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Bardstown, KY

2019-05-03 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Moving On – Day #9

Today we move from Bardstown to Lexington.  In the rain…  We began with a drivers meeting.  In the rain…

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We hitched up in the rain and we drove in the rain.  We even stopped along the way in the rain…

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We appreciated their attitude…

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We were able to do a tasting on the outside gazebo.  Did I mention it was raining?

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It was very interesting.  I doubt that I had ever tasted much Four Roses, but I had read a little about their process, so we were eager to find out what it was all about…

Our tasting guide told us about the history of Four Roses;  she told us that the founder was Paul Jones, Jr.  The brand name was trademarked in 1888 by Jones, who claimed it had been produced and sold as early as the 1860s.  The Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, distillery was built in 1910 in Spanish Mission-style architecture, where we are today, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The brand was purchased by Seagram in 1943.  It was the top selling brand of bourbon in the United States in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s.  Around the end of the 1950s, with the rising popularity of gin and vodka, Seagram decided to discontinue the sale of Four Roses Bourbon within the United States.  Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon marketing was shifted to Europe and Asia, which were rapidly growing markets at the time.  In these markets it quickly became the top selling bourbon.  In the United States, during this period, the Four Roses name was used on a blended whiskey, made mostly of neutral grain spirits and commonly seen as a sub-par “rotgut” brand.  Four Roses continued to be unavailable as a straight bourbon in the US market for more than forty years until the brand ownership changed in 2002 after Seagram was purchased by Vivendi, who then sold most of their brands to Diageo, which sold the Four Roses brand to Kirin, who discontinued the sale of the “rotgut” blended whiskey; Kirin reintroduced  Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey to the US market.  And here we are today.

Four Roses uses two different mash bills, using about 60% corn and up to 35% rye, a very high percentage.  They also ferment the mash separately using five different yeasts; each yeast gives off a different aroma and flavor – spicy, herbal, floral, and fruity.  So they end up with barrels containing 10 different bourbons.  Another thing that Four Roses does differently than the other distilleries is how they age their barrels of whiskey:  Their barrel houses are one story only, 6 barrels high.  (Other distilleries have 7 story barrel houses, with each story having three barrels high; So the difference is between 6 barrels tall and 21 barrels tall.  Four Roses claims they get better, more consistent aging using this configuration…

Their main product, Kentucky Straight Bourbon, uses all 10 recipes;  we tasted it and were not very impressed, but it wasn’t bad.

We then tasted the Small Batch Bourbon; it uses four of the recipes blended to get their particular taste profile.  It was quite good, with a nice sweet nose and a smooth finish.

The third taste we had was their premium bottling, Small Batch Select, which uses six of the recipes.  Maybe it was us, or the rain, or whatever, but it did not impress us at all.

They also make a single barrel bourbon, which we did not taste…

So we learned a lot and we continued our journey… We are now in the Lexington area, all green horse pastures, trees, and stately houses – Kentucky Bluegrass!

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Our campground is at the Kentucky Horse Park, a huge complex with a huge museum, displays, and everything horse.  We will tour here is a few days…

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The caravaners were busy at work setting up their Airstreams.  It finally stopped raining…

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Also joining us at this campground, and at our Kentucky Derby party tomorrow, is the local Kentucky Airstream Club.  They joined us for a pizza dinner in the Pavilion…

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We walked the park a little bit.  Lynda did some Laundry and I attended to some computer business.  We were tired, and turned in early…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

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…

2019-04-27 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Dairy Farm Tour in Bowling Green, KY – Day #3

The caravan set out today to tour a dairy farm.  But not just any dairy farm!  We visited the Chaney’s Dairy Barn just south of Bowling Green.  It was not like any dairy I had ever seen before, and I have seen one or two…

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The Chaney family has owned this land since 1886, and they started a dairy here in 1940.  They have exclusively Jersey cows – the light brown ones…

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We started the tour at the gift shop – cafe – ice cream parlor; we boarded the farm wagon for the trip to the barn…

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I was shocked to learn that they are currently milking 60 cows (out of a total herd of about 120 or so…).  They have about 55 acres of land.  Wow!  I thought all dairies milked hundreds if not thousands of cows!  The next thing we learned is that they have no milkers – no people wrangling the cows into the barn, no one attaching the milking machines, no one.  They have one herdsman, who is in charge of all the cows, and one robotic milking machine, made by Lely in the Netherlands… The herdsman is the niece of the farm’s owners…

The cows spend all their time hanging out in a comfortable barn…

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When they feel the “urge” to get milked they wander over to the robotic milking machine and get milked!

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The next cow in line is waiting patiently…

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When the milking is complete she moves on…

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During the five-six minutes it takes to complete the cleaning and milking process the cow is weighed, the milk production is analyzed, and the herdsman gets lots of data to ensure the cows are healthy and happy…

They even have automated back-scratching machines and a “Rumba”-like robot which sweeps the feed lane and pushes the feed up closer to where the cows are eating… Amazing!

Then the real story comes out.  The cows and the milk don’t pay the bills here.  Like many dairies, they barely break even on the milk and often lose money.  That is why many small family dairies are closing down and selling out.  The Chaney family figured out a way to keep the family farm, and its inherent lifestyle:  Us!

Yes, Agri-tourism is a big thing here.  By offering tours, plus the cafe, playground, gift shop, ice cream, and other related things the family can make a living and keep the farm.  The next generation is starting to establish the ability to process their milk themselves, so that they can sell their own cheese, ice cream, and, yes, milk.

The Chaney family were delightful people and they really have a passion for these cows.  It was a fun tour!

Rather than ride the wagon back to the cafe, we walked…

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We did, of course, have lunch and some ice cream…

And then we moved on.  The only distillery in Bowling Green closed up shop and moved to Nashville a few months ago, so a few of us drove about 10 miles south to Franklin, KY, to the Dueling Grounds Distillery.  So named because several famous duels took place near here on the Linkumpinch Dueling Field in 1826.

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Tennessee Representative Sam Houston gravely wounded General William A. White, a veteran of the Battle of New Orleans, in a pistol duel.  In a convoluted turn of events, White was the stand-in for Nashville Postmaster John P. Erwin.  Patronage politics were at the root of this affair of honor.  Andrew Jackson of Tennessee had promoted another candidate for Nashville postmaster against Erwin.  Jackson encouraged Houston to thwart Erwin’s appointment.  Houston wrote to President John Quincy Adams, that Erwin “is not a man of fair and upright moral character.”  He also attacked Erwin in a speech on the House Floor.  When Houston returned to Tennessee after the 19th Congress (1825–1827), Erwin dispatched Colonel John Smith T., a professional duelist, to deliver a challenge to Houston for besmirching Erwin’s character.  That challenge was rejected, but General White then proceeded to challenge Houston directly, who reluctantly accepted.  Houston was tried for attempted murder, but was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense…

Anyway, this is as good a reason as any to name your distillery “Dueling Grounds” and to name your Bourbon, “Linkumpinch”.

We had a great tour!  Unlike Jack Daniel’s, where the process is controlled by computers and two guys sitting in a control booth, these guys at Dueling Grounds really make the Bourbon!   We saw them adding corn, then wheat, then malted barley to the mash cooker, we saw them punch down the fermenting mash, we saw them transferring the fermented liquid to the still, and we saw their manual bottling line.  (Their barrels are stored off-site in a borrowed facility…)

Adding wheat to the mash cooker…

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The fermenting mash…

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The three fermenters…

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The still.  Clear ethyl alcohol drips out of the still like a weak stream of water from a small faucet.  (At Jack Daniel’s, it pours from their 90′ tall stills like water shooting out of a fire hose!)  They distill the whiskey here twice, to clarify and purify it, and to increase the alcohol content.

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They have a very small production – three 250 gallon fermenters each produce about 50 gallons of clear whiskey.

The clear whiskey is placed in new charred oak barrels and aged a minimum of two years.  Since this distillery is quite young, their current Bourbon has been aged just two years.  They have plans to age some barrels 5, 7, and 12 years…

Most of the flavor in Bourbon is imparted by the barrel.  The clear whiskey (“White Lightning”) is not very pleasant to drink.

Tour over, we returned to the tasting room…

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We tasted their whiskeys and some of their fruit liqueurs.  Purchases in hand, we headed back to the Villa…

We were able to relax a bit in the afternoon, then we had another GAM.  Afterwards, we walked about the park.  We found baby Canada Geese…

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And we found a puppy raiser for CCI – Canine Companions for Independence…

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Our son has a Service Dog, professionally trained and certified by CCI, a great organization that provides service dogs to those who need them for free… This couple has raised 12 puppies, each for about 18 months, then has turned them over for professional training…

This evening we had another Drivers Meeting; we travel tomorrow to Bardstown, near Louisville, for various activities at Churchill Downs before the Kentucky Derby on Saturday…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

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