I have had many inquires as to what happened to Bourbon Bill. Bourbon Bill is back although I never went anywhere in this past Pandemic Year. Life and work got in the way of my writing and blogging. I have missed my readers, and hope to spend a lot of time communicating with you in 2021.
On a recent trip to Virginia, we visited our first distillery of 2021. In January, we took a tour of the A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This was time well spend and very serendipitous. This is Virginia’s oldest and most award-winning distillery. Anyone who has spent any time in the bourbon aisle of a good liquor store knows the Bowman name. They make some excellent bourbons at a very reasonable price. I could spend the rest of this article detailing all the top awards they have won in competitions the last few years. Don’t take my word for the quality and taste. This bourbon is available at many liquor retailers.
The distillery offers a complimentary tour every day of the week. A great activity when there is not much you can do right now. We were fortunate while on our tour to have the pleasure of getting to meet and ask questions of Master Distiller Brian Prewitt. Brian was game for all our questions and talked about why they stand their barrels on end. They believe it gives more to the bourbon and they are easier to handle being on pallets. Brian talked most about all the experimental barrels they have in their barrelhouses.
The distillery also makes some very nice gins, which you can only buy at the distillery. We took several home we were so impressed with them. The gift shop has many fun items, and you can buy all their products at the distillery. Virginia has created a Spirits Trail like the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We have made it to six of their distilleries. I highly suggest you do the same.
There is no shortage great food in Kentucky and Tennessee (where we began our most recent trip). Here’s a rundown of places we have eaten along the Bourbon Trail.
Martin’s BBQ Joint We started our trip in Nashville and were really only there the day we arrived. We stayed at the Doubletree right downtown. The staff could not have been nicer and more helpful (you forget how truly heartwarming southern hospitality can be). The concierge gave us several ideas of where to eat, and go for entertainment after dinner.
We decided on barbecue at Martin’s BBQ Joint downtown. The BBQ was incredible. We got the sampler of brisket, ribs, and pulled pork which is served on a big tray with your sides. The have a full service bar so you can get anything you want to drink with your dinner. Coincidentally, the night we were there the local sports station had a satellite broadcast with a couple of Tennessee Titans who were about to play the Patriots for a Super Bowl Berth. After dinner we strolled over to the Tin Roof for some live music and an after dinner drink.
Edley’s Bar B Que and Jack’s Bar-B-Que Our concierge at the Doubletree also suggested Edley’s Bar B Que. Others we spoke with suggested Jack’s Bar-B-Que. I don’t think you can go wrong. The BBQ in Nashville is so well known and fantastic. Another place to eat is Acme Feed and Seed for live music and southern fare.
After Dinner Off to the Tin Roof to listen to some music and have a drink. The bands were good as were the drinks and they were reasonably priced. After Tin Roof we headed to B.B. Kings Blues Club for some blues to finish off the evening. There are so many places to listen to music, stroll around, with the open windows when you hear a band you like pop inside for a drink to relax. The rain which became snow was just beginning as we strolled back to the Doubletree. Reminded me of a Dan Folgelberg song!
OBC Kitchen We had dinner at OBC Kitchen (“Old Bourbon County”) which was not far from our hotel. That turned out to be a good thing. We were in short sleeves in Nashville the night before and got several inches of snow on our car while dining at OBC Kitchen. OBC has over 400 bourbons behind the bar. If they don’t have it, you didn’t want it anyway. We did not have reservations and when we arrived they said they were pretty full despite the weather. But John Calipari’s table was available since the Kentucky Basketball team was in Nashville. What a treat to sit at the table with his nameplate on it.
The menu at OBC challenges you to tough decisions about what you want to eat. There are so many good choices on the menu it’s tough to pick one. We started with bacon in a glass. Decadent thick sliced honey bourbon sugar glazed bacon. There were 4 pieces served in a tall cocktail glass. This was a meal of its own. I had the cola braised short ribs with grits. Oh my, welcome to the south. We ended with the warm buttermilk donuts, finished with cinnamon sugar. They are served with chocolate ganache, raspberry melba, and salted caramel dipping sauces. You really don’t need the sauces; these donuts stand on their own merit. These are to die for and reminded us of the donuts they serve at the Homestead Resort in Virginia.
Malone’s Malone’s was another restaurant recommended to us. It is part of the Bluegrass Hospitality Group which also owns OBC. Everyone we spoke with said to go there if you don’t go to OBC. Just looking at the website made me hungry. The original is on Tate’s Creek Road. If you go to OBC and can’t get in there is one a few doors down in the same parking lot.
Brown Hotel In Louisville there are far too many dining choices. If this is your first trip you must have Louisville’s most famous dish the “Hot Brown” created at the Brown Hotel in the 1920’s. Go for lunch or dinner to have a hot brown. It’s open faced turkey served on oven browned bread, covered in a mornay sauce, bacon and sliced tomato. It is then browned on top in the oven. Worth every calorie, worth the wait.
Milkwood We decided this trip we wanted to eat at dinner Milkwood. Chef Edward Lee merges Southern food with Asian flavors and bourbon cocktails at this hip venue. Lee collaborated with Jefferson’s distillery to help create the “Chef’s Collaboration Bourbon.” He wanted a bourbon he could serve with his spicy dishes. A lot of very creative dishes, and fun environment. Lynn had the sorghum glazed rabbit and I had the pork shoulder. Both were excellent, very creative, very fun. This is the last thing you would expect on Main Street in Old Louisville. We had a wonderful experience.
The Silver Dollar After dinner we took a cab to Silver Dollar. Everyone we spoke with said you had to go there for a drink. A little loud for my taste but they have an amazing bar. What impressed me was they have vintage whiskey as old as 1941. I tried a 1986 Sunny Brook Bourbon. It was only $25 for a pour and well worth it for the experience, it really was ethereal. Older bourbon has a unique taste everyone should experience. You can also get southern classics here lick chicken and waffles, baby back ribs, and a fried oyster sandwich.
For lunch in Louisville I recomend Proof on Main. It in the fun 21c Museum Hotel. As we were walking by there was a little boy playing with one of the big red penguins in the window. They have a great bar and locally sourced southern fare.
I could recommend 30 restaurants in the cities we visited, and there are so many good places to eat. I haven’t had a chance to experience many of the new ones. Definitely try local restaurants and something new when you’re travelling along the Bourbon Trail. This is about the experience and pleasures all Kentucky and Tennessee. Most of all don’t worry about the calories. “The Diet starts next week,” you are in the south, enjoy every minute.
We started Day 3 on the Bourbon Trail at Angel’s Envy where we made a reservation for later in the day and drove a few short blocks to Peerless Distilling. Peerless was a pleasant surprise. What a beautiful tasting room and bar!
They have done a great job of restoring the building. Peerless is a name that has been around since 1890 but the distillery had closed in 1917 during the war effort. Corky Taylor wanted to resurrect his family distillery. In 2014 they were able to buy back the original license and Peerless name and began construction restoring a 114 year-old building in Louisville. They filled their first barrel since 1917 in March of 2015.
Peyton Beall directed our introduction to Peerless and our tasting. She was very knowledgeable about the distillery and its history.
They do their tasting with a delicious piece of chocolate, and what a difference that makes. Peerless Rye was just selected by Whisky Advocate Magazine as # 15 in the top 20 whiskies in the world.
Our next stop was Angel’s Envy. You will be in awe of their distillery and tasting room. They have spared no expense. Another facility in a restored old distillery building in downtown Louisville. The effort to restore a lot of the old buildings has paid off with beauty and great old history.
This tasting was also done with chocolate. It enhances the senses and experience and takes it to a whole new level.
After the tour and tasting we hung out in their bar and had a cocktail. They make all their own bitters, syrups, and mixers. Do take the time to relax and have a drink with them. It’s well worth the experience.
Our last stop of the afternoon was at Evan Williams. They are open until 6:00 which helped us extend the day a bit (others close earlier). Their tour will take you through a diorama of the life and history of Evan Williams which also takes you through the history of whiskey and bourbon in Kentucky.
The tastings are done in one of several bars set up with period design and furnishings from different time periods. Ours was from the ‘60’s. It is a most informative tour and learned a lot about the history, distillery equipment, a mock barrel warehouse.
It was a great way to end the day before dinner! This was our 5th distillery on Saturday having begun in Lexington and ended in Louisville. It was time to sit down and relax.
The next morning we drove out to Bulleit Distillery from downtown. Bulleit is a step back in time. “Originally opened on Derby Day in 1935 and reopened to the public in 2014, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery is one of the true cathedrals of the American Whiskey industry.”
They won’t tell you on the tour but all the Pappy Van Winkle up until a few years ago came from this distillery. The day we were there they were baking Girl Scout Cookies at the adjacent property. They had about 4 inches of snow on the ground. It made for very pretty pictures against those corrugated steel barrel houses.
The tour was really well done, probably the best we had along the way. I learned a lot and I felt like I was at Mecca. There is no substitute for walking into a warehouse full of aging bourbon, and on a 20-degree day it’s even more chilling!
You get to taste 4 of their products in the tasting: their rye, bourbon, 10-year bourbon, and Blade and Bow. I was delighted with the 10 year and the Blade and Bow Bourbon. The 10-year is quite a bargain. They also have some of the Orphan Barrel bourbons for sale in their gift shop.
When in Louisville plan at least a day for these and more of the tours available. We did not do the Jim Beam experience, there are a few craft distilleries, and there are more opening soon. With all the superb hotels, restaurants, and bars you could spend days in Louisville and not experience it all. Plan to go when it’s a little warmer than the weather we had. But cold or hot there is always a bourbon drink for the weather.
Lynn and I just got back from a fun weekend on the Bourbon Trail and I’m going to spend the next couple weeks sharing all our tips and suggestions from the trip. We had a great time! But hit a big snag – the weather.
The Bourbon Trail in January would normally not be a huge challenge. We flew into Nashville because we needed to tour Corsair and MB Roland to complete our Craft Bourbon Trail passport to get our Julep Cups. When we arrived in Nashville it was in the 60’s and people were walking around in T Shirts. But that didn’t last long. When we got up the next morning it was starting to snow (the news predicted 6 inches so everything was closing) as we headed to MB Roland. Lynn got on the phone knowing they may not open. MB Rolland was not opening but Corsair said to come on over to Bowling Green!
Corsair Distillery was named for the privateer or pirate Corsairs. They are a smaller private distillery that does things in a different way. They make a lot innovative and adventurous spirits, they experiment with new methods, ingredients, and are privateers. With the weather the way it was we got a private tour and met Aaron Marcum, the Head Distiller.
They were bottling while we were there. We got to ask Aaron a lot of questions and after the tour Steve the Assistant Distiller did our tasting. There are so many different spirits to choose your 7 tastings from you will be there quite a while.
**That is my first tip on planning your Bourbon Trail trip. Leave time in your schedule to linger at your tastings, ask questions, take pictures, and shop. You will immediately notice how friendly everyone is and how many times you end up in great conversations with the employees.
We bought a bottle of Ryemageddon and finished up at Corsair. And, luckily, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail folks still gave us our Julep Cups even though we didn’t make it to MB Roland!
We then scraped some ice off the car headed toward Heaven Hill, Maker’s Mark or Wild Turkey. It was a trek from where we were, especially considering the weather, and we knew they might be closed. As we got closer we realized EVERYONE was probably closed. We drove to Wild Turkey as they had nothing posted on Facebook only to arrive to be the only ones there.
We took one last stab and went to Bluegrass Distillery since it was in Lexington and not on a country road. They were open and were gracious enough to give us a tour before they left for the day. They are very small which makes for an intimate tour.
The next morning we awoke to another 3 inches of snow on the car. We checked the Bourbon Trail online and Town Branch was open.
We had been there before but wanted to see it again. They have a beautiful facility. And despite the weather there was a big crowd. We did some tasting and bought a few bottles. Lynn loved the “Bluegrass Sundown.” It is a dark roasted coffee infused with Kentucky bourbon and sugar. We also bought a bottle off their Town Branch Bourbon with the Christmas labeling. We will hold on to it and to serve next Christmas.
From Town Branch it was a short 5 minutes to Barrel House Distilling Co. It’s one of the founding members of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour and features many unique products to sample.
Barrel House, true to its name, is housed in the former barreling house of the James E. Pepper distilling complex, a bourbon distillery which operated from 1879-1958. They also have a new bar with a fireplace in it – a very inviting environment on a cold day.
Up next – Day 3 in Louisville, which could be more than 1 blog in itself. The restoration of Whiskey Row in Louisville has been a true renaissance.
Well, I didn’t tell you ahead of time because time got away from me, but I’m telling you now – Lynn and I are on the Bourbon Trail right now. We flew into Nashville yesterday and today are making our way through Lexington and on to Louisville, where we’ll stay the night. Our agenda is loose but here’s a quick rundown of what we’re planning to do:
Happy Independence Day to all my loyal readers. You might be surprised to learn that U.S. Presidents and whiskey are entwined in the fabric of our country. Did you know our first president was a whiskey distiller? George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799 (according to its website). That was one of the largest distilleries in the country with 5 copper pot stills – larger than many distilleries today.
Mount Vernon Distillery was not the first in the country. General Washington was buying whiskey for his troops from Pennsylvania distillers during the Revolutionary War. He later angered these distillers after the war when, to help pay war debts, the country decided to tax whiskey.
If you are ever get a chance to visit Mount Vernon make a side trip to the Mount Vernon Distillery. They give an interesting and fun tour of George Washington’s distillery operation. While there you can buy rye whiskey at the distillery which has been restored and is a working distillery.
George Washington was making mostly Rye whiskey with 60% rye, 30% corn, and 5% barley. This rye was distilled twice and sold as common whiskey. He also distilled apple, peach, and persimmon brandy.
Prior to the revolution rum was the preferred beverage. We know from our tours in Barbados that Washington spent time studying the rum making process when he was in Barbados with his brother. After the war, molasses from the west Indies, which is required for the rum making process, became more expensive. The ingredients for whiskey were more easily acquired and less expensive. And thus, distillers turned to whiskey.
As you celebrate the 4th of July you may be celebrating with a beer, which was Thomas Jefferson’s preferred beverage. I would suggest you toast our first president, and perhaps the most famous Founding Father, with a sip of American whiskey.
We recently had one of those weekends you will always cherish and remember fondly. Our daughter and her husband suggested we go to The Homestead. If you are not familiar with The Homestead it is not because its new – they recently celebrated 250 years as America’s first and oldest resort.
While there we took the history tour of the Homestead and learned a lot about how a resort in pretty much the middle of nowhere in Virginia came to be, and became a legend.
Quick overview… Captain Thomas Bullitt, Charles and Andrew Lewis were part of the militia and surveyors during the French and Indian War. They were told of the many healing qualities of the waters in the area. In 1764, at the end of the war, Captain Bullitt received a colonial land grand of 300 acres which contained seven natural mineral springs from Colonel George Washington. Captain Bullitt moved his militia and his family and their families to the area. Within 2 years the land was cleared and an 18 room wooden hotel was built. In 1766, The Homestead was opened and named in honor of the Homesteaders who built the resort and bathhouses. The hotel changed ownership several times until 1901 when a fire started in the pastry shop and burned the entire resort. The day after the fire the investors met and decided to rebuild immediately. Fast forward to today and it is now part of the Omni Hotels & Resorts.
Getting There We flew into Richmond (RIC) and stayed the night with our daughter before heading to the Homestead. If you’re coming from out of the area, Charlottesville and Roanoke are the closest airports, but Richmond is the largest close airport and serviced by Southwest which I’m loyal to. You definitely have to rent a car, there really isn’t another way to get to the resort. It is a nice 3-hour drive from Richmond through horse farms and the Blue Ridge Mountains. On our way, we enjoyed a leisurely drive stopping in the Charlottesville area to get a sandwich for lunch at Greenwood Grocery, one of our son-in-law’s favorites. If making a day of your drive, you basically pass through Central Virginia wine country and stopping at a vineyard such as King Family Vineyards is highly recommended.
Once you get close to the hotel you’ll see the Tower and the resort coming into view. It is perfectly nestled into the hillside. You also drive past the golf courses and surrounding spa, casino, and cottage row on your way into the main entrance of the resort.
Activities The Homestead offers tons of activities for visitors young and old. It is most well known for its golf courses. The legend Sam Snead helped in giving the Homestead that legacy. Born nearby, Snead began caddying at The Homestead when he was 7. He worked as an assistant pro at The Homestead at 19 and turned professional in 1934. There are 2 courses at the Resort. The Old Course has the oldest continuously used 1st Tee in the country. The Cascades Course is set against the Allegheny Mountains. Both offer excellent golf. There is also a miniature golf course for younger and non-golfers.
The spa is another popular attraction. My wife and daughter had facials at the spa. The facilities are about 5 years old and very nice. When they re-did the spa they added a great headed outdoor pool and hot tub just for spa-goers. And within the spa complex is a Hot Spring pool as well. Lynn and I spent the afternoon soaking in the mineral pool – I definitely recommend it. (Not to be confused with the original hot springs that are off-site. We didn’t make it to those.)
Other activities include fly fishing, shooting, zip lining, hiking, the outdoor family pool and lazy river when it’s warm out, the indoor pool, and of course the hot springs. Carter and I went to the shooting club to shoot trap. I was very impressed with the club, but not my shooting.
Another activity you can’t miss is afternoon tea. Well, they call is social hour now, but it’s essentially afternoon tea. The service has changed a bit since the last time my daughter and son-in-law were there. They set up a station to get your tea (hot or cold) and then waiters walk around with a treat – while we were there it was pumpkin bread one day and lemon bars the other.
Another popular activity is just sitting in the Great Hall (essentially the lobby) by the fire reading, playing games, or hanging out. Lynn and Taylor spent a decent amount of time working on their needlepoint there Saturday afternoon.
Tip: Pack your own alcohol! We brought a bottle of bourbon and a bottle of wine to enjoy throughout the weekend. It’s a great place to pour yourself some bourbon and wander down to the Great Hall to gather with people. We also brought some after dinner drinks to the outdoor fire pit to enjoy with our s’mores.
Dining Dining at the Homestead excellent. We opted for the breakfast package to enjoy their popular breakfast buffet with its legendary homemade donuts. Breakfast takes place in the Main Dining Room – a grand, open room with a dance floor and piano. You can picture how it was used years ago for opulent dinners. We didn’t eat dinner there, but the breakfast was great.
We were supposed to eat dinner our first night at Jefferson’s Restaurant, which is described as “a modern American grill serving regional influences.” Its menu looks pretty similar to a steak house menu with some regional additions like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits. Unfortunately the power went out right before our reservation on Friday, so after having cocktails in the bar area in the dark and ordering as many cold appetizers and salads from the menu as possible we called it a night. I guess we’ll have to go back!
We had lunch on Saturday at the Casino Restaurant which is near the pro-shop. Lunch was delicious. We shared the fried zucchini appetizer and a couple pizzas. Everything hit the spot.
We ventured to the Waterwheel Restaurant at the Gristmill Inn a couple miles from the resort for dinner Saturday night. It is very quaint in an old gristmill with exposed wood beams and whitewashed walls. They have a fun little wine cellar in the basement of the mill where you can go down to pick out your wine. Everyone raved about their dishes, including the guests around us. It’s a fun atmosphere, excellent food, and great experience.
After dinner Saturday night we wandered back to the Homestead and got a s’more kit to roast s’mores outside around their large bonfire pit. While it was definitely cold out (we were there in February) the fire was roaring and it was a fun little after dinner activity.
Tip: Make reservations for dinner as soon as your book your trip. There aren’t a lot of dinner options in the area and because of both on-site and off-site restaurants they fill up quickly.
Another must-try is the Lobby Bar. When the Homestead did a small remodel 5 or so years ago, they added this bar literally right off the lobby (hence the name) with a small billiards room with pool tables behind it. The bar has portraits of the 22 sitting Presidents who have stayed at The Homestead. It’s a warm and inviting bar with a nice selection of liquor, beer, and wine, and a great atmosphere especially during a busy weekend. While there, I enjoyed an Old Fashioned and Lynn a Manhattan – our “go to’s”!
There is also a new French restaurant in town called LesCochons d’Or that people recommended. We did not get a chance to eat there but plan to on our next trip to The Homestead. It has gotten excellent review and you can walk to it from the hotel.
Overall, I can’t say enough about the experience. When I have described it to people here on the West Coast they say it sounds like the setting for the movie “Dirty Dancing.” While a little less “campy,” it’s definitely similar. And years and years ago people would head to the Homestead for the entire summer much like Dirty Dancing. Sitting in the Great Hall with all the overstuffed furniture and roaring fires is part of the wonderful experience. We really did feel like we had dropped back in time but with all the amenities of the 21st century.
If you get a chance go, you will come back refreshed with very fond memories.