Buffalo Chase

Thursday, May 28, 2009
Lexington, KY

The drive up to Lexington from the Knoxville area Wednesday, yesterday, was a bit more interesting for us than a normal days drive of only 168 miles. First, we had low clouds that covered mountain tops and hung into the valleys of the Cumberland Mountains as we made our way along I-75 north near the TN-KY border. It provided some interesting mountain photos to contrast with those we took on sunny days the past week or two. Then we had the long down-hill grade coming out of the Cumberlands -- a 6% grade for a few miles... just enough to keep your attention. And finally, a number of heavy rain showers that caused traffic to slow and the road to load up with water. I considered pulling over to wait it out but between the Rain-X treated windshield and our higher position over the road I felt we had adequate visibility of the road ahead. As long as traffic is slowing down in general I feel safer moving at the slower pace than being parked on the shoulder and hoping that an unknowing or unseeing driver doesn't plow into us from behind.

I wanted to top off our diesel tank before leaving Kentucky and heading into the higher fuel-taxed Midwest States, and found a Loves Truckstop just on the way into Lexington where we paid $2.28/gallon. It wasn't as cheap as I was hoping but how can I complain when it was twice that last year.

Regardless, we made Lexington in good time and pulled into the Kentucky State Horse Park Campground about 2pm. After finding a sight we liked and paying for 4 nights it was time to relax and plan explorations for the next couple days. I also spent some time on the computer to update web pages and a couple files I keep on campsites, fuel usage, and budget-tracking. On moving days, I like to update the map page on the TDHoch website as well as the front page for the next morning.

From Travel to KY

After a positively GREAT night's sleep last night... for both of us... we were finally up and moving by 9am. By 10am we were out the door and I treated Dar to her first... that's right, her "first"... breakfast experience at the local Waffle House, where I thought the breakfast I ordered was done just about the way I like it. No complaints from me on this one. Dar felt the same way. Way to go Waffle House. Waffle House Restaurants, for those who don't know, are ubiquitous small restaurants throughout the South, always near highways, that serve breakfast and lunch all day long. They're working-class places and often the butt of jokes. But today we thought they did a good job.

Our first exploration today was the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY. With it's 200 year old roots planted firmly in the soil along the Kentucky River, this is one of the oldest and largest producers of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey in the country. They produce almost a dozen brands, the most common being Ancient Age.

From Bourbon & Capitol

Walking from the visitor parking area we joined a tour that was just getting underway... it was the tour-guide and just one couple, so between us and a single that joined a bit later, we got the tour up to 5. The smell of aging whiskey was in the air as we walked past a hundred year old barrel house, an unmistakable odor that's called "the angel's share". You see, all that whiskey... as it ages in those charred oak barrels, well, some of it is making it's way out of the barrel through the cracks and imperfections in the wooden barrels, and is being liberated into the air -- "for the angel's" as it's said. Besides the unmistakable odor in the air, tour-guide Becky pointed out a black coating on parts of buildings, tree trunks, and almost everywhere if you look for it. It's actually a mold that grows as a result of being near the odors and natural compounds being released into the air near any distillery. She said it was one of the signs "revenuers" would look for when hunting down illegal stills in the hills of Appalachia.

I'll try not to get to complicated or long-winded here. Kentucky is the home of Bourbon Whiskey and about 98% of it is produced right here. By law all Bourbon must be produced in the USA, it must be made from at least 51% corn, and it must be aged in new charred white oak barrels. It's a uniquely American product that began by joining the knowledge of distillation that came from Europe with abundant American corn.

Those early Americans that made their way to Kentucky found a climate perfect for the growing of corn but with a limited market for the using of corn. It was impractical to haul harvested corn grain back over the mountains to the populous eastern seaboard and it was a long, expensive ordeal to ship it down the river to New Orleans. In addition, any grain spoils if stored for any period of time in less than ideal conditions. So the perfect solution was to convert all that corn into concentrated whiskey which could be easily stored and shipped. Of course, it didn't hurt that the resulting product was sort-of fun to drink too.

During Prohibition this was one of four distilleries in the USA that remained in production. The four were licensed by the Government during those 13 dark years to produce alcohol for "medicinal purposes". Apparently, a trip to the right doctor with a cough, fever, headache, a case of nerves... whatever, could yield a prescription for a single pint of "medicinal whiskey" every 10 days. The story goes that some families had a rash of illness during that time... often rolling through the entire extended family... affecting a different family member every few days. Millions of prescriptions of this sort were written during those years.

From Bourbon & Capitol

We also went through a barrel aging warehouse and a small hand bottling line where the higher-quality smaller-runs are packaged. The tour ended with a sampling of up to three of the distillery's brands. Dar, as usual, showed off her more discriminating nose. She could pick out subtle tastes of this or that. I just thought it was all good.

There are 7 other distillers on the Kentucky Bourbon Tour. Exploring the others may have to wait for another time.



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