A new Frolic Afield, back on Alcohol Professor and back in the state of my birth. This time around, we’re visiting Jim Beam’s American Stillhouse. The Jim Beam distillery used to be a waste of time, little more than a trip to the gift shop and nary a glance at the actual business of making the world’s most popular bourbon. In 2012, Beam substantially revamped the experience, and the result is now one of the must-see stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Where does our Frolic Afield take us to this week? To Bardstown, Kentucky, by way of Alcohol Professor. Bottled History is a look at my visit to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. From bottles of old Coon Hollow to a still they claim belonged to George Washington, it’s a fascinating — and free — look at the history of my favorite tipple told by an amazing assortment of artifacts.
It’s time for a Kentucky Derby Frolic Afield. I’m back on Alcohol Professor, and in An Urban Bourbon Trail Through History I’m taking y’all on a tour of Louisville’s three most historic hotels: The Brown, The Galt House, and The Seelbach. Or, more accurately, I’m taking you on a tour of their bars. Special guest stars Abraham Lincoln, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the hot brown.
October. When the weather gets cooler (except when it’s 85 degrees outside) and drinkers turn to thoughts and tumblers of whiskey (unless, like me, your thoughts never left it, even on the hottest of summer days), and Pappy Van Winkle begins to slowly rumble like that Hobbit dragon with hints that they might be releasing their annual allocation of whiskey upon the world any week now. Lazy newspaper and website writers will then conspire to fill up their page with yet another list of “the best whiskey in the world,” in which they repeat the exact same thing they said last year and the year before and the exact same thing every other lazy content generator has coughed up (calling slapping together a slideshow and accompanying sentence “writing” is a bit much). This means it’s also the time of year that liquor store employees start to get the nervous, annoyed shakes in anticipation of a legion of status seekers and well-meaning new buyers and gift seekers flocking to the store to inquire as to the availability of what will inevitably be listed as the best, most desirable whiskey: Pappy Van Winkle.
Maintaining the most notable presence amid the scattered remnants of Louisville’s once mighty whiskey distilling industry is Brown-Forman. Their facility near the corner of Dixie Highway and West Broadway (right across the street from Heaven Hill) is crowned with a giant bottle of the distillery’s signature product, Old Forester Bourbon. There is a second location a little further up the road at 2921 Dixie Highway, where I believe most of the distilling takes place, but it doesn’t have a giant bottle of Early Times or anything on it. About the only thing to see when you drive down the service road to that facility is a security guard who will politely but firmly tell you to turn around and please don’t take any photos. Neither location is open to the public for tours, but at least the 850 Dixie Highway location sits right on the highway, so you can stand on the sidewalk and take photos of the building and the giant bottle of Old Forester — though if you are particularly nerdy and linger around too long trying to get your photo just so, the guard at the front gate might get suspicious and start making calls.
Over on Alcohol Professor, I write about visiting Virginia’s A. Smith Bowman whiskey distillery and meeting their master distiller, Truman Cox.
‘When I’m… er… concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad.” – Bond. James Bond.
To call James Bond a thinly veiled wish-fulfillment stand-in for author Ian Fleming is to make the hilarious presumption that there’s any veiling at all. The Bond of the novels was basically a walking, talking catalog of everything that happened to interest and delight Fleming at the time he happened to be writing that particular novel (the movie Bond, on the other hand, was modeled somewhat more closely after British director Terence Young). Whether it was a drink, a meal, or “Pinaud Elixir, that prince among shampoos,” just about everything that fills James Bond’s universe was ported over wholesale from his creator’s life. And as anyone familiar with the books or the movies knows, alcohol occupies an important — more likely the most important — place in Bond’s life. Not to mention my own. And perhaps yours as well.