Kentucky Bourbon Trail – and Beautiful Horse Country

The long-awaited and much-anticipated portion of our Summer 2021 Trip had finally become a reality with our arrival in Taylorsville KY on Saturday, June 26.

As we take this journey, it is important to KNOW what bourbon is! On May 4, 1964, US Congress recognized Bourbon Whiskey as a “distinctive product of the United States.” To be bourbon, it must be made of a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, distilled to no more than 160 proof, must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, and may not be placed into the barrel at higher than 125 proof. It must age for a minimum of 2 years to be called Straight Bourbon and if it is aged for less than 4 years, the label must designate the duration of aging (the youngest whiskey in the blend).

We settled into our camp site and quickly set off for our first adventure into the World of Bourbon – Angel’s Envy Distillery in downtown Louisville. This is one of the newer distilleries on the scene in a very competitive world of bourbon. Louisville Distilling Company, a subsidiary of Bacardi Limited, was founded by Lincoln Henderson and his son, Wes that now also includes four grandsons and two more in the wings (still in high school). Lincoln had retired after 40 years with Brown-Forman, a major distiller creating Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester and many others. Throughout our time “On the Trail” we learned how brands have changed ownership and distillers have moved between distilleries as years, successes/failures, Prohibition and other forces changed the market landscape.

Lincoln Henderson purportedly had “an idea” for years that he brought to the new venture – the finishing of bourbon into a used port wine barrel, thereby making it a finished bourbon. This finishing process in the port wine barrel lasts about 6 months. As we knew from our Scotch touring experiences, a portion of the spirits are lost each year during the barrel aging process – and that is known as the “Angel’s Share or “Angel’s Portion”. After Lincoln tasted his finished bourbon, he purportedly joked that he finally got a better deal than the angels – and Angel’s Envy was born.

The tasting here was exceedingly informational and we were so glad we started here. In addition to fine tastings as well as an interesting history of the Henderson family and Angel’s Envy, our host taught us the “correct way” to taste bourbon and it served us well throughout our time on The Trail! First, you “nose” the sample with your mouth slightly open, which allows the alcohol to be minimized and the sampler to detect the aromas of the bourbon. The first sip needs to be held on the tongue for 5-6 seconds, allowing the liquid to numb the tongue and throat, and feel that good “Kentucky Hug” has it burns into your chest! Once the numbing has occurred, the second and subsequent sips can be truly appreciated.

As we walked down Louisville’s Main Street, we started to understand why so many refer to it as World Headquarters of Bourbon, but Bardstown, some 40 miles south, has more than a little argument with that! We would be visiting Bardstown in a few days.

We stopped into the Evan Williams Visitors Centre. Our dear friend, Larry Weir, more than a few times spoke of spending a delightful evening with “Uncle Evan”, so we felt compelled to pay a visit and took advantage of their cocktail lounge to sample a flight of four of their offerings. Deploying our new found knowledge of tasting, we determined that while Evan was “nice”, we truly enjoyed Pikesville Rye Whiskey. You will recall that to be a bourbon, the mash bill (grain recipe) must be at least 51% corn. Anything less would be American Whiskey. In this case, Pikeville’s mash bill is 51% rye, 39% corn and 10% malted barley. Whiskey distilling is as old as our early settlers – and Pikesville is the last standing Maryland rye brand, starting in 1895. As with many brands, it changed ownership several times before becoming part of the Heaven Hill Distillery family from Bardstown, currently being produced in their Bernheim Distillery in Louisville. We would learn more about that when we visited Heaven Hill on Monday. We simply felt compelled to stop by the Gift Shop and acquire a bottle of the Pikesville Rye.

Now THAT is a glass of bourbon!

That evening, we found our way to Bourbon’s Bistro for a lovely dinner in the historic Clifton district of Louisville in a building dating back to the 1870’s. We arrived early, providing an opportunity to sit at the beautiful bar and chat with a very skilled bartender. One of the features of Bourbon’s Bistro is a selection of more than 130 bourbons – and a bartender that knows where every bottle is located on the barback. Their southern fare was extraordinary and the service was impeccable – we had a delightful evening and made our way back to Contessa.

Bourbon’s Bistro

Sunday, we returned to Louisville and enjoyed a few hours at the Frazier History Museum, which houses an array of information on Kentucky and its role in so many critical stages of American History. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, there are permanent exhibits on Lewis & Clark, the Civil War and Bourbon Whiskey, as well as rotating exhibits that currently include Women Surrogates in Kentucky.

Another section of the Bourbon Whiskey history was that of Julian Proctor “Pappy” Van Winkle, who is nothing short of a legend in the bourbon industry. In 1893, he became a salesman for W.L. Weller & Sons, traveling around Kentucky & Indiana by horse and buggy peddling Weller’s liquors to taverns, saloons and other retail outlets. As is often the case, the salespeople make more money than the distributor/manufacturer, and ultimately he and another Weller salesman bought the firm and the Stitzel Distillery that produced most of the whiskey for the Weller business. They consolidated as Stitzel-Weller and were able to obtain a permit to produce whiskey for medicinal purposes during Prohibition (1920-1933), which was very precious and limited to a very few distillers.

By the end of Prohibition, dozens of distilleries had been shuttered as only 6-8 companies were able to obtain the medicinal purpose license for whiskey production. Stitzel-Weller opened a new distillery on Derby Day 1935, having not only been able to produce and sell during the dark days of Prohibition, but also to maintain their inventory from earlier production. The end of Prohibition was celebrated far and wide – and with a song on the lips of many – “Happy Days Are Here Again!”

Pappy & His Infamous Saying

He brought both his son Julian Jr, his son-in-law, King McClure (married to his daughter Mary “Rip”) and eventually his grandson, Julian III. Pappy stayed heavily involved in the distillery until his death in 1965. In 1972, the Van Winkle’s were forced out by the Board of Directors, as bourbon sales were declining in the US in favor of white liquors, ie. vodka, gin, rum. The distillery was closed and the brands were sold to a variety of distilleries, with the exception of the Pappy Van Winkle brand and mash bill, which was retained by the Van Winkle family. Today, Julian III and his son Preston own the brands and they are produced and bottled at Buffalo Trace Distillery under strict licensing and oversight. It is a very limited production — if you are lucky enough to find a bottle for sale, it could be in the $3,000/bottle range. Bourbon’s Bistro on Sunday evening had a bottle on their “top shelf” at $150 a shot (we did not partake!).

Pappy loved a good round of golf – with his trusted caddy!

We headed east about 25 miles to Shelbyville, to the home of Bulleit Distillery, for a tour and tasting experience. It seems a common theme that lawyers tend to start distilleries – whether it is because the profession has driven them to “the drink” or the profession has provided them the financial backing sufficient to pursue those life dreams might be questioned, but it is certainly a theme we hear often.

In 1987, Tom Bulleit left his law practice and “risked everything” to fulfill a lifelong dream of reviving the recipe of his great-great-grandfather, Augustus Bulleit, who made a high-rye whiskey between 1830-1860. Today, Bulleitt is known for both its high-rye bourbon (90 proof, 68% corn, 28% rye and 4% malted barley) as well as its rye whiskey (90 proof, 95% rye and 5% malted barley).

As we’ve mentioned before, bourbon has gone in and out of favor with consumers, so when Bulleit was ready to release their first bourbon, they chose to leverage their marketing of “frontier bourbon” with a stylized bottling reminiscent of the old west and not attempt to compete head-to-head with the wide array of bourbon distillers in Kentucky. They went west – to San Francisco and the California coast – marketing their bourbon to bartenders as a perfect bourbon for classic cocktails such as old-fashions and manhattans. It was embraced as its high-rye content provided the spicy component to these cocktails vs. a high-wheat bourbon, which would be sweeter.

We returned to Louisville for a lovely evening at the River House Restaurant overlooking the Ohio River. It was a bit warm on the deck, but well worth it to avoid the noise of the restaurant and enjoy the live music from the establishment next door (at least most of the time!).

The view of The Ohio River from our table on the porch

On Monday morning, we turned The Toad (Jeep) south to Bardstown, where there are no less than 11 distilleries currently in operation. We have already decided that the Kentucky Bourbon Trail deserves another visit, as there is simply no way to savor and enjoy all that there is to see and do in this beautiful part of our country.

Our first stop was My Old Kentucky Home, a totally restored and treasured mansion owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Originally named “Federal Hill”, it was the home of prominent judge and US Congressman John Rowan and his descendants. The main L-shaped mansion was completed in 1818 with 13’6″ ceilings and large 22’x22′ rooms that flank a central hall spanning all three floors.

There are records of John Rowan’s cousin, Stephen Foster, visiting Federal Hill and being totally captivated by her beauty and peacefulness. After visiting and drawing inspiration from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stephen Foster published “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!” in 1853.

Another family of means, they met with many of the maladies of the day, including 7 family members and 8 servants dying of cholera in less than 36 hours from drinking infected cistern water — to John, Jr’s young life ending in a tragic accident (walking out a window in the middle of the night while caring for a sick daughter), leaving his young wife, Rebecca, with 10 children and massive debt.

Rebecca removed all her children from school so that they could work the fields, and with time and determination – and funds from her father-in-law’s trust finally being released – she was able to stabilize the mansion, gardens, greenhouses and fields that made up the massive property.

On July 4, 1923, Federal Hill was renamed My Old Kentucky Home and ownership of the estate of transferred to the Commonwealth of Kentucky as an historic shrine by Madge Rowan Frost, the last heir of Federal Hill. Having married late in life and having no children, she wanted to insure its viability for future generations. This effectively became Kentucky’s first state-owned park.

By 1928, the popularity of Stephen Foster’s 75 year old song had continued to gain momentum and the Kentucky State Legislature voted to make “My Old Kentucky Home” Kentucky’s state song. Known as “the father of American music”, Foster wrote more than 200 songs, including “Oh, Susanna”, “Camptown Races”, “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”, “Beautiful Dreamer” and many, many more. His life was cut short at the young age of 37, purportedly of an injury sustained from a fall while weakened from a fever. There is, however, much speculation whether the actual cause of death was self-inflicted, as suicide was a common occurrence during the Civil War.

Sometimes, the “have to” items on your itinerary don’t always measure up. Such was the case with The Old Talbott Tavern for lunch, but we certainly didn’t let that spoil our day – so off we went for more bourbon! Destinations – Barton 1792 and Heaven Hill.

We made what turned out to be a quick stop at Barton Distillery for a tasting of what we both agreed was a fairly non-descript but certainly enjoyable bourbon. Named for the year that Kentucky joined the United States as a Commonwealth, Barton 1792 Distillery was established in 1879 and continues today as the oldest fully-operating distillery in Bardstown. They offer a high-rye, a sweet-wheat, a small batch, a single barrel and what they market as a full proof. This was the only distillery during our 10 day Trail that we did not leave the distillery with at least one bottle for our future enjoyment! Oh, My!

But, never fear, there was another distillery yet to be visited! Off we went to Heaven Hill, the largest independent, continuously-owned, family-owned bourbon distillery in the America – and by definition, the world, as bourbon can only be made in America!

When Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, there were only 34 of the 157 pre-Prohibition distilleries that could afford the costs of reopening and adhering to the new regulations that came with the repeal. In 1935, Ed Shapira and his brothers, Gary, George, David & Mose decided to invest in a new distillery and eventually bought it outright. Each of the Five Brothers had a definite and critical role in what would become their heritage. They purchased land from a family named Heavenhill and an error in the paperwork created the name of their company and their first, bottled-in-bond brand.

The business grew both internally and through acquisitions, such as Evan Williams and Pikesville Rye that we enjoyed on Sunday in Louisville. We smiled as we realized that the Henry McKenna brand was a member of their family. Henry was a great friend of our dear friend and best man at our wedding, Wade Barber. And then, there is Larceny – a bourbon introduced to us by our great friend, Steve Joslyn, a gifted artist who has crafted the lighting for our back porch/room at Dry Dock.

The Larceny brand name is the story of a man named John E. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was a bonded US Treasury Agent who had access to the rickhouses of Stitzel Distillery, where bourbon barrels were stored and aged. His position gave him the means and the opportunity to steal tastes of some of the best bourbon. Using his keys, he would let himself into the rickhouses, thieve bourbon from the best barrels and take jugs of it home for himself! When it came time to drill and dump the barrels, some were found to be unusually light – and exceptionally smooth. These barrels became known as “Fitzgerald Barrels”. Even when the brand was later sold to famous whiskey man Pappy Van Winkle, the Fitzgerald name – and his reputation – endured. What a great story and history for a “new” family of wheated bourbons introduced in 2012.

John E Fitzgerald’s Larceny

Under the stewardship of the second generation, led by Ed’s son Max, Heaven Hill Distillery has grown to become the sixth largest supplier of distilled spirits in the United States. In 1996, a fire erupted in Rickhouse 1, a wooden warehouse full of wooden barrels filled with alcohol-laden bourbon. Combined with high winds and significant fuel, it quickly spread to three others rickhouses and the distillery. In the span of 4 hours, Heaven Hill had lost one-third of a years’ production (over 100,000 barrels) and the ability to produce any more.

The brotherhood of distillers was stronger than the passion of competition and multiple distillers stepped up to assist Heaven Hill by providing their facilities to allow the Shapira Family to continue to produce their products and keep their business alive. That continued for almost three years until Heaven Hill purchased the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville in 1999 and combined their family of products to those of Bernheim. To this day, all the production of Heaven Hill Distillers in done in the Bernheim facility, while the rickhouses and Visitors Center is located in Bardstown.

Just a few days before we visited the Heaven Hill facility in Bardstown, they had opened their new Five Brothers Bar & Kitchen on the Upper Level. After our “standard” tasting, we were invited to proceed upstairs for a tasting of Five Brothers Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon, released on June 18, 2021. A small batch blending of five ages of bourbon, Five Brothers Bourbon pays homage to the courage, dedication and solidarity of the five Shapira brothers who started it all in 1935.

The BarBack of Five Brothers Bar & Kitchen

Of course, we just HAD to make our way up the winding staircase to a lovely bar area that truly looked like it wasn’t open, yet there was a pleasant bartender and another couple at the bar. The bartender explained that the “official opening” would occur the following week when the public would be invited to enjoy the variety of bourbons, whiskeys and associated cocktails. He also shared with us that the management had decided to delay the opening of the Kitchen (restaurant) portion of the facility until next year. They were sensitive to the toll that COVID had taken on local businesses and did not want to introduce another competitor into their market until they had had an opportunity to recover. With that as a backdrop, and having enjoyed the smooth sipping pleasure of Five Brothers, we simply had to acquire an “initial bottle” for our collection.

We headed back to Contessa and spent another delightful evening by the firepit overlooking the small lake that was the centerpiece of this delightful campground. Purchased about two years ago, Gary and Mable are working hard to get it back into shape after having been closed, neglected and abused for 15+ years. The roads have all been resurfaced, the internet was to be active by the day we were to leave and the new pool is to be ready by fall. The sites closest to the lake, however, presented a few challenges with spacing and not sufficiently level for a coach of our size.

As we were enjoying the sunset and the firepit, Contessa attempted to re-establish a level position without success. Facing having to move her the next morning in an attempt to find a level spot, we elected instead to leave a day early (Tuesday) and head to Lexington to the Kentucky Horse Park Campground. It gave us the flexibility to leave at our leisure and get settled into our new site that we would call “home” for the coming week. Cousin Lee and Sandy Keen and Sister Sue and Rik Davis were due to arrive on Wednesday, so a little preparation (and perhaps give our livers a rest) was in order!

Everything worked out perfectly and by dinner time Wednesday evening, we were all together with steaks and vegetables on the grill! We enjoyed an evening of much conversation and laughter with anticipation of more bourbon experiences the next day!

Thursday dawned rainy – but it didn’t dampen our spirits. Off we went to Versailles, Kentucky – pronounced Ver-Sales, because, hey, you are in Kentucky, not France! It was a simply stunning drive through beautiful horse country with absolutely amazing vistas of fencing, frolicking horses and colts and barns/paddocks. As we drove (and drove and drove) by Winstar Farms, we saw a sign for “Funny Cide”, winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Little did we know that we would meet Funny Cide later in the week when we visited the Kentucky Horse Park!

We found a local brewery for lunch that, unfortunately, was suffering the same labor shortage that we have seen so much this summer. A restaurant full of patrons and one cook does not make for an expeditious dining experience. We gathered our wits about us and made haste for our 1:10p check-in time at Woodford Reserve Distillery. This is going to be THE Tour of the Trail!

Captain Bill gets to the check-in desk right on time – only to be told that the tour has just been cancelled due to bad weather that prohibits visitors walking on the property and into the rickhouses! Our choices were to receive a full refund or wait an hour for a limited tasting. After a few minutes of sheer disappointment, the Admiral just had to ask “any chance we could re-schedule?” Fortunately, they agreed to add some additional tours on Saturday and we were able to return for our much-anticipated time at Woodford Reserve.

On Friday morning, we set off for Lawrenceburg, KY – another 45 minute drive through beautiful horse country. Four Roses has a quite interesting history! As legend has it, when Paul Jones Jr, the founder of Four Roses Bourbon, became smitten by the beauty of a Southern Belle, he sent a proposal to her. She replied that if her answer were “yes”, she would wear a corsage of roses on her gown to the upcoming grand ball. Jones anxiously awaited her answer the night of the ball … when she arrived in her beautiful gown, she wore a corsage of four red roses. He later named his Bourbon “Four Roses” as a symbol of his devout passion for the lovely belle.

In 1884, he moved his thriving business to Louisville, where he opened an office in a section of historic Main Street called, “Whiskey Row.” Four years later, he trademarked the name Four Roses, claiming production and sales back to the 1860s. In 1922, he purchased the Frankfort Distilling Company, presumably at a fire-sale price as Prohibition had been gripping the industry for two years (with 11 more to come).

In 1943, Seagram’s of Canada purchased the Frankfort Distilling Company, to capitalize on the brand. In the early 1950’s, the market for bourbon was on a decline in the United States and Seagram’s made the decision to discontinue the sale of Four Roses Bourbon in the US and move it to the rapidly growing European and Asian markets. The Four Roses name unfortunately was transferred to a blended whiskey, made mostly of neutral grain spirits and commonly seen as a sub-par brand. Four Roses Bourbon would not return to the US market until 2002, when the Kirin Brewery Company of Japan would acquire the brand trademark and production facilities. Since its return and loads of work in regaining respect in the bourbon world, their Small Batch Bourbon has won several awards, including “Best Bourbon of The Century So Far” in 2020! And yes, we did acquire a bottle of the Small Batch (in fact, we acquired two – one to make into mint juleps that evening and one for our “collection”).

Lee, Sandy, Admiral Jann & Captain Bill

Another evening of great cousin time – with many sentences beginning “do you remember when….” Lee is Jann & Sue’s first cousin – his Dad was their Mom’s brother. It is Lee’s sister, Mary, who spent last summer at DryDock with her husband, Kevin, during COVID while their new home was being built. Lee & Jann are just a few months apart in age – and as children managed to get in all sorts of “interesting” predicaments.

But, all good things must come to an end – and at the end of the evening, we bade Sue & Rik so long for this time. They had been “on the road” for most of the last month and felt it was time to head back home and continue to settle in to their new home in southwestern Virginia.

Saturday morning was a picture perfect day and we were so thankful that our tour of Woodford Reserve had been postponed, as it was a perfect day for walking the grounds, touring the distillery and savoring the aroma of the rickhouses! Woodford Reserve was introduced in 1996 by Brown-Forman Distillers.

Our tour guide, Rob, was exceptional – his passion for the spirit and appreciation for Woodford’s approach was evident in everything he said. Located in the midst of beautiful horse farms, the distillery is nestled in a valley that provides the pristine limestone-filtered water that is such an integral part of Kentucky’s God-given advantage in bourbon making. The distillery itself is a National Historic Landmark, as the art of fine bourbon first took place on this site beginning in 1812. Many of the buildings are built of the gorgeous limestone and have been maintained/restored to their original glory.

Woodford employs several unique methods in their bourbon creation. In the fermentation room, they ferment their mash for a full 7 days, while most distillers have said their fermentation is 3-4 days. They ferment the mash in open, hand-made cypress vats. While these are extremely expensive to make, Rob indicated that they actually have a longer life than the stainless vats used by most other distillers and Woodford believes they add to the smoothness and flavor of the mash. They also return about 10% of their mash back into the next batch, making it a true sour mash – much like a sourdough bread and insures continuity in production.

The mash fermenting in cypress barrels for a full 7 days

From the fermentation room, we moved to the Still Room – and we felt like we had been transported back to Scotland! Here were three signature copper pot stills and a spirit safe. Woodford does a triple distillation, while other distillers hold to the standard two distillation process. There is the beer still, the high wine still and the high spirit still. Each still allows maximum contact of the vapors to come in contact with the copper, which they believe provides the silky smooth texture and flavor of Woodford Reserve. Many of the other distillers use a column still, which gives them much greater throughput/production and a “better” product. And who is to argue – there are many great bourbons. Captain Bill, however, certainly agrees with the Woodford approach!

The Stills were made by Forsyth & Sons in Scotland
The Spirit Safe is along the back wall, used by the Master Distiller

Another unique component to the Woodford creation is that Brown-Forman owns its own cooperage, where the new white oak barrels are made. This gives them increased flexibility in the creation of the barrels and charring, allows them to “experiment” and maintain the proprietary information in that creation. What Rob did share with us is that they “toast” their barrels before they “char” them. For their Distiller’s Select Bourbon, the barrel is toasted for 10 minutes and then charred for 25 seconds. For their Double Barrel Bourbon, the second barrel is toasted for 40 minutes, charred for 5 seconds — and then the bourbon is in that second barrel for up to six months.

As we mentioned earlier, we already have a list of places we want to visit during our NEXT Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and top of the list is a Cooperage. So much of the flavoring and all of the color of the bourbon is from the charring of the new white oak barrels and the processes/timing as the liquid transitions through the char as the barrel expands and contracts during temperature changes. Woodford also heats their warehouses, so that during the winter months when bourbon in Kentucky usually just rests, they can warm and cool the barrels, forcing the contents to transition through the char multiple times during the season.

Charring barrels – photo complements of the Kentucky Cooperage

As with many of the distilleries we visited, Woodford is expanding their production capacity in order to fulfill the demands in the 180 countries and 3 blends of Woodford available today. They were not currently bottling on Saturday, but when in operation, it runs at a rate of 100 bottles/minute!

Lee, Sandy & Captain Bill preparing for a delightful Tasting!

On Sunday, we headed in a direction other than bourbon – The Kentucky Horse Park, which was just next door to our campground.

We were greeted with a handsome bronze statue of Secretariat, undoubtedly THE outstanding thoroughbred of the second half of the 20th century. He won 16 of his 21 starts, including the 1973 Triple Crown — winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes while setting new track records in each race.

Secretariat in the Winner’s Circle at the Kentucky Derby

While there were many statues throughout the park, the one that spoke to all of us was Staff Sergeant Reckless of the 5th Marine Regiment – 1st Marine Division. SSgt Reckless served valiantly with the US Marine Corps in the Korean War. During the pivotal five-day Battle of Outpost-Vegas in late March 1953, she made 51 round-trips in a single day — most of them solo — from the Ammunition Supply Point to the firing sites. She carried 385 rounds of ammunition totaling more than 9,000 pounds, and walked over 35 miles, through open rice paddles and up steep mountains, as enemy fire exploded at the rate of 500 rounds per minute.

Reckless provided a shield for front-line Marines, carried the wounded to safety, and was wounded twice. But she never quit until the mission was complete. She wasn’t a horse – she was a Marine!

She is buried at Camp Pendleton, Stepp Stables , where she spent her final years before her death at age 20 in 1968.

Staff Sargent Reckless

We walked the grounds and made our way to the Circle of Champions, where we saw Funny Cide, of Winstar Farms – that gorgeous horse farm from earlier in the week.

We then spent a delight 45 minutes being entertained by the Master of Ceremonies at a presentation of 3 of the Outstanding Horses living at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Go for Gin, at 9-to-1 odds, won the 1994 Kentucky Derby
Go for Gin then had close seconds in the Preakness & Belmont
Retired due to injury, he is the oldest living Derby winner at 30 years
His offspring have earned more than $20 million!
Point Given was the 2001 American Horse of the Year winning
Preakness, Belmont, Haskell Invitational & Travers Stakes
becoming the first horse to EVER win four $1M races in a row
Western Dreamer is an American Standardbred
Won the US Pacing Triple Crown in 1997
Western Dreamer is the only gelding of any breed to ever win
a Triple Crown
A Pacing Horse moves both legs on the same side of his body together rather the left front-back right and right front-back left
A Gelding is a castrated male horse – a difficult decision to make for a racehorse re: future stud fees but there are often reasons/benefits

We were fortunate to have an Arabian Horse Show being held the day we were there. Knowing absolutely nothing about judging horses, we still enjoyed the pageantry and marveled at the control the riders had over their horses. It was clear we had no knowledge of judging, as none of the horses Sandy & I chose won!

Monday was to be our last day together, so we had a leisurely breakfast outdoors with our traditional Lox and Bagels. Neither Lee nor Sandy had never had gravlox, so it was a joy to share with them – and they were good sports about it all!

Then it was off to our last distillery – Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. Every distillery we visited over the past 10 days has been about a 30-40 minute drive, but with all the beautiful horse farms, it has not been a problem!

The definition of a “buffalo trace” is a path or trail made by the buffalo as they roamed this part of our beautiful country in the 1700’s. In this case, the trail led the buffalo down to the Kentucky River for clear, fresh water. In 1773, Commodore Richard Taylor, an engineer and cousin of Zachery Taylor, was sent to survey the Kentucky River for navigability. He found it to be shallow but useable during most seasons of the year. The ability to move goods and services through the frontier to the port of New Orleans was an essential part of the development of the country, including barrels of whiskey both from upstream and from the surrounding area.

By 1858, Daniel Swigert builds a small but “up-to-date” distillery, using the existing warehouse and access to the river. In 1870, Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. purchases the distillery and christens it “O.F.C.” for Old Fashioned Copper Stills, in the belief that the finest whiskey was produced in OFC.

Having grand plans, E.H. Taylor invests a “small fortune” ($70,000) as he builds a new distillery on the site. The fermenters in the original distillery were lined concrete and held 22,000 gallons in each of six fermenters. Taylor’s plan was much grander, so he filled in the concrete vats with dirt and built a concrete pad and building on top. During excavation years later, the original fermenters were saved and have been restored for historical value only.

In 1882, lightning strikes and burns the O.F.C. Distillery and is rebuilt immediately in an even grander manner at an additional investment of $44,000 (after insurance), including a large mashing (cooking) and fermenting wing which remains intact today.

In 1897, Albert B. Blanton, not wanting to be a farmer, joined the company as an office boy at the age of 16. He would spend the next 63 years working every job at the distillery, becoming President in 1921 at the beginning of Prohibition and navigating the company through that and many others challenges (including the Great Flood of 1937) until his death in 1961.

The grounds are beautiful, as is the statue of A. B. Blanton
He is buried over the hill at the site of his home

It seems as though every distillery had a claim of being the first to do something and often there is no way to verify or question those claims. However, tongue-in-cheek, the Distillery (now known as George T. Stagg Distillery) introduces Blanton’s in 1984, the world’s first single-barrel bourbon!

As we have heard time and again, with the exception of Heaven Hill, ownership of the distilleries has changed hands many times due to leadership, consolidation, Prohibition and vision. Today, this is a family-owned business after the purchase by the Sazerac Company in 1992.

By 1999, distillery had gone through another major renovation and is rechristened as the Buffalo Trace Distillery. The Distillery’s new flagship brand – Buffalo Trace – is launched.

Buffalo Trace currently has one continuous copper still and 13 fermenters that hold 93,000 gallons of mash each, along with all the rickhouses co-located on the banks of the Kentucky River. They are in the midst of a $1.2 billion expansion, including acquisition of 400 acres a few miles away to build additional rickhouses, that will double their production! What an investment – when you realize that the beginning of the return on investment is at least 7 years away when the first bourbon will be drawn from the barrels and available for sale!

The existing column still is in the background, the new still will be right beside it
Captain Bill & Cousin Lee were certainly attentive for the tasting!

Tuesday morning brought the departure of Lee and Sandy – and Primrose and Maggie (their four-legged family). We had a fabulous week with them and are hopeful for other rendezvous opportunities in our NEAR future! They headed out promptly at 8:00a – with the recipe and all the fixings for Mint Juleps to share with their friends.

Nothing better than time with Family!

After all the TV advertisements on The Ark Encounter and recommendations from several friends that had visited, we set off for – you guessed it – a 30 minute drive, this time north to Williamstown, Kentucky.

Out in the middle of Nowhere sits The Ark!

The research and execution of this project was absolutely mind-boggling. We would really like to go back, perhaps some early November, when it is cool and children are in school. While we were thrilled to see the huge number of families visiting a Biblically-based “attraction”, the sheer volume of people, strollers, backpacks, scooters for grandparents, etc made every step of the journey a challenge.

With tickets in hand, it took us over an hour standing in 90 degree direct sun to get the ticket exchanged for a wristband and get on the bus that would take us from the parking lot to the site. There is a tremendous amount of reading that tells not only the Story of Noah and the Ark, but also the research and decisions that were made to bring the Ark to reality in today’s world.

What started as a “what if” discussion in 2002 led to the purchase of land for development of the Ark site in April, 2010. Official groundbreaking for the construction occurred on May 1, 2014. The first beams were set in place on June 15, 2015 and the ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the Ark occurred on July 5, 2016. Compare that to what we “know” about the timing of the original Ark construction, by people much smarter than I am, who estimate it took 75 years to build it!

The creators of the current Ark attempted to build the structure to the specifications as God gave them to Noah – 500 cubits x 50 cubits x 30 cubits. But, first, one must determine what is the length of a cubit! A common measure in ancient cultures, it was the length from a man’s elbow to the tip of his longest finger, estimated to be 17.5″-18″. However, there was also a royal cubit, which added the width of four fingers (approx 3″) to make a royal cubit in ancient times equivalent to 20.4″-21.6″; they elected to utilize the more conservative number of 20.4″ cubit. That makes the Ark 510′ long, 85′ wide and 51′ tall and by volume 1.88 million cubic feet or hold approximately 450 semi-trailers.

While there clearly are no records on how Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives dealt with the animals (watering, feeding, exercising, waste disposal, etc), the creators of this Ark represented methods that could have been used. There are representations of vessels for water capture and dispensing, feed/grain storage, and waste disposal. Workshops they would have needed to maintain the shop, as well as a blacksmith shop are included with cages holding replicas of a wide variety of animal pairs, both extinct and animals we recognize today.

The children were absolutely captivated and it really was enjoyable to watch their eyes light up as Mom and Dad explained what they saw. They seemed to be enamored with the door – where Noah loaded the animals into the Ark, two by two.

We departed mid-afternoon and headed back one last time to the Kentucky Horse Park Campground that had served us so well for a delightful week. We stowed the lights, rugs, grill and trapping that happen when you are somewhere that long and prepared for our departure on Wednesday morning.

Off easily just as planned! Adhering to our target of less than 300 miles per day, we stopped mid-afternoon and had a nice walk around the park. Thursday morning was an easy “Hitch the Toad and Go” and we were home safe and sound by noon, ready to unload and thankful to be home.

Contessa will be idle for at least a couple of months as Bill has knee replacement surgery (right knee – making accelerator and brake a challenge afterwards), but you’ll know when Contessa and The Toad Get Hitched again!

Author: Contessa & The Toad Get Hitched

After years traveling this beautiful country by boat, the Captain and the Admiral are bound for land adventures. Whenever Contessa (the motorcoach) and the Toad (Jeep Grand Cherokee) get hitched (towing the car) - we’ll post our adventures!

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