Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Winding Down the Road

Dateline: HUNTINGDON, W.V.

I'm not sure I've mentioned before that I like weather. Really, what I like is weather that changes, as seen in my (in)famous complaint about San Francisco's entirely-too-consistant 62-degrees-and-overcast year-round climate. It's been warm, it's been hot, it's been cold, it's been muggy and dry and it has rained for me on this trip at different points. There was one day in Wyoming where I started it at 34 degrees (that's Farenheit, y'all) and hit a peak of 95 by the middle of the day. There was a downpour my first full day in Nashville that necessitated staying in and watching Wilfred while eating pizza.

Yesterday, I met weather face-to-face, was humbled, still loved it.

I wish I could say I came thisclose to a tornado, but I cannot. (I think I would crap myself if I saw a tornado on the horizon, much less within a dangerous distance of my car or person.) Weather this time was merely a thunderstorm, with rain so heavy I could barely see the car driving in front of me, and lightning that seemed to touch down just over the next hill. I was driving alone alone narrow two-lane roads, on my way to visit the Maker's Mark distillery, and while I tend to think of myself as a confident and able driver, I couldn't imagine myself navigating those tight curves in the middle of nowhere. I love thunderstorms, but I do not love driving myself into a ditch.

So I chickened out, turned myself around, and found the nearest strip mall to park and regroup. I considered briefly giving up and heading back to Lexington ... but for what? Lauren was busy spawn-sitting, and most everything else I wanted to do was dependent on decent weather. I thought about sitting in the car and reading or knitting and waiting the storm out - in about two hours, per Instead I went into the Rite Aid, made a small purchase and asked the lady behind the counter for the nearest nail salon. It happened to be just five doors down, so I whiled away the stormy hours getting a mani-pedi.

By the time it was done, and all my nails were shiny and red, the clouds had lifted a bit and the rain had stopped. As I drove back out over that narrow road, the sun started to peek through the clouds, and it started to warm up just as I drove into the distillery grounds. I'd just missed one tour's departure, so I took my time looking around the vistor's center/distiller's house, which was decorated in fifties' era furnishings, and had talking portraits hanging on the wall.

As an aside, for anyone thinking of doing the Bourbon Trail in their lives: don't let your GPS take you to Maker's Mark. It'll take you down a crazy one-lane road for four miles, and you'll spend the entire time wondering if you've got the right directions. Check the website for something better. Trust me, you'll keep your sanity this way. Unless you like almost dying in a crash as someone barrels around a blind curve at 50 miles per hour towards you.

I really liked the Maker's tour, by the way: this time we got taken through the ferment-and-distill process, not in as much detail as the Buffalo Trace hardhat tour, but we still got to taste the fermenting mash (which was completely different from Buffalo Trace's - it's got a  higher corn content, and is wheated, not ryed), saw the inside of one of the rickhouses, and then we went through to the packaging and bottling warehouses. I felt just like I was in the middle of an episode of How It's Made, without the soothing narrator's voice there to put me to sleep.  The guide gave us a tasting that comprised four different samples; the "white dog", which is the liquid that comes out of the distill before it goes into the oak casks; the regular Maker's Mark bourbon product; a sample of "over aged" (10 years) bourbon; and a sample of a newer line, the Maker's 46.  The tour ends conveniently in the gift shop (of course), where I bought a bottle and got to dip it myself into a vat of red wax to get that trademark Maker's look.

From there I headed up to Heaven Hill distillery, and crashed the latter half of the final tour of the day (I was a bit late in getting there). It wasn't a great tour: we didn't get to go into any of the actual production houses, it was all contained in displays within the main visitor's (sorry: Bourbon Heritage) center. They have a wide selection of bourbons that they create - they're the second-largest producer of bourbons in the country, after Jim Bean -  but the tasting was only of one. It was kind of disappointing, because this was the one distillery I didn't know really by name, and which I hadn't tried before. I was hoping to discover something exciting to take home with me and didn't really get anything.

Dinner was with Lauren and his family at a Cajun place in downtown Lexington, Bourbon 'n' Toulouse, which I highly recommend -- I had a great etouffe and jambalaya.  I wanted to get a little way down the road before calling it a night, so I drove just into West Virginia before pooping out, and here I am.

Today I head into Virginia. Trying to decide the best route, because there is no direct highway connection with the DC area from here. (I guess it's not Rome.) Do I head south and drive mostly through Virginia, or do I take the West Virginia route and do a little traveling through western Maryland?  We'll see what I decide during breakfast.

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