I love November. It’s always been my favorite month. Living in the South my entire life, that’s the month I most associate with Fall (my favorite season). I’m a huge college football fan and that’s when the best games take place. Thanksgiving, I think, is grossly underrated as a holiday, given how much it gets overshadowed by Christmas decor in stores. And, even though I’m a little biased, a pretty cool guy was born in November.
But this past month – November 2010 – might have been one of the best months in my short life so far. November 1982 still might rank as the best since being born is a pretty impressive feat. But the 2010 version is easily Top 3.
So bring it on December. You’ve got a tough act to follow! You’re doing a pretty good job so far though since it’s snowing this morning.
Since I took a personal day yesterday, we’ll start with Monday. I had spent Sunday night in Louisville, KY. I was there mainly to try and visit with a friend I haven’t seen since my first or second year of college. We’ve kept in touch, off and on, through facebook, but it would have been nice to see her. Schedules didn’t work out though, so that bummed me out a little bit. But Monday was a busy, busy day!
Since I was in Louisville, I figured I might as well tour the Louisville Slugger factory. Apparently the company name is really Hillerich & Bradsby. I never knew that. Louisville Slugger is just the product name. They also have the world’s largest bat outside of their building.
Before you start the tour, they’ve got a museum of sorts. Exhibits all over the place talking about their history, the players who use their bats, the process they’re made, etc, etc. Just a lot of cool information. But they also had the real bats from some pretty amazing players. The picture below is one of Babe Ruth’s bats he used during the season he hit 60 home runs. He notched his bat (21 notches in this one) every time he hit one. There were also bats from Shoeless Joe Jackson, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and tons more. It’s cool to see history like that up close and personal.
I don’t have any pictures from the tour because they claim it’s to protect their trade secrets from the other bat manufacturers. But I don’t 100% buy that because anyone can take the tour and see for themselves. Not to mention the entire floor is surrounded by windows out onto the street. So if you wanted to camp a spot on the sidewalk, you could watch them make bats for hours. We got a free mini bat for taking the tour though! And they have a gift shop where you can have your own bat made with your name (or signature) engraved into a bat just like the pros have. Very cool! I enjoyed it all and would suggest it if you’re ever in the Louisville area.
Since I had enjoyed the Maker’s Mark tour so much, I figured that I’d try some of the other tours. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail has a passport similar to my National Parks passport. There are 6 distillery tours and if you visit all 6 and mail in your passport, you get a free t-shirt. Since Jim Beam was the closest to Louisville, I figured that’d be my first stop.
I had two completely different emotions from the Jim Beam distillery than from Maker’s Mark. First, I was blown away by the sheer size of the operation. Maker’s is this tiny place nestled into a little farm-type setting. Jim Beam is massive. They’re the state’s largest (which also means the country’s and world’s largest) bourbon producer. At any one time, they have close to a million barrels in warehouses aging. Ridiculous. And second, I was disappointed with the tour. You didn’t go through the distillery, just one of the warehouses. One of the family’s houses was there as almost a mini museum to learn about the history. And there were exhibits to see along the way. But in terms of actually going through the production line, the warehouse was the only stop. To be fair, the guide did tell us that they’re building a new visitors’ center for 2012. And when that opens, they’ll have a new tour that actually goes through the whole plant. Right place, wrong time.
I did learn something cool though. I didn’t really notice it at Maker’s because everything there was painted black. But all of the trees were pitch black. And it’s the same reason the warehouses have a black, grungy look to them. Apparently at all distilleries, there’s a specific type of fungus that’s produced by the evaporating alcohol. It’s not harmful to the trees (or anything else), but it does turn them black. It’s pretty eerie looking.
Because we didn’t hit many of the production points, the tour only lasted about 30 minutes. There were also only three of us so it was a pretty personal tour as well. Since it was short though, that worked in my favor for getting to another one of the distilleries before it closed. So off to Wild Turkey’s distillery I went.
I got there right as the last tour was leaving, so I cut that a bit close. But I ended on a good note. They’re still a pretty large operation (3rd largest bourbon producer with roughly 500,000 barrels on hand) but we were able to tour the entire plant. The unique thing about this tour is that their facilities were all empty, as they had just completed a new distillery plant half a mile down the road so they were in transition. Our guide told us that they were going to open it up next week for production. And by the beginning of next year, the tour will go through the new facility. This guide was probably the most educated, in terms of knowledge about the process and product, out of the three tours I took. So we learned all kinds of fun facts!
- All bourbons are whiskeys, but all whiskeys are not bourbons
- To be a bourbon, the grain mixture must be at least 51% corn, cannot be distilled at more than 160 proof, barreled at more than 125 proof, or bottled at less than 80 proof, it must be aged in brand new charred oak barrels, and can only be produced in the United States
- If anything is added (flavor or color) or changed in the production process, it can no longer be called a bourbon – this is why Jack Daniels is not a bourbon since they filter their bourbon through maple wood. The process changes, so it cannot be classified as a bourbon
- The barrels are taxed every single year they sit in a warehouse. 60% of the price a consumer pays for a bottle of bourbon is going back to the distilleries to cover the taxes
- Roughly 2 – 5 percent of a barrel evaporates or is absorbed into the barrels each year. They go into the warehouse at 53 gallons per barrel. A 6-year bourbon barrel could, theoretically, only yield 38 gallons of bourbon
- Since the barrels are required to be new, many of the bourbon barrels are sent to Scotland and are used by companies producing scotch. So a lot of your scotch products have been aged in bourbon barrels
Just too cool learning all of this information! I soaked it up like a sponge, which is a little ironic and funny since I don’t drink. But I’ve probably had the most fun learning about it among all of my stops along the way. And I got some good pictures at this plant!
After picking up a postcard for my collection, I chatted with two of the employees in the gift shop about my trip. The girl called me her hero for being able to do what I’ve done. And she kept oohing and aahing over what I’ve seen. The guy didn’t care. Like I said, it’s been funny to see who asks because they’re interested and who asks because they feel like that’s what they’re supposed to do. From there, I hopped back in the truck and figured out where to stay. I wound up in Lexington, KY for the night.
I had good intentions of going to see Kentucky’s stadium in the morning, but I had to get up early to see a cousin and it was raining. So I nixed that idea. I did make it to West Virginia on the last day in November though! I finally got to touch all 48 contiguous states on my trip! I know I’m biased, but I’m really impressed at that. Since my dad lives in Alaska and I’ve visited him twice, the only state left to visit is Hawaii. I don’t really have a huge desire to go there, but I’ve got to now! Just to say I’ve seen every single state in the country. Too cool!
I did get to meet up with my cousin in Huntington, WV. It’s probably been 10 years since I’ve seen him. And I didn’t get a chance to go to his wedding since it happened after I put in my two weeks notice at work to take this trip (no way they were giving me time off after that). He took me by Marshall’s football field and basketball arena. He’s a huge sports fan, so it’s cool hearing some of the stories he’s got about a lesser known team and school.
We grabbed lunch at this burger joint called Fat Patty’s. I had a burger called the Lava Patty. It’s covered in jalapenos and cayenne cheese. It was too good! And the fries were spectacular. But I paid for it last night. Since I haven’t hardly been eating any red meat on this trip, any time I do, it makes me feel miserable. The meat’s just so heavy and sits on your stomach like a rock. I spent last night just feeling slow and lethargic. Not a fun feeling. So it might just be chicken and fish for me from now on. It’s got to be healthier… right?
After lunch, we stood around chatting about sports and family some more. Some jobs too, since he’s considering his MBA. Good times visiting with family I haven’t seen in a long time. He had to head to work after that and I needed to find out where I was going. I want to see the New River Gorge National River in the southern part of the state, but also Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in the northern part of the state. Since I’m going to try and hit DC somewhere in there too, I opted to head north. So here I am in Morgantown, WV! I’ll probably try and visit their stadium before heading out. Then shoot for Harpers Ferry. No idea where I’m crashing tonight though. That’s the fun in this trip!
I go where I want. When I want.
That freedom will be hard to give up.