30 June 2008

I Haven’t Got Time for the Pain

I hate bourbon. I don’t care if it is 51% corn, crafted with limestone water, and aged 20 years in virgin oak barrels in the unique Kentucky environment. It tastes thick and hot at first, and then it burns as you swallow. I don’t understand it, and I don’t like it.

Traveling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, however, was pretty enjoyable. They don’t give you enough free samples of the nasty fire water to get drunk (when I imagine it doesn’t hurt as much to drink), but the bourbon distilleries we visited lived up to my romantic image of historic, classic Kentucky. We visited Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, and Maker’s Mark. There was a little something different about each distillery that I enjoyed most. At Buffalo Trace, where I learned copious amounts of information from Dr. Don in our hour-plus tour of the grounds, I loved visiting the aging warehouses. They were dark and cool, with endless rows of barrels. Dr. Don showed us the “experimental” barrels, which were small enough for me to carry right out of there were I going to the gym like I am supposed to. In a moment of foolish humor, when I was spacing out a bit on the tour, I pretended I was in The Happening and banged my head against a barrel. I was just pretending, but in typical Courtney fashion, I actually hit my head. I must have looked like a jerk to the rest of the tour. But it made Nate and Matt laugh. That didn’t really hurt so much; however, when I tasted the bourbon, I thought I was going to die from the pain.

At Woodford Reserve, all I could think about was how perfect the grounds were for a wedding. We missed the last tour, but the main building was impressive enough – it was my favorite part. A wide porch surrounded the building, perfect for a reception, complete with rocking chairs and cocktail tables. And I liked the Bourbon Balls (a chocolate covered bonbon with creamy bourbon flavored filling) here best, and the free sweet peach tea was a welcome chaser to the hell-booze. Here, they served the bourbon with ice, so I could almost sip it.

Our last stop was Maker’s Mark, which is located on a beautiful estate with a historic toll bridge over a small stream. The black buildings have distinctive red shutters, and our tour guide spun a lovely tale of the founder of Maker’s Mark and his wife. She handled the marketing; he handled the distilling. Sounds like things went her way! She picked the bottle and led her husband to the name (after the distinctive marks on the bottom of pottery) and the wax covering. In the distillery, we were able to try the sour mash. Really, we were allowed to stick our nasty dirty fingers in the giant, hundred year old wooden drums to taste the foaming brew. Gross. Here, we were also able to try the bourbon before it is put in the barrels – that was truly fire water. The best part about this tour was dipping our own Maker’s Mark bottles in their trademark red wax (thanks, Mrs. Founder). I intentionally tried to overdip my bottle (an overdipped bottle is considered special, and one is placed in each case of whiskey… but most are scooped up by distributers and never make it to the packie), but they outsmarted me. They only made the dip pool deep enough to cover the neck of the bottle. Still, my overdipping zealousness resulted in a “foot.” The ladies at the dipping station told me that this was a good thing because a stable foot would come in handy when I was tipsy. Lovely. I still kind of thought my bottle looked like a kindergartner dipped it. Before we left, Matt and I both signed up to have our names engraved on a barrel; eight years from now, we will be invited to come back down for our barrel opening.

So, I still hate bourbon, even though I now know why it is such a special form of whiskey (there ARE rules: certain about of corn, certain barrels, certain water, and aged in Kentucky). But, when my barrel comes due at Maker’s Mark, I will come back and happily dip my bourbon. Even though I will be forty, I will probably still dip like I am four. And I’ll probably sip that way too.

Posted by Courtney

The Bourbon Trail, Kentucky

Courtney getting bored at Buffalo Trace.

Matt and Nate getting bored at Buffalo Trace.

Matt attempting to swim in mash.

Fire water. Hell juice. Rubbing alcohol. Ahh, bourbon.

Matt and Courtney dipping their Maker's Mark in wax.

Courtney's prized dip job.

He Says, Maker's Hits the Mark

On Saturday, we met our friend Nate outside Frankford, KY and headed to Buffalo Trace Distillery. Hitting the distilleries was really something I was dragging Courtney to, and Buffalo Trace got us off to a slow start. Really slow.

Our tour guide, Don, was a self-proclaimed scotch drinker who ambled and rambled and the 45 minute tour took at least a half hour longer than that. In fact, Donnie was so boring I stepped outside to call Woodford Reserve to make sure they would still be open when we finished. (That’s really part of the difficulty. You can’t do the Bourbon Trail over a weekend because the distilleries are not open on Sunday—some are but do not offer tastings or dippings.) So here we are, approaching 4:00 pm on Saturday and Donnie Longwind still has made no move to the tasting room.

After a disappointing tasting, we rushed over to Woodford Reserve where we had just missed the last tour of the day but were still in time to sample their fantastic signature bourbon. The distillery is located in a beautiful wooded area and the grounds are immaculate. Our spirits were buoyed—get it, “spirits”—and we even stopped at a few wineries before finding a campground and calling it a night.

Today, after waking up in Clarksville, IN (just across the river from Louisville, KY) to find our car had been broken into, calling the police, waiting for the police, calling the insurance company, calling the glass repair companies, waiting for the police, talking to the hotel—no one there seemed the least bit interested, by the way—and taking the car to two different shops, we were on our way in Nate’s car to Maker’s Mark in Loretto, KY. Loretto, is quite a haul from Louisville and the Maker’s Mark Distillery is way out there.

It is definitely worth the trip. I must confess that I am a Maker’s Mark drinker so this may seem a little biased, but the tour was fantastic. Our guide was witty and knowledgeable and most importantly, he kept the tour moving. We heard about the history of the land, the varying qualifications for bourbon, the Samuels family history, and the importance of Kentucky to producing quality bourbon. We got to see all of the steps in the process, learn about the “angel’s share,” and sample Maker’s Mark straight from the still and then straight from the bottle. Even better, we had the opportunity to buy bottles and hand-dip them into the signature red wax that tops every bottle. I have done few things that have been more satisfying than dipping my own bottle and having it look right (I’ll try to get out more.).

Next time you find yourself caught between Louisville and Lexington, KY with nothing to do stop in and visit one of the many bourbon distilleries in the area. Next time you find yourself caught between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains, make sure you make your way to the Mark.

29 June 2008

Baseball Novice Learns Batting Gloves Are Not Just Fashion

I like museums, but I wasn’t super-thrilled about going to the Louisville Slugger Museum with Matt and Nate. Of course, we showed up an hour before the museum even opened, which was lucky (eh-hem) because we could take undisturbed photographs of the 120 foot tall bat that decorates the entrance of the museum. We had just stopped at Waffle House for smothered and covered hash browns, but I already needed more coffee.

But, once we entered the museum, I caught a little of the bug. A wall in the lobby is covered in metal plates carved with the signatures of all the ball players who have signed contracts to carry Louisville Slugger bats. The museum has two of Babe Ruth’s bats on display, one of which (imagine this) was found in the back of someone’s closet. An interactive pitching exhibit shows what a 90 mph pitch looks like, but the thing is, you can’t see it. I admit it did make me gain a little more understanding for how difficult hitting a ball in the Major Leagues is.

I did head into the batting cages, but my pitches were only at 40 mph. Or was it 20 mph? All I know is that I whined the whole time because my hands hurt each time I hit the ball (yep, that’s right – EACH time I hit the ball). I only saw the gloves afterwards.

And yes, even though I thought I would have rather looked for knick-knacks with a latte in my hands, I ended up chock full of questions for my tour guide and very happily took my free mini-Louisville Slugger.

Louisville Slugger Museum, Louisville, Kentucky

He Says, Louisville Slugger Propaganda Museum

This morning we packed up our camping gear and headed for the Louisville Slugger Museum (with a quick stop at Waffle House for covered, peppered hash browns). The waitress called me "Big Guy"--congenially, Courtney said. I ordered a Diet Coke.

When the doors finally opened at noon, it was packed, so we started in the gift shop. Courtney decided it was absolutely essential that I get a bat with my signature on it; it took me 27 attempts to sign my name in a manner befitting Slugger immortality. There were the requisite busts of baseball heroes with quotes, pertinent facts in the history of the Louisville Slugger Company, and a walk-through of the bat-making process. There was a propaganda movie (at least it stars Derek Jeter) and an exhibit of baseballs signed by presidents.

However, lets get real. These were the three highlights:

1. Posing with Casey Stengel and Mickey Mantle for a photo-op in the dugout.

2. What I call the "60' 6" Exhibit" where you get to see (or more accurately, not see) what a 90 mile an hour fastball looks like from a batter's perspective.

3. The batting cages. Man did I show the stuff that makes me a couch-riding all-star. Using wooden bats without gloves, I ripped some serious foul balls (and a few scorching liners). By far the coolest part of the LSM experience.

I love baseball. I hate museums. Even museums that show how baseball bats are made. While it is probably a requisite for all true baseball fans, I would suggest taking the $9.00 and heading over to Louisville Slugger Field to see a Bats game.

Or put the $9.00 towards gas and head to Cooperstown.

27 June 2008

She Says, Get Stupid

I don’t think Get Smart is worth writing about, much less wasting the past two hours when I could have been packing for Road Trip ’08. I don’t keep my crush on Steve Carell secret, and I was hoping for some magic on the screen at the little F-bo theatre. Not so much. I’ll have to just pop my DVDs of The Office in instead. My popcorn, Scrabble on my cellphone, people watching in line, the preview for The Dark Knight, and Matt's dancing to "4 Minutes" was way more entertaining than the flick.

Carell wasn’t as painful as he is in The Office or even Dan in Real Life, which at least warmed my heart a little and fueled my crush. Anne Hathaway, as Maxwell Smart’s partner, lacked the charm of her past princess and the edge of her Brokeback Mountain performance. And she’s not funny, so… together they didn’t have chemistry or make me laugh.

Honestly, the best part of the movie was Dwayne Johnson. You know who I mean. The Rock. He was charming in spots – not funny, that would have been Carell’s job – but charming. The Rock wasn’t the only giant man in this movie. I am pretty uninformed about the WWE, but Dalip Singh, an Indian wrestler who looks bigger that The Rock, played a beastly yet sensitive evil henchman. His pig throwing early in the movie was fun. Yep, I liked the two wrestlers best.

And I liked hearing Madonna and J.T. on the soundtrack.

That’s it. I don’t want to write anymore. It wasn’t fun enough, funny enough, witty enough, charming enough, or clever enough for me to write anything else! Even the lame comics on “Last Comic Standing” tonight were more engaging!