I saw a great meme this week. It said the temperature went from 90 to 35 like it saw a state trooper on the highway. Isn’t that the truth? I don’t know about where you are, but in northern Kentucky I was sweating in shorts and a T-shirt last week, and this week nighttime temperatures are hovering just above freezing. It’s nice to be able to sleep with my blankets pulled up and my windows closed, but I sure was hoping for a little “in between” weather before winter set in. It’s been a good week out here as usual. I have moved into Western Kentucky and also into Central Time Zone. That makes my mornings easier and my evenings harder, but it’s also pretty cool. I used to blast through time zones like they were nothing when I was guiding cross-country tours. Now it’s more like a special occasion.
My week started where my last week ended (imagine that!), in Bardstown. Bardstown is a really lovely place. It has some really great historic buildings in the small downtown area and just has an overall pleasant feel to it. It’s also the center of the universe when it comes to bourbon, with several large distilleries and a lot of barrel houses in the area. They like to tell you that there are more barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky than there are people living in the state. They also say that for that reason it would be a great place to be in the event of an end-of-days apocalypse. I agree - everyone would be drunk and it would be easy to take their stuff from them! But seriously, there are a whole lot of rick-houses around the region, each holding around 20,000 barrels of bourbon. Since each barrel holds between 150-200 bottles’ worth of booze, you do the math. That’s a lot of booze!
While I spent most of Thursday in the library trying to catch up on some work, I did duck out to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History to have a look around. This wonderful free museum takes a look at the industry before, during and after prohibition. There are a lot of really neat artifacts from old distilleries, and old advertisements and distillation equipment as well. In the back of this museum is the local history museum which also had some cool old things to look at. After I finished my work for the day, I stopped for a nice pour of Old Pogue Bourbon out of Maysville, Kentucky at the historic Talbot Tavern in the middle of town. This place is really interesting and a lot of people have passed through its doors over the last 200+ years it’s been open. They also had a great bourbon list, with prices listed which is one of my biggest complaints with many of the bourbon bars I’ve visited. If you’re not willing to stand behind your prices, you’re charging too much. It’s dishonest in my opinion. But the Talbot Tavern had all their prices listed from cheap $4 pours to quite expensive pours. I really liked this place.
Friday, I did some more work in the morning before heading out to Maker’s Mark distillery in the early afternoon. This beautiful distillery was so much better than my experience at Buffalo Trace. From start to finish, I had a great experience at Maker’s Mark. The tour took us through their distillery, label printing shop (so cool!), barrel houses and bottling. Of course the coolest part was seeing the bottles hand dipped in their signature red wax. You can dip your own in the gift shop too which is gimmicky, but also really a neat experience. I loved my visit to Maker’s Mark and it’s clear that they have a good understanding of how giving visitors a good experience and impression will keep or create loyal customers to their brand. It seems so simple, doesn’t it?
When I finished my tour, I rushed back towards town so I could visit the Barton 1792 distillery. This was another free tour, and I am definitely starting to see the trend. Much like Buffalo Trace, this was loud and industrial and not very pleasant to tour. Our guide made up for all of that though and did a great job of winning me over during my time there. He took us into the bowels of the distillery and let us poke our faces into every part of the process. He even pulled some “White Dog” right out of the tail box for us to try. That was cool. I do like 1792 bourbon, and I enjoyed the tasting I did at this distillery. I also had a wonderful chat with Sam, the security guard there. He was from Lubbock, Texas but has been in the region for a lot of years. He is a retired nurse, and also drove a tour bus for a while. We had a great conversation and I really enjoyed meeting him. Because of all of these little things, this tour balanced out on the plus side, but I think they could stand to look a little more closely at their goals with providing tours.
After leaving 1792, I went for a beer and some music at Mammy’s and then for dinner down at The Rickhouse . I got a wonderful steak there for a fair price, cooked perfectly. Their mac and cheese and brussel sprouts were pretty good as well. The weather had turned pretty grim by that point, although it had warmed up a bit, so I returned to my van and retired for the evening.
Saturday morning dawned cloudy and wet as well, but cleared up by late morning. I tried to finish up a few things in the morning before heading out into the day. When it did clear up, it turned into a beautiful day. I headed out to visit the Abbey of Our Lady of Gesthemani. This is a wonderful old Trappist Monastery just about 20 minutes from Bardstown. I enjoyed my short visit there, watching the great video they have produced about a day in the life of the monks there. They had a nice gift shop which contained a lot of books, but also the products made on site by the monks (including bourbon cakes - it is Kentucky after all). Gesthemani offers retreat stays as well and it seem like it would be a wonderful and fascinating place to stay for a few days.
From there, I headed back into Bardstown for a visit to My Old Kentucky Home State Park. My Old Kentucky Home is the state song of Kentucky and was written by Stephen Foster in the 1850s. It is a mournful and heart wrenching song which humanizes the slaves and brings forth feelings of the true meanings of the word Home. How this song has come to be associated with the manor house at Federal Hill in Bardstown is a mystery to me. There is a great deal of doubt as to whether Stephen Foster ever even visited this house, but it certainly was not the inspiration for this song. I enjoyed the video on the tragic life of Stephen Foster, America’s first great professional songwriter, but couldn’t bring myself to pay to tour the old house under those pretenses. I did enjoy walking the grounds though, as it is a beautiful place. I think my next podcast will probably begin with this story.
Leaving Bardstown, I headed out to visit the Jim Beam Stillhouse in Clermont. This is another beautiful distillery and it was such a nice day to be there. I skipped the tour this time and just enjoyed taking photos of the old buildings on the property. Jim Beam is definitely the most widely distributed and well known bourbon in the world, and it was interesting to see their center of operations.
After my time at Jim Beam, I made my way on to Elizabethtown. E-town, as it is apparently called, is a quaint and pleasant little town and was a nice place to spend the night. I wandered around town a bit and ended up at Flywheel Brewing Company just a few blocks from the center of town. I really liked this brewery. They had an excellent New England IPA on tap and the people were very friendly. I was working on my podcast when the gentleman next to me, Edward, struck up a conversation. We ended up talking for a few hours and I really enjoyed meeting him. He had been in the army for many years and was currently in school working on an I.T. degree. At some point a jolly fellow who worked managing the Pilot in town bounced into our conversation. He was very friendly as well, and told us all about life in the truck stop industry. I ended up there later than I had planned, but it was a nice Saturday night.
Sunday I slept in and had a pretty relaxing day. I eventually took off from E-town and took the backroads out to Rough River Dam State Resort Park. I had a nice visit there and it reminded me a lot of the wonderful West Virginia state parks. After visiting the Lodge and having a look around, I settled in down by the lake and read a book for a while. It was not a guidebook or a history book or anything related to this trip, and it was just nice to sit by the lake and read for a few hours.
As the day wore on, I made my way out to Owensboro. Owensboro is one of the bigger cities in Kentucky, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. I enjoyed a nice drive around town before heading out to Old Hickory Bar-B-Que for dinner. Western Kentucky is well known for its delicious mutton barbecue, and this was my first taste of it. I loved it- it was really tender and delicious. I also had a bowl of burgoo, another Kentucky favorite which I found really similar to the Carolinas’ Brunswick Stew. Both were delicious and I really enjoyed my meal. From there, I headed down to the movie theater to see the new Halloween movie. I wish they had worked on some of the details a little more as the script really could have been a little better - for example nobody thought it was important to mention that crazy murderer Michael Myers had escaped and was loose in their town. I know, it’s just a silly horror movie, but it could have been better. That said, it was great to see Jamie Lee Curtis reprise her role, and square off for perhaps the last time with Michael. Given the season, it was worth a look.
Monday I got back to work in the library, trying to get the rest of my Louisville photos edited. That took the whole morning. Then, I headed out to Reid’s Orchard just outside of town for some nice fresh apples. I had a nice drive around town before ending up at Moonlite Bar-B-Q, another Owensboro institution. They had a great buffet with mutton, burgoo, other barbecue dishes and a whole selection of country-style side dishes, salads and desserts. I ended up striking up a conversation with Jay, one of the 3rd generation owners who was on that night. We talked for about an hour and he even showed me the mutton in the smokers in the kitchen. This place was great, and I even returned the next day for lunch. If you’re ever in the area, you’ve got to check it out.
I started Tuesday at the brand new National Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum which just opened in its new location over the weekend. This place was so new it sparkled. I thought it was pretty well done, although the introductory video was more puff than substance. It would have been a great way to really introduce bluegrass music and show where it came from. Instead it was just people talking about how much they loved bluegrass music. I was also immediately shocked in the very first panel when it talked about how people of African decent were “settlers” in the new world. I’m never in support of brushing off slavery in this way, even though it’s not central to the museum. I loved that they had instruments on the wall for you to pick up and play around with. I know they will get a bit beat up with time, but I hope the museum will replace them and not let this go. The museum is beautifully done, although it really could have had more information in it. They had a listening station upstairs with hours long interviews with some bluegrass greats, but not a single solitary song. When I spoke with the lady at the desk about some of those things, she told me that most people who visited had a lot of background in bluegrass music. I told her that I thought that assumption was a real shame. Having visited the Rock and Roll, Country Music, Rockabilly and Blues Halls of Fame, this one was just lacking in some ways which was disappointing since it is brand new. They should treat it like someone walking in the door (like a tourist from another country) has never heard a single bar of bluegrass in their life, and the museum’s goal was to make them a lifelong fan. I hope as it grows it will evolve and tell more of the story of this distinctly American and in many ways Kentuckian style of music.
Since it only took me an hour or so to visit this museum, I decided to head out to the O.Z. Tyler Distillery, the newest addition to the Bourbon Trail. This was an interesting tour, as their process includes an aging innovation called TerrePURE. Most bourbons are aged at least two years in the barrel, allowing them to be referred to as “straight bourbon whiskey”, but there is no aging restriction to simply be called bourbon. At O.Z. Tyler, they age their bourbon for one year and then put it into a machine which, according to our guide, speeds up the aging process giving it the characteristics of a four year old bourbon. I guess the proof was in the tasting. Their bourbon was okay, but nothing to write home about. I’m all for innovation, but there is something to be said for doing things the old fashioned way. It was definitely interesting to see though, but I don’t see ever picking up a bottle of their bourbon.
As I write this, I’m getting ready to head out of town towards Henderson, a little further down the Ohio River. From there I will be off to Paducah where I will make my big turn back towards the east. I hope to swing through the Kentucky side of Land Between the Lakes and then make my way up through Bowling Green and Cave City with a nice tour of Mammoth Cave National Park. I’ll be doing a lot of travelling this week, but also hope to get my first Kentucky podcast done as well (or at least get close). The weather has gotten a little milder as the week has gone on, and I really hope to get some great fall colors in the next few weeks. I hope you are all out there getting ready for the change of season and all of the joy and excitement that it brings. Until next week then, I hope you’re enjoying yourselves and making the most of the daylight while it lasts.