28 December 2012

2012-13 SOUTH & EAST COAST to Tennessee 3 - Bourbon Trail

THE STATS: We departed at 9:45am. Our planned destination was Birmingham AL, but our actual destination was Columbia TN. Departure temp was 36 and highest all day was 41. Cloudy driving to start and rain began about 3:30p. Highest elevation was just north of Nashville at 852 feet. We thought it would be higher, but after so much flat land, these hills looked huge.

Lovely typical southern buildings along the way--one or two story with prominent white columns. I thought we would see more horses in the fields of KY, but no. Saw some cattle though. Not much else between Louisville and the TN border, although easy driving with three lanes on I-65 and no trucks in the left-most lane. Once we crossed the state line into TN, it immediately narrowed to two lanes. Felt tight now and we had to "battle" the big-rigs again.

TN's rest stop welcome center rated a five. Very clean, unique fort-like d├ęcor outside, warm country home inside, automated facilities, toilet protection covers, "concierge," monitors that display how much energy was saved with their solar, and faux fireplace with rocking chairs surrounding it. The "fire" was a monitor behind the fireplace screen playing a fire video. Sounds hokey, but the effect was heart-"warming!"

Big thing in TN seems to be HUGE flea markets. You see them at every exit, although none were open on this chilly day. TN also has much beautiful ledge rock cuts into the hillsides. This keeps the roads more flat rather than rolling up and down the hills. Nice color in these earth samples from white limestone to 50 shades of grays and browns to Sedona red rock-ish. Talk of ledge rock made us think of Mr. Belvedere, an irritating house siding salesman in Detroit (way back when) that had a hokey commercial on air about every five minutes and sold lots of cheap fake ledge rock siding to Detroit area residents.

Our goal so far has been to get to warm weather pronto, but we kept seeing signs for the Bourbon Trail and began remembering stories about Mike's step-dad Jack Parker, who had one or two shots of Jack Daniels EVERY night before dinner. Let me make it clear that neither of us likes bourbon in the least, but we really loved Jack and we really enjoyed tipping one with him during his happy hour. So we decided on a 50-mile detour to honor him.

We hopped on the Bluegrass Parkway (lovely with rolling natural beauty and no billboards) to the quaint village of Bardstown. There were many bourbon tour options close by. We had pin-pointed Maker's Mark, but that was another 18 miles beyond. So we ended up at Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center. We were not familiar with any of their bourbon brands, but the tour was good and well worth the $5.

We saw one of the 52 rick houses, each holding 20,000 barrels of bourbon of various ages. The little black squares in the photo are windows that are opened in summer to give the aging process a totally natural experience. This day the temp in the rick house was 40 degrees. 

Requirements for bourbon are that it must be 100% natural ingredients and a minimum of 51% corn based. Also barrels used are charred and sealed tight with cat tails (which are generally purchased from northern states like Michigan because they are bigger and superior to local cat tails).  Barrels can only be used once and most are then sold to Scotland to be reused in their alcohol industry.

At the end of the tour we got two tastes of straight bourbon (optional water added) and a taste of chocolate-peppermint eggnog bourbon. And a bourbon ball as we left the bourbon barrel shaped tasting room.

We were not able to see any still-type equipment or big vats because their building for that had burned down a couple of years ago and that part of the process was now done in Louisville. Also we could not take flash photos in the rick houses because the flash could start a fire from the gases released from the barrels. And, everything smelled like bourbon here and in town, in the air, including us when we left.

Back to Bardstown city center, we found many OLD buildings, cool architecture, and a tavern built in 1779 according to the engraved date on the front stoop. We decided on lunch at this Old Talbott Tavern and Inn. I had soup and salad and Mike had chicken fried steak. Mike had a Guinness and I had water ("no wine and not much else but bourbon here," the waitress said). After lunch we walked a bit and discovered many old and interesting structures.

Broken plans. Originally we were to be in Birmingham at 3:30pm (according to GPS) to browse around that historic city. After lunch and the B-Trail, the GPS said 6:30pm. That sounded good, but with the rain, Friday night, holiday weekend, and a number of fender benders on the road, GPS gave the update. We weren't reaching Birmingham til 8p. It was dark and stressful driving, so we gave up at 6:30p on the outskirts of Columbia TN.

Nearby choices for dinner were Arby's, Cracker Barrel, Burger King, and Stan's (a local joint  around since 1947). It was down home, high Southern accents, friendly, basic needs. A specialty was Aigs (that's how they spelled it) and pork brains. Not being particularly exploratory, Mike had chicken fried steak (second time this day) and I had a typical breakfast-for-dinner with grits and butter. Love those grits and I don't get them often. Food was decent, price was right, and locals were friendly and entertaining.

Above is the t-shirt the waitresses wore. The front said "Hey, y'all!" The state of TN is only 120 miles tall, but we are still trying to say bye y'all to Tennessee!

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