A Christmas Miracle
My garlic bread is shaped like Kentucky.
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My garlic bread is shaped like Kentucky.
Each year, Maker’s Mark, a subsidiary of Beam Inc., sends its ambassadors a little Christmas gift. The gift we’ve used the most was a set of ice sphere trays, giving new meaning to bourbon balls. Back in 2011, they sent their loyal customers an “ugly Christmas sweater” that fit its 750-ml bottles of bourbon. I didn’t have a full-sized bottle at the time so instead I put it on a pint-sized, 375-ml bottle.
This year, while shopping at a liquor warehouse in Lexington, Kentucky, we saw that same sweater. Both the bottle and the sweater it was wearing, however, were much bigger.
Is it too late to print Christmas cards?
Remember how I was getting fed up with Ron Burgundy? Not only did he grace the cover of the current issue of Rolling Stone, which include two long feature articles that overshadowed the cover story, but I also encountered Burgundy at a Liquor Barn in Lexington, Kentucky.
No, I didn’t get any of the scotch.
It was supposed to be a pretty straightforward trip to Paducah, Kentucky, originating in Newark with a long connection in Chicago.
We started the day in New York as we do every day, but we had to cross the Hudson River, into New Jersey, for our flight departing Newark. A classic “I-95” rainstorm, running up the entire eastern seaboard, delayed the incoming aircraft by over two hours. That, in turn, delayed our Continental Airlines flight to Chicago and our long two-hour-plus layover turned into a very risky connection. Although we ran from our arriving gate to the Paducah gate, we missed our United Express flight. We were automatically rebooked on the last flight of the following day, which would put us into Kentucky a full day after than we had planned.
Sarah insisted that we not lose the entire day so we asked if we could be rerouted on a United flight to Nashville, and Sarah’s family would pick us up and drive to Kentucky. The agent promptly rebooked us and issued boarding passes for a flight to Nashville.
The new flight required an overnight stay so we asked if we could get vouchers for a hotel. Since it was the Continental flight that caused the misconnect, we had to ask them for accommodation. Continental doesn’t have much of a presence at O’Hare so it was a bit of a challenge to find someone, but we eventually found someone at the baggage claim office. The Continental agent obliged us and handed us complimentary hotel and meal vouchers. Thanks!
My experience with weather delays and missed connections is pretty limited. It only happened once before, when I flew on a different airline, and I was offered a discounted room, which is an airline’s standard practice. I am fairly certain that because our Newark-Chicago flight was late due to weather, we were not entitled to the hotel and meal vouchers, but I suspect that elite status might have helped in this case.
In either case, Sarah and I made the best of it. We used our meal vouchers for the Tortas Frontera at the B terminal at O’Hare and had one of the best breakfast tortas east of the Colorado River. (Note, if you have one of these $12 vouchers, get a breakfast torta and a coffee.) It also worked out because while we were at O’Hare, a reasonable one-way fare from Chicago to Los Angeles became available. Since I was using some travel credit certificates I received in September for giving up my seat, I had to redeem them in person at the airport. It would have been very difficult to redeem had we not been at O’Hare.
Although it was unfortunate that our plans turned out a bit different from we had originally planned, it helped to keep our cool and ask politely for help. I hope everyone remembers that this holiday season before screaming at an agent.
Sure, it was Fake Thanksgiving, and I finally had a chance to shoot skeet. But being a city-slicking Yankee, I felt more comfortable shooting photos.
Maybe next year there will be more guns and less photography.
As we prepare for the annual Fake Thanksgiving festivities in Kentucky, it looks like my parents will be joining us. As I write, my mom and dad are en route to Chicago and then on to Kentucky to partake in what I called the greatest idea for having Thanksgiving but without all the headaches.
With my parents coming, this will be the first time that I will be seeing any blood relative for a quasi-Thanksgiving celebration since the Clinton Administration.
It took over two years, but Sarah and I diligently visited eight distilleries that are (or were) participants of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We started in May 2008 at Buffalo Trace, outside of Lexington, and finished last November at Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, and there were several more distilleries in between.
The eight distilleries were:
The tours ranged from very short primers to extended tours lasting hours. For example, the tours at Jim Beam and Wild Turkey were very short, consisting of a brief explanation of how they make bourbon followed by a couple of free samples. Heaven Hill’s was even shorter. We just file into a barrel-shaped tasting room to taste a few of their offerings.
On the other hand, the tour at Tom Moore lasted nearly four hours on a very ugly functionally designed factory with no tasting. Woodford Reserve, although also a very long tour, was on a beautiful piece of land and was a much better experience. We gladly paid for the five-dollar Corn to Cork tour there, and it was a treat, especially since you get to see the whole process and sample along the way.
In either case, part of the appeal of going to all of these distilleries is the passport program. Once you get your passport stamped from all of the participating distilleries, you get a free gift (a t-shirt, if I recall). After finishing our last tour at Four Roses in November 2010, we dispatched our passports to the processing office for our free gifts. We thought it would take a month or two, but it is now August, and there’s still no sign of our gifts.
I just thought about this today, so I’m going to write them a letter and ask them nicely to send our gifts.
In the meantime, I’d like everyone to see that we did indeed go to all of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, even ones that have left the program.
Sarah and I took another extended trip to Bourbon country as part of the annual “fake Thanksgiving” trip. On this trip, we hit up three different distilleries: Tom Moore, Heaven Hill, and Jim Bean. Each of these distilleries seem to make more than half of the bourbon in Kentucky, but they also represent a significant consolidation among all the distilleries in the area.
The Tom Moore distillery was enormous, and it just recently started letting tour groups come visit the area. This tour was my least favorite of the three distilleries we saw. First, the tour was extraordinarily long: it was three hours in length. Second, the facilities were pretty ugly. Yes, I understand that this is a booze factory, but there really was no attempt to make it look nice. Maybe I should be giving them credit for keeping it authentic, but as you can tell by the photos I took, there wasn’t a whole lot worth snapping a photo. Perhaps the best representation of the state of the distillery is the hybrid school bus and military truck that had been made on the premises. Finally, there was no tastings at the conclusion of the tour. It’s one thing to see an ugly place for three hours where bourbon (and a lot of other spirits, including brandy) is made, but please let me taste some of the stuff. Anyway, the spirits giant Sazerac took over the plant over the summer so any attempt at the folksy tradition of bourbon making seems to be gone.
This was a much different tour to visit despite the proximity. Heaven Hill produces a lot of brands of bourbon, including Evan Williams, and the tour was very different. We made it there just before closing time, and our tour consisted of wandering around the gift shop and being summoned to enter this barrell-shaped room. Unlike the Tom Moore tour, there was no long-winded tour… just two half-ounce tastings of bourbon. The Evan Williams Single Barrel but the Elijah Craig Single Barrel had aged 18 years, which took too much flavor from the barrel. Anyway, it was still a treat after touring distilleries for nearly four full hours.
In the category of short and sweet, this tour consisted of a seven-minute video, detailing the long tradition of bourbon making under the Beam name, and a short tour through a restored guest house. Then we went on to the bourbon tasting. At this tasting, we had some Booker’s Single Barrel (can you detect a pattern here?) and a curiously strange berry flavored bourbon, Red Stagg. I definitely preferred the former to the latter, especially since it has that oaky flavor you really drink bourbon for. But the flavored stuff wasn’t too offensive. In fact, I kind of liked it, but I fear what will happen to bourbon if they go the way of the vodkas.