A Red River Halloween Day 5: Whiskey

Lexington Attractions/Stops:
Woodford Reserve: ★★★★★ (Classy. Good. Bourbon Balls.)
Bluegrass Distillers: ★★★★ (Friendly, informal, personal tours)
West Sixth Brewing: ★★★★★ (Chill ambience & Smithtown is next door)
Smithtown Seafood: ★★★★★ (I don't like fish but I love Buffalo Catfish Bites).


Chuck and the Woodford Reserve
The sky was gray. Dreary gray. London gray. The sort of gray that exactly matches the forecasted rain. Ugh, gray.

It was Wednesday, our rest day. I'm don't recall if we had planned Wednesday to be our rest day or if nature had forced our hand. Either way, I wasn't complaining: we had just climbed for three days straight. Today was for relaxing and whiskey.

We did our best to plan as little of our day as possible, but the distilleries called our bluff. Most required advanced tickets. Zach was stoked on Woodford Reserve, I was stoked on going somewhere good, and Dave-O and David were stoked for any distillery tour. So, we picked the Woodford Reserve. Unbeknownst to me at the time was the that the Reserve was famous for being one of the classier, higher quality distilleries and for having bourbon balls. Having never done a distillery tour/tasting before, I ended up assuming that this was the case for all distilleries, which left me greatly disappointed half a year later. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

David, the bone-crushing philosopher-king of our trip had recommended the book Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb, to me several years ago. During the car ride, I mentioned that I had nearly gotten through it (halfway) recently. It is not a bad book--there's just a lot to digest and analyze, and I didn't want to just skim it. This triggered our hour long, Zach-on-a-conference-call-interrupted conversation about life, relationships, the game of ten-cow, and Crucial Conversations (a book that both Zach and I now strongly recommend).

As we started winding down slightly smaller roads at every intersection, our focus changed to the countryside, which was littered with horse filled green estates, separated by white four-plank horse fences. It’s been just under a year, and I still vividly remember the grass's bright green colors popping through the through the dreary gray.

We purchased tickets for the 1:30 tour/tasting. Zach was reluctant to join us because of a conference call that overlapped with the tour, but Dave-O's and David's combined powers of persuasion were too strong. We went as a team.

We didn’t want to tour on an empty stomach, so we bought the excessively priced Kentucky BBQ inspired cafeteria food, and admired the clean, red-marbled demeanor of the visitor center.

Recreating Yellowstone mud pots with whiskey mash
Our tour guide was a shorter, vivacious and proper older gentlemen who I’ll call Chuck (because he looked, talked and walked like a Chuck and because that might have actually been his real name). We started by walking into the base of a two-story room full of massive 1.5 story tall wooden vats, displays for tours, and an overpowering sweet, but pleasant smell that you’ll only experience on a distillery tour. Chuck described the grain mixture, barrels, and quality of the whiskey. We then went upstairs and gaped into open massive vats, which were frothing and roiling with yellow mash. The mix was sterile: dropping your phone into it wouldn’t contaminate the mash, just permanently disable your phone.

Let's not all look too uncomfortable
We took a team (minus Sevda, who was working) photo in the next room. Zach did his best to simultaneously stay on call and hide his cell phone from the camera.

Cell phone reception killers
Our next stop was the cask room, which besides having impressively densely, stacked rows upon rows of whiskey barrels also had walls thick enough to kill Zach’s cell phone reception (thus ending his conference call with Japan).

The highlight of the tour, of course, was the tasting. This is the part of the tour where the guide tests his power of suggestion. Chuck’s was very strong, even if he did cheat by planting a flavor wheels and bourbon balls on the table beforehand.

He described the two glasses of whiskey on the table, guided us through the taste wheel, and then instructed us on how to properly sniff and then sip Woodford Reserve’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

It tasted like fire.

The type that burns your mouth, and then when you swallow, it spreads down your throat. You try not to wince in pain--you don't want to show your agony to your neighbor. His eyes tell you he is going through exactly the same thing, even if his mouth is telling you he enjoyed the sip.

No, he likes it!
Chuck is still talking, suggesting hints of vanilla, butterscotch, chocolate, and nuts from the flavor wheel. Fire is not one of these flavors, you astutely notice.

“Take another sip—the first can be a little harsh on the palette.”

The second sip isn’t much better, even with your mouth numbed.

Whiskey and Bourbon Balls
“Now eat about half of the bourbon ball, but before you swallow take another sip. Some people notice that this really helps take the edge off."

I am some people. The whiskey no longer tastes like fire, but like chocolate, with some interesting flavors mixed in. Back when I was a little kid, my parents (rightly) wouldn’t let me eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch by itself, instead requiring me to only sprinkle Cinnamon Toast Crunch on top of a huge base of Wheaties. I’m on to you, Chuck.

Somehow, we’ve managed to finish our left taster, so Chuck guides us through the right one, Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey.

This one wasn’t as harsh. I actually might have enjoyed it, and apparently I wasn’t the only one: David ended up purchasing a bottle. I purchased some Bourbon Balls for us, Sevda, and Lisa (who was hard at work in DC).

Our next stop was Bluegrass Distillers, a much smaller craft distillery in the heart of Lexington. We may have only picked it because it was one of the few distilleries that was near us and would be open, but we didn't regret this decision at all.

Murals are cool
We drove through Lexington, found parking and a really neat mural, and then walked into the hidden hole-in-a-wall distillery next door. A very friendly, young lady stood behind the bar pouring samples and talking with the only two customers in the room. When they finished, she started our tour, walking us into the next room. I remember vague bits of her tour: somebody sponsoring but not running the distillery, the blue (not yellow mash), the plastic containers (not like the shiny brand new metal ones at the million dollar Woodford Reserve), the proud, informal yet knowledgable casualness of her presentation, and the much smaller cask room, with only one layer of barrels.

Simple logos are the best
The tour finished, we walked to the counter, and she poured us samples of two whiskeys. I don’t remember what they tasked like, but they must have been good though because Dave-O bought us a bottle. Even though our guide repeated it several times, it wasn’t until a little later that I internalized how new the distillery was: this was the company’s 94th bottle.

We capped our day off with a stop next door at West Sixth Brewing. West Sixth can't be discussed without mentioning the delicious adjacent Smithtown Seafood, which provides sustenance for those looking for food to go with their beer. Together, these two facilities form Voltron. We ordered some insanely delicious Buffalo Catfish Bites to go with our beers and planned the rest of our trip over the Worst Case Scenario Survival Game. Apparently, I don’t know how to escape being followed (call the police/escape through the back entrance of a shopping store?), fix a carburetor (I still don't?), or recognize the proper signs for heat exhaustion. Either this game sucked or Boy Scouts taught me nothing.

After a round of beers, we played ten-cow drove back to the cabin and made a spaghetti dinner.

We then settled in for some Settlers of Catan and whiskey. We were going to try to stay up until the rest of our crew (Jon, Jen, and Rus) arrived, figuring they would wake us up when the arrived. Zach and Sevda called it around 10 after learning that they wouldn't arrive until after midnight. Dave-O, David and I kept playing. The ever cunning David kept winning. I would like to think that Dave-O and I snuck in more than one victory against the master before the rest of the crew arrived, but I don’t recall. But I do recall that for perhaps the first and only time in recorded Settlers of Catan history, a game lasted under 45 minutes. Badias won, of course.

The rest of the crew arrived a little after 1 AM. Jon and Jen kicked David out his queen size bed bedroom. David and Rus joined Dave-O and I in the four twin bed bunkhouse, and we passed out.

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