Bourbon School

Bourbon School

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Being a Kentucky-bred, it’s only natural that I would have an affinity to two things – horses (and those of you who have read my blog over the years know that this is true of me) and bourbon. I’ve said before that I suspect that the first inoculation given at birth in Kentucky involves the development of love for horses and bourbon. While it seems that the love of the equine was immediate, the appreciation of bourbon took some time to acquire.

My heritage (as I have recently learned) is Scottish, and Scotch whiskey was the first brown liquor I developed a taste for. Part of my college education was in London, England where I learned to drink Scotch. It was an integral part of my education.

 displayBlanton’s Stoppers

It wasn’t until I was in my very early thirties that I decided it was time to learn more about bourbon. I was so incredibly lucky that my first foray into bourbon was on a recently-introduced, single-barrel bourbon called Blanton’s. Why was I drawn to this particular bourbon? Take a look at the bottle. Seriously! It was the horse and jockey.

Since both my husband and I have ties to Kentucky, we became very interested in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. For those who haven’t previously heard of it, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a program of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to promote the bourbon industry in Kentucky. (More about the Bourbon Trail – but keep it brief as it will be in a later post.)

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In early April, Woodford Reserve in Versailles, Kentucky held its “Bourbon Academy.”

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The Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby

Master distiller, Chris Morris, was the professor and there were roughly 30 eager pupils.

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Master Distiller Chris Morris

First, we learned a little about the history of Woodford Reserve. It was originally known as Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, but they began distilling whiskey in 1780 on the banks of a glorious stream. The water is so clear and so pure due to the limestone, it was a natural location to start distilling. The distillery building was erected on site in 1838. It is actually the oldest of all the distilleries in the area, although it was closed for quite a while. Brown-Forman bought the property in 1993 and refurbished it to bring it back into operation. The Woodford Reserve brand was introduced to the market in 1996.

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THIS is the water that makes Kentucky Bourbon GREAT!

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Oldest Building on Woodford grounds – with the barrel delivery system

We started out, by learning about charring the barrels. The amount of char on the inside of new, American white oak barrels is critical to the taste and quality of the bourbon which comes out. We did our own “char” by building a fire inside a barrel. It was a little too windy, but the visual was sufficient to give a greater understanding of how many different levels there are in making a really top-notch bourbon.

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Young Mash – Tastes like Breakfast Cereal

We got to stick our fingers into the developing sour mash. It was amazing the difference in the tastes between the new mash (like a bland breakfast cereal) and the final vat (seriously getting sour and looking on top like someone’s pizza). We saw the gorgeous copper stills and learned about how the process of successive distillations makes the clearest, highest quality distillate. Notice, I didn’t call it bourbon yet. At the point where it comes out of the still, it is just alcohol – or “white dog.” It’s the aging in the oak barrels that turns pure alcohol into bourbon and gives it all those marvelous flavor notes.

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Aged Mash (almost ready for distillation)

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One of Woodford Reserve’s Famous Copper Stills

We learned all about the flavor wheel in an exercise, led by resident chef, Ouita Michel (a James Beard Award nominee). Who knew there were so many different flavors to discern in bourbon? We got to taste different nibbles of food paired with bourbon to see how the flavors changed. I had never thought about considering pairing food with bourbon and how different bourbons would go better with certain food items, but I sure learned a thing or two about that. I’m absolutely rethinking Thanksgiving dinner pairings. I think a good bourbon would pair beautifully with all the flavors in turkey and dressing. I absolutely know that bourbon and pecan pie are made for each other.

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The Woodford Reserve Flavor Wheel (Who knew?)

There was also an exercise about being able to recognize different scents in bourbon as well as taste. It was really nose-opening to smell a cotton ball in a glass with different esters on it and to try and discern what the smell was. One of the funniest responses was “my grandmother’s couch.”

We had an outstanding lunch and got to sample several different bourbons and Woodford’s bottled version of “white dog.” All of the bourbons were from Brown and Foreman’s stable of bourbons. Jim and I both favored Woodford’s Double Oaked – a relative newcomer to their offerings.

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All Related – Yet SO Different

Upon graduation, we each got our own bottles of Woodford’s flagship Reserve. These were very special bottles as they have our names and graduation dates etched right into the bottles. What a nice touch!

If you ever consider taking the one-day course, I would emphatically tell you to go for it.

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Such a Beautiful Place to Go to Class

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Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

Getting “Social” in Lexington

Getting “Social” in Lexington

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

Most of y’all know that I’m a born Kentuckian. I like to say that I was inoculated at birth with a love of horses and bourbon. I think that may be a requisite vaccination for all newborns in the Commonwealth, at least it appears that way. All I can tell you is that I have loved horses as long as I can remember, and acquiring a taste for brown, corn liquor came mighty easy.

Every year for my birthday, if at all possible, I sweet-talk my dear husband into a trip to the Bluegrass. That’s not a difficult task as he spent many, many summers in the state visiting his grandmother. Some of his happiest times were spent in my birth-state.

Earlier this year, we had visited and completed the Bourbon Trail (which I will write about in an upcoming blog), so this time it was totally about visiting horses, eating and drinking excellent food and bourbon, and visiting Wallins Creek (where Jim spent his summers) to take photos and gather information for his upcoming model train layout. (Can you see that there will be many different posts on all kinds of subjects in the offing?)

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Sunset in the Bluegrass

Our base of operations was Lexington. I never tire of Lexington. The area around Lexington is some of the most beautiful country anywhere in the world. Yes, I may be more than a bit biased, but I have been lucky to travel quite a bit and this is where I choose to come as often as humanly possible. Lexington is surrounded by farms housing the finest thoroughbred horses in the world and the very best distilleries are within a very short drive.

We arrived on my birthday, so we had made dinner reservations at Tonys of Lexington. We had lots of time before our reservation, so we wanted to enjoy a bourbon (or two) in a local bourbon bar. We’d heard about Bluegrass Tavern (with their 450 bourbons), and decided that we’d join the locals and see what 450 different bourbons even looked like. We arrived around 4:30 p.m., but they were inexplicably closed. Hmmm! What to do? Then we turned around and found Parlay Social on the corner right behind us. We decided to go in and cool off and see if they could fill the bourbon bill. (August is more than a little warm in Kentucky.)

“Social” is a great name for this place. We were greeted and made to feel right at home by the cutest bartender. Her name is Kristin, and she’s as nice, social, and informative as she is sweet. We had landed in just the exact right place to try out some bourbons that are, quite frankly, impossible to get in Michigan bars or restaurants.

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Kristin – Bartender Extraordinaire – Parlay Social (Check the bottle in foreground!)

Kristin handed us a list of all the options available and it just about made my head swim. There weren’t 450 listed, but there were enough fine options that we didn’t feel as though we missed a thing. They had options to try one or two ounces of some of the best and most sought-after bourbons in the world. Prices (as you can see) were anywhere from $5 all the way up to $112 for one single ounce of liquor. Extravagant? Darn tootin’! It was my birthday, though, so we decided to taste some of them. We shared, so each ounce became half-ounces each. (Wouldn’t want y’all to think we overdid it or anything!)

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Side #1 – Parlay Social Bourbon List

Our favorites were Eagle Rare 17-year and Pappy Van Winkle 15-year. I have to say, that if I had to choose one bourbon to drink (and cost was no factor) it would be the Pappy 15-year. It was, without a doubt, the best, most palatable, smoothest sipping bourbon I’ve ever had. Lord knows if the 20- and 23-year are any better, because we sure don’t. One day, I plan to save up so I can find out; but the leap between the 10-year (Old RIP Van Winkle) and the 15-year (Pappy Van Winkle) was like jumping to light speed in the Millennium Falcon.

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Side #2 – Parlay Social Bourbon List

As we were tasting some of these beautiful, brown liquors, the shift manager, Oliver, came out to see how we were doing. Again, we were made to feel right at home. Both he and Kristin gave us some suggestions as to places to visit in Lexington. When we told them we had reservations at Tonys, they both nodded and told us we would really enjoy our meals. In a later post, I’ll tell you more about Tonys and the wonderful dinner we enjoyed.

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Oliver – Shift Manager at Parlay Social

We actually went back to Parlay Social a couple of afternoons later to tell them what a wonderful meal we’d had, and to try out a couple more bourbons. It was like visiting with old friends. Funny, I know that they get all kinds of visitors and regulars on a daily basis, but we were remembered. That goes a very long way in making one feel welcome.

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Back bar at Parlay Social – Check out just SOME of the Bourbons

It’s a given that we will be back to Lexington in the very near future. It’s also a given that we will be visiting Parlay Social again, too.

 

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation 2013 (The Drive to Asheville, North Carolina – Day 1)

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Our vacation started very early on Saturday morning, August 17. Before anyone worries, our pups were home with their very favorite baby-sitter (and my bestest friend), Chris. They were spoiled totally rotten. More about that in upcoming posts.

 

Even though it was rainy (actually throughout almost the entire vacation), our drive went very well. I’m blessed to have a husband who can drive long distances without complaining. We made only a few stops on the way down (the usual – gas, a Coke, grab a bite, etc.) I have to give props to XM radio. There’s something very comforting about driving 500 miles with the same radio station playing. It sure makes the trip go quicker.

 

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Heading into MY Mountains!

Rainy Weather - but Still Mountains

Rainy Weather – but Still Mountains

Gray, but Beautiful

Gray, but Beautiful

Here are the first views we got of “my” mountains (the Smokies) heading east on I-40.

 

My heart really jumped up to see that sight. I guess it will always be in those mountains.

 

When we lived in Atlanta, we made several trips to the Asheville area and had visited Biltmore House at least four times. Funny thing, though, we’d never spent any time at all in Asheville. After seeing several travel shows featuring Asheville, we were anxious to see what we’d missed all those years.

 

A special treat awaited us in Asheville. Our dear friends, Eric and Gloria, from Sharps Chapel, Tennessee (where we own some property) planned to meet us and spend a couple of days with us. We were thrilled that they were able to join us for several reasons, but mostly because we hadn’t seen them in several years and we so enjoy their company. Eric grew up in North Carolina and had spent quite a bit of time with his grandmother who lived in Asheville. Eric and Gloria have, through the years, spent time in Asheville and know it quite well. They became our “unofficial” tour guides.

 

Jim with Eric & Gloria

Jim with Eric & Gloria

Did I mention that it was rainy during our trip? Luckily, the rain held off long enough for us to grab dinner at Peck’s Tavern. Peck’s is probably a terrific place to go to meet friends for drinks and it undoubtedly rocks when a big game is on the many televisions. We were all very hungry so we opted for an outside table (with BIG umbrella) rather than the anticipated long wait for a table inside. One hint here…Go to Peck’s for beer, cocktails and fun, but try someplace else for dinner. While it wasn’t awful, there are so many other restaurants in the Asheville area…

 

The bluegrass gathering that had been planned for the neighboring venue was cancelled due to the weather. That was one of the reasons we had decided that Peck’s would be a good choice. We were sorry to lose out on the music, but it did give us several free hours in downtown Asheville.

 

Asheville reminds me very much of European cities I’ve visited. Even in inclement weather, everyone is walking. It’s a really tough place to drive (narrow streets, odd layout, etc.), but there are several parking structures around the center of town. If you’re going to Asheville, park and do what the locals do. Get out and walk. It’s a very easy-walking town. There are lots of shops and sights to see and many options to stop for a beer, a drink, or a meal.

 

Another thing that was clearly evident is that Asheville is a very, VERY, dog-friendly town. Many of the local restaurants (including Peck’s Tavern) have outdoor seating in which your canine family members are welcome. There are even many stores which will allow you to bring your well-behaved buddy inside with you. Gotta love that!

 

After walking around for a while, we decided that dessert was definitely in order. We saw Posana Café, and were charmed by the European look and feel. We stepped inside and decided to have our dessert at their pretty bar. In some places we’ve been in the past, bar staff haven’t been too happy to have patrons who don’t mainly order cocktails. This was absolutely not the case at Posana Café. Our bartender was really terrific. She was uber-welcoming and put in our orders without batting an eye. What desserts those were!! Eric opted for the crème brulee, Jim went for the peach “pie,” and both Gloria and I chose the Chocolate Pot de Crème. Oh, my! Those chocolate desserts were amazing! I decided I really needed a bourbon with my chocolate. (After all, what goes better with chocolate? Can’t think of a thing.)

At Posana Cafe

At Posana Cafe

 

We walked around a little more until the rain started back. That sent us scurrying to our car and back to the B&B. It had been a long day, but a really good one. After checking in to see how the dogs were doing, we fell asleep to the sound of rain. Ahhhhh! I was “home” in North Carolina again, and it felt wonderful!

 

Up Next: Oakland Cottage B&B

 

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Hot Bourbon Ball

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my  blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

 

This post is a little different from what you’ve come to expect from me. Yes, there will be more about our boy Nitro in the very near future, but I thought that I’d share another side of who I am and what makes me tick.

A Foot of Snow on the Grill

A Foot of Snow on the Grill

So what does a Kentucky-bred, Florida-raised, FSU (Florida State University) alum, who now lives in Michigan do when the snow keeps falling and there’s a minimum of a foot of the fluffy stuff on the ground? Well, I try to figure out a new bourbon recipe (hot of course).

Snowing - STILL!

Snowing – STILL!

This is what I call …

 

Hot Bourbon Ball

 

Put the kettle on

Get the Cocoa into the Mug

Get the Cocoa into the Mug


Put dry hot chocolate (your favorite kind) into a mug

Add the bourbon

Add the bourbon

Measure in 1.5 oz. Devil’s Cut bourbon (I prefer this bourbon for this recipe as it has an assertive flavor that doesn’t get hidden with the other ingredients.)

1 oz Dark Creme de Cocoa

1 oz Amaretto

Stir!

Stir!

Stir all together to fully incorporate

Add the Cream

Add the Cream

Add 1 oz Heavy Cream

006 Stir

 

Add the Hot Water

Add the Hot Water

Add the hot water

YUMMY!!!

YUMMY!!!

Top with whipped cream (you could also add chocolate curls if you wished)

 

Enjoy!

         

Up Next: Nitro Update

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Looking forward to “seeing” you here on Colmel’s Blog!