 gallon barrel will contain only 35 gallons (at best) of bourbon; the rest has evaporated and is called Angels’ Share.  But the bourbon also soaks into the barrel staves; to make Devil’s Cut they empty out the barrel, add distilled water, and put the barrel in a shaker for several hours.  The water, after absorbing the bourbon from the wood, is added back to the bourbon to reach the final proof.  It was excellent! Very rich and smooth!

We also learned what makes their super-premium bourbons special:

Basil Hayden’s has a high percentage of rye and a unique aging process; Baker’s is aged at least 7 years; and Booker’s, always my favorite, is always made at barrel strength (about 115 proof); what sets it apart is that the barrels are taken from special areas (on the 5th and 6th floors) of select barrel houses, where the aging is known to be extra special…

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This was Booker Noe’s house; he was the last of the family to live on the property…

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Next on the day’s agenda was a visit to “My Old Kentucky Home”.  It is actually called Federal Hill, and it was the home of three generations of the Rowan family from 1795 to 1922.

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The grounds are beautiful.  No interior photos were allowed…

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Worse house tour ever.  The house was very grand and elegant, similar to plantation houses we saw in Louisiana, but the colors and patterns of wallpaper and carpets were from the Victorian period and they hurt my eyes… We heard almost nothing about features of the house, but just an hour’s worth of family history and gossip.  Sorry, not my thing.

The park is named “My Old Kentucky Home” after the song of the same title by Stephen Foster, who was a close friend of the Rowan family.  It is the Kentucky State Song and is sung at ALL civic events in Kentucky, including sports games, political rallies, and, of course, the Kentucky Derby.  Everyone in Kentucky LOVES this song.

Ironically, the song is NOT about the joys and beauty of Kentucky; the song tells of the hardships of slaves, and all about the difficult lives they had, and heartbreak of being sold to an unknown owner.  It was used by abolitionists like Frederick Douglas in their anti-slavery work.  It seems odd that most Kentuckians seem to think it is all about the loveliness of their state, when it is telling the dark history of the state and our country…

We escaped as quickly as we could, and drove to Heaven Hill Distillery, named after Mr. Heavenhill, who owned some adjacent land that once held a distillery before prohibition.

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Never heard of Heaven Hill?  Maybe you have heard of some of their brands:

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Larceny, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, McKenna, Rittenhouse…???

Heaven Hill is the largest independent, family owned distillery in the country.  ALL other large distilleries are owned by the multi-national holding companies like Brown-Forman, Constellation Brands, Diageo, Fortune Brands (Suntory), etc.  Heaven Hill is still owned by the descendants of its founders, the five Shapiro brothers.  Interestingly, Earl Beam, of the Jim Beam family, was the first master distiller, and there have been MANY Beam family members in important positions at Heaven Hill over the years.

We saw a short film about the distillery; apparently they buy up small brands from around the country and make re-make them in their own image.  Many of the brands I’ve never heard of; many are regional brands of very small production…

We tasted three of their bourbons, plus one rye whiskey.  Nothing spectacular, and we didn’t buy any.  We did learn more about the different processes in making different whiskeys…

I’ve concluded that the mash bill, which grains are used, and what percentages are used, have little effect on the final taste of the bourbon.  Ninety percent of the flavor comes from the barrel.  In my tasting experiences this week all the taste and nuance comes from the aging process and the selection of the various barrels that have aged differently.  We will test this theory further when we visit Buffalo Trace next week; stay tuned…

After we were done tasting we hurried back to the campground, where our leaders were pouring Mint Juleps using Buffalo Trace, which the distillery had provided to us.

Mint Juleps gave way to our 4th round of GAMS…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-29 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Bardstown, KY; Abraham Lincoln and Makers Mark! – Day #5

We set out this morning to see Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace.

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Between 1909 and 1911 this farm was purchased and the log cabin where Lincoln was born was secured.  A nationwide fundraising drive was instituted and this memorial was built over the site of the original cabin.

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Inside the memorial is the cabin…

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It was the first “Lincoln Memorial”, predating the one in Washington, DC, by more than 10 years.

Several years later scientific dating was done on the logs, and they were determined to be from 1840; this is not the real original cabin where Lincoln was born.  The National Park Service now calls it the “Symbolic Cabin”.

Real or not, it was a moving place…

We then moved on to someplace not quite so historic…

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We did the usual tour – definition of Bourbon, the grains used in Makers Mark (about 70% corn, plus wheat and malted barley).  They made a big deal about not using rye; when MM was started in 1953 most “bourbons” were rye whiskey.  (Bourbon has been legally defined as being at least 50% corn since 1964…)  We saw the mash cookers, the fermenting tanks, the column stills where the whiskey is distilled, and the pot still where it is distilled again…

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The mash is fermented in cypress wood tanks – like giant hot tubs…

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Other interesting factoids:

-MM is one of only a few distillers to use live yeast in the fermenting process

-When their first 5 year aged bourbon was released in 1958 it was the first “Premium” bourbon

-Barrels in the barrel houses (warehouses) are rotated after three years – 7th floor to 1st floor, 6th floor to 2nd floor, etc.  And vice versa.

-The Barrel Houses are painted dark brown (almost black) to disguise the mold that grows everywhere around aging bourbon, as the evaporating liquid settles on the metal siding and provides a food source for the mold; the mold is harmless to just about everyone, but is unsightly and is a mess to clean…

-Average age when bottled is 6 1/2 years, but it is all done by tasting, not by age

-When they have 346 barrels ready to bottle they blend all the barrels to match the signature taste profile

-For over 50 years they made only one product – Makers Mark Straight Bourbon Whisky

-Today they also make a cask-strength bourbon; “46”, a super premium bourbon (more on this in a minute); and “Private Select” bourbon, a special, custom made version of 46  made specifically for certain bars, restaurants, and high-end liquor stores.

-Every bottle is hand-dipped in red wax

Next we went into the “46 cellar”…

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This is where MM 46 is made via a special aging process… It is kept at 50 degrees because they have found that this aging process works best at the cooler temperature.

When a barrel is tasted and is deemed worthy of being made into 46 it is pulled out of the barrel house and brought here.  The top of the barrel is removed and 10 French oak staves are inserted into the bourbon.  The top is put back on and the bourbon is aged another 9 weeks…

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The result is a super-premium bourbon with extra spicy notes from the French Oak…  The name comes from the selection of the staves.  Over 100 combinations of staves were tried, with different chars, different edges, different lengths.  After extensive testing and tasting, combination #46 was deemed to be the best.

We then learned that super-good customers (bars, restaurants, liquor stores) have the opportunity to make their own version of MM46 – Private Select.  They come here and select different combinations of staves, tasting the results until they get just the taste they want.  Thereafter they can order this special recipe again and again to sell exclusively in their place of business.  In the 10 years or so I have been ordering and buying Makers Mark I have never run into one of these special custom bottles…

But we were now ready for the tasting…

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We tasted six glasses:  MM White (un-aged whiskey), MM (regular), Cask strength (111 proof), MM46, and a Private Select made for the tasting room, and not available in any store…  Also, in honor of the Kentucky Derby this week we also tasted MM Mint Julep – all mixed and ready to pour over ice…

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My opinion?

MM White (un-aged whiskey):  Terrible!

MM (regular):  Always one of my favorites as a every day sipping bourbon

Cask strength (111 proof):  A little too rough for my taste

MM46:  Spectacular; a very special treat, very complex, and a joy to drink

Private Select: Also spectacular, very smooth, very nice finish

MM Mint Julep:  Terrible – tasted like mint mouthwash or toothpaste

We were able to buy a few souvenir bottles…  I had to have a bottle of Private Select…

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And then we went to lunch…

The evening we had another GAM… And we had some quiet time…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-28 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Traveling from Bowling Green to Bardstown, KY; Jim Beam! – Day #4

Time to move on… The caravan moves to Bardstown, KY, the center of Bourbon production in Kentucky…

But first, we attended services at the Christ United Methodist Church in Bowling Green…

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(I didn’t take this photo – I stole it off the internet…)

It was a remarkable little church and the services was excellent – lots of singing by EVERYONE!  ABout 130 people by my estimate.  Old People, young people, everyone!  Olde time hymns, plus the Gloria Patri and the Doxology… It felt good to sing!

And then we moved on.

We hitched up the Villa and headed to Bardstown, KY.  We are staying at the White Acres RV park.

We set up easily and quickly, then we drove about 1/2 hour away to check out the Jim Beam Distillery.

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Unfortunately, tours were sold out for the day; we made a reservation for Tuesday.

We walked around a bit and learned something about the Beam family; here is the family tree of Master Distillers for the past 150 years of so…

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Booker Noe was not a direct descendant, but was a nephew of T. Jeremiah Beam; his son, Fred Noe is the current leader.  Jim Beam is now owned by Beam Suntory, which is owned by Fortune Brands, an Multi-national holding company that owns many brands of wine, beer, and spirits.

We did do a tasting of three premium versions of Jim Beam Bourbons…

Jim Beam Bonded – 100 Proof Bourbon:  Just OK

Jim Beam Black – Extra Aged Bourbon:  Not bad; nice and toasty, smooth

Jim Beam Double Oak – Aged in a second new oak barrel after 3-5 years in the first new oak barrel:  Pretty good.  Very smooth…

Jim Beam also makes Knob Creek, Bakers, Basil Hayden’s, and, of course, Bookers.  We will have a chance to taste these after our tour on Tuesday…

We returned to the campground and enjoyed a dinner prepared and organized by a team of fellow caravaners…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

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