Poured with Pleasure

Bill Marsano’s blog on wine and spirits and cocktails: "If it’s good in a glass, I’m pouring it."

Category: People

FDR: Cocktail Hero

Could November put a teetotaler in the White House? Mitt Romney is forbidden drink as a Mormon, so let’s hope that, if elected, he will serve.

image USS Augusta was FDR’s longest yacht [600’] for the shortest time: Just enough time for he and Winston Churchill to thrash out, over drinks, no doubt, the Atlantic Charter in 1941.

That is, let him separate the personal from the presidential. Abstinence is tyranny when forced on guests. ’ I don’t claim, Thirsty Reader, that drink makes a president good or bad; I ask only that hospitality and sophistication rule; that the nation’s greeting be something more warmer than Come on in, the water’s fine. Bush II was teetotal for cause, but he poured Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay, Peter Michael ‘Les Pavots’ and the lovely Schramsberg Brut Rosé for the Queen of England. Other of our presidents have offered only cold comfort. Take Rutherford B. Hayes. At his White House, said Secretary of State William Evarts, ‘water flowed like wine’. The Carters were rigid that way too, and made no bones about it. Ted Kennedy recalled their at-homes: ‘You’d arrive at 6 or 6:30 P.M., and the first thing you would be reminded of, in case you needed reminding, was that he and Rosalynn had removed all the liquor from the White House.

Thus the inebriati turn admiring glances toward Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He it was lifted the curse of Prohibition from our parched nation. The Noble Experiment, which promised an epidemic of morality, led instead to a tsunami of crime, corruption, hypocrisy, lost tax revenues and lost jobs. And organized crime made a killing. Literally.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzFDR5  The President in a stress-reducing moment.

No man of the people—him with his WASPy pedigree and his cigarette holder—FDR nonetheless had the common touch. He campaigned to end Prohibition and did so first chance he got. In March 1933, scarcely three weeks in office, he legalized beer and light wines, and the horses were out of the barn. Clydesdales toured the suds-loving cities of the East and Midwest even as brew was shipped to the White House by air. With a Repeal amendment already rolling, the jig was up in jig time. When Utah ratified Repeal that very December, Prohibition was, at last, dead as a smelt.

In the White HouseFDR instituted for his staff and pals what he lightly called the children’s hour, at which they relaxed at day’s end, draining stress not over the traditional cookies and milk but over cards, tobacco and martinis, with the two-pack-a-day President as Mixologist-in-Chief.

Now the classic martini—dry gin, vermouth, olives or lemon twist—is the Fred Astaire of cocktails [the Manhattan is the Cary Grant]. Proportions are a matter of to taste but should always maintain the drink’s Fredly style: lean and elegant. Likewise the question of shaking or stirring is a personal matter: the former gives more texture through its raft of ice shards [created by vigorous muscle-work if you don’t have something like the Post-Imperial shaker shown below]; the latter gives silky smoothness. Shoot anyone who brings up that wheeze about stirring clockwise vs. counterclockwise.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzPostImperialShaker.Full1.web  The Post-Imperial Cocktail Shaker, freely adapted from a 19th Century device. The artist Benjamin Cowden created it earlier this year. See a video, and other of Cowden’s unique scultpures, here: http://www.twentysevengears.com/Portfolio.html.

Here’s the shopping list for the basic or classic martini: two ounces of gin and ¼ to 1/3 of an ounce dry vermouth plus olive garnish. Eric Felten, whose recipe that is, also offers a version of ‘classic 1930s proportions’—adding just a wee bit more vermouth plus two dashes of orange bitters. FDR went perhaps a little beyond the pale. His specialty was the dirty martini, a variation that requires a potent dosage of olive brine. To make matters worse he mixed his dirty martinis personally, relentlessly and, if the we read the fossil record aright, very, very badly. Indeed he bids fair to go down as the most enthusiastic and least competent of presidential martiniphiles. Some guests are said to have dreaded the soirées for the sheer awfulness of his martinis which, dirty or not, have been described as ‘soggy with vermouth’ and/or mutilated, according to staffers cited by Nannette Stone, with orange juice, grapefruit juice, absinthe and even anisette. Whether from design or exuberance is unclear.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzv3

FDR & Co. aboard Vireo, which is now displayed, handsomely restored, at Mystic Seaport. For more: www.mysticseaport.org. FDR’s ice yacht is in the National Parks Service’s ‘custodial storage facility,’ a name that suggests the cavernous warehouse seen at the end of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. Odds of its ever being seen again don’t seem very good.

The olive brine may have represented the tang of the sea for FDR, who was a sailorman to the bone. He’d always liked messing about in boats: a bark canoe at Campobello, an iceboat on the Hudson, a 21-foot knockabout called the New Moon, the 25-foot sloop Vireo, the houseboat Larooco and his personal Presidential yacht, the ex-Coast Guard cutter Electra, renamed Potomac. He borrowed the heavy cruiser USS Augusta for his first meeting with Winston Churchill [as a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he apparently had connections]. Another presidential yacht, the Sequoia, was inherited from Herbert Hoover, and the two together

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz1Potomacfast  Now a favorite with San Francisco party planners, the ex-Coast Guard cutter Electra had a subsequent  career as FDR’s presidential yacht. The smoking lamp was always ‘lit throughout the ship’, as Navy lingo has it; the drinking lamp was too. FDR’s other presidential yacht was the Sequoia. Charter one or both at usspotomac.org/ or sequoiayacht.com/.

floated in seas of irony. The former, built for government work, became a rich man’s toy; the latter,  built as a rich man’s toy, joined the government. Both were used against rum-runners. Of all people. Retired, the Potomac was briefly owned by Elvis Presley; the Sequoia was dumped, like the White House liquor and the Panama Canal, by Jimmy Carter.  Quite the little housekeeper, our Jimmy.

In an era before sound bites, the term Martini Diplomacy never surfaced, but FDR certainly practiced it. Certainly it sealed his friendship with Winston Churchill, who would say that meeting FDR ‘was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.’ As to just how much FDR drank, that is a vexed question, and you wouldn’t like to rely on the testimony. His friends, and there were many, swore to two small drinks and in bed at 10, but his crew of flame-keepers have been counterbalanced by his detractors, equally numerous, who’ve gone so far as to claim that he was regularly carted off to his room by his Secret Service agents, singing college fight songs as he went. We must settle for the fact that he did as much for the martini as to it, and that he set a high standard for presidential hospitality. Long may it wave.

Which gin for the martini? Good question; one that invites exploration. Cocktail King Dale DeGroff [very cold, straight up, olive and twist] favors Beefeater but nods he favorably image toward several others: Tanqueray and Tanqueray 10, Old Raj, Bombay White Label, Gordon’s, Plymouth [left, in its new and much-improved bottle] and Sipsmith. Explorers are in fact spoiled for choice, as there’s also vociferous support for Boodles, Bombay Sapphire, Junipero, France’s Citadelle, Tanqueray Malacca, the rare and insanely priced [$700!] Nolet Reserve, and even one of the bargain-priced oldies, Gilbey’s. Among others, such as Broker’s, which has been getting attention and awards recently. But in vermouth you have essentially two choices: Martini & Rossi and Noilly Prat. M&R is DeGroff’s favorite; he says NP is ‘very in-your-face and can overpower the more delicate gins’. Maybe that’s because NP has, sadly, ceased to bottle the martini-oriented vermouth it had long provided to the American market; instead it’s concentrating on its Euro-style aperitif version. Here and there you’ll hear a voice cry out for the less-known likes of Boissiere [sounds French but is Italian] and California’s small-batch Vya. But vermouth there must be, in detectable quantity. Ignore, please, the 15:1 bravado of the Mad Men era, likewise the foolishness of ‘showing the vermouth to the gin’. That top-hatted, walking-stick-wielding bon vivant of old Lucius Beebe wrote prose so florid, Brendan Gill said, ‘that one could have built grottoes out of it,’ but when it came to such nonsense as naked martinis he wasted no furbelows on the show-offs: ‘Anything drier than 5:1’, he said, ‘is just iced gin’. Anonymous, most prolific of experts, goes further: ‘Ordering a dry martini means you are a sophisticate. Ordering a large glass of cold gin means you are a drunk.’ ‘Nuff said.

As for glassware, by all means prefer the conical stem, the glass that means martini around the world. But one of a ordinary size, please. The fad for glasses the size of hubcabs has not quite abated, but they’re clumsy to handle and cause what begins as a briskly cold drink to turn warm and soupy right before your eyes. Also shun anything imagefragile, ill-balanced and spill-prone, such as Benjamin Hubert’s unique but risky design at left, a dry cleaner’s dream. A martini on the rocks reposes in an Old Fashioned glass. Martinis, finally, are made with gin: that’s their default spirit. Substitution requires a modifier, as in the vodka martini. Anything else? No, nothing else. Any old booze can be flung into a stemmed glass and often is, but that does not a martini make.

Come we now to the what scholars and academics call ‘the literature’, which exists in plenty. Any respectable personal library might well include Eric Felten’s suave How’s Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well, Dale DeGroff’s The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks, Gary Regan’s The Bartender’s GIN Compendium, Nannette Stone’s The Little Black Book of Martinis: The Essential Guide to the King of Cocktails, A. J. Rathbun’s Good Spirits, Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, by David Wondrich and Dale DeGroff, and William L. Hamilton‘s Shaken and Stirred: Through the Martini Glass and Other Drinking Adventures.

Nothing quite like curling up with a good book and a good drink, eh? Cheers!

©2012 Bill Marsano

The Littlest Taster: A Sequoia Grove Dad’s Day Special

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Never mind him. The star’s the one on the right.

The last time I saw Mike Trujillo, top kick of Sequoia Grove, we were having a very splendid lunch [his card, naturally] at Gramercy Tavern. GT is among my favorite Your Card spots because of the Danny Meyer style. That means the food’s terrific, the tone’s peaceful, the service professional. Waiters take your order, bring your food, leave you alone. They don’t pester or comment. As, for example, at Allison, which recently opened just west of Fifth Ave. There the waiter greeted my wine order with ‘Nice juice!’ But I got off lightly compared to my former nextdoor neighbor Bernie Médoc, the crooked negociant and Club Fed jailbird, who once asked what the soupe du jour was and was told ‘It’s the soup of the day.’

Criminy! Does no one train waiters these days? Heavens to Betsy, Thirsty Reader, where is Craig Claiborne when we need him? Speaking of whom, Thomas McNamnee’s just-out bioThe Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance—is an acquired taste at best. And it isn’t a patch on G.Y. Dryansky’s Coquilles, Calva & Crème. But of this more anon; it’s time to get on with my Father’s Day Special.

So there we were at the GT, Mike talking and I [believe it] listening. Mike has that most admirable of virtues, quiet self-confidence, and so had no need to boast of his quite terrific Cabernets. Drinking them told that story. And so with all claptrap about degrees Brix, pH levels and oak regimes ruled out by common and tacit consent, Mike rhapsodized about his daughter, Sophia, who bids fair to be America’s youngest wine-taster. The story never hit print in Hemispheres because United Airlines’ stiffnecks got the blue creevies when they learnt that Sophia was four and a half years old.

Born in La Jara, Colorado, Mike was an engineering student who one spring break dropped in on Jim Allen, a family friend and owner of Sequoia Grove. Jim put him up for a few days; Mike helped around the winery; Allen offered a job. ‘I was 21’ Mike says ‘an age when you have no clue what you really want to do, but the money was good and the weather was great, so I said yes.’ He began with planting vineyards and soon was on his way to making Chardonnay, Syrah and his nifty Cabernet blends, which range from the $34 Rebellious Red to the new Cambium, which will cost you $140 when you can get it, which isn’t often. ‘Wine found me’, he says.

The peerless Sophia entered the picture as well as the winery a few years later. ‘My Uncle Joe always devoted some time to each of his three children individually, and I followed his lead. I began taking Sophia to the winery once a week when she was so young that her mother, Elizabeth, had to pack her into a bassinet along with her bottles and my lunch.’ Mike’s weekly Take Your Daughter to Work Day expanded as soon as Sophia zzzzzzzzzzzzzsophie3found her feet. To her, the winery was the best and biggest set of monkey bars a kid ever had. It wasn’t long before she got into the wine, Mike recalled. ‘I was barrel-tasting one day and of course she wanted to do everything Daddy did, so I gave her a sip. It went right down the hatch, and I thought that’s not going to work. So I spent some time standing over a drain with her, teaching her how to spit. Now she spits like a Frenchman. She spits better than I do!’

Sophia next began taking part in bank errands, vineyard tours and even lunches with growers. ‘She’s very well restaurant-trained,’ Mike said, although she will occasionally visit other tables to find out what people are drinking. Then she’ll say brightly, "My Daddy makes Cabernet!" She opens the tasting room door with a cheery ‘Welcome to Sequoia Grove’ [there actually is a Sequoia grove, and visitors seem to love it] and she’s a star of Mike’s cellar tours for the trade. ‘She’ll climb up on top of a barrel, pull the bung out and stick her fingers in for a taste’ Mike says. ‘Then she’ll sing out That’s good wine, Daddy! and when I ask her what it is, she comes right back with Cabernet, Daddy! Then Mike will send her off to the Merlot; Sophia will pull another bung; taste eagerly; proclaim it good. ‘When I ask again what wine it is, she’ll say Merlot, Daddy! At that point, as if on cue, almost all the guests ask the same thing:  She can tell the difference? And I’ll say Sure–can’t you?

That was back in ’09; now Sophia has begun learning about blending, as Mike told me last week. She’s become a dab hand with pipette and graduated cylinder, and she has Rutherford Dust on the soles of her shoes.

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Sophia today, with ‘a little age [3 years] on her’

Books for Father’s Day

Excuse please, while I indulge again in my quixotic attempt to keep reading alive and on life support. Books do furnish a room, as Anthony Powell said, and minds, too. So for Father’s Day consider these . . .

One way to go is the monster reference book. A Dad or anyone else can lose himself in it for hours at a time because reference books are not just for referring to. They’re for opening in your lap in an easy chair with a bottle of wine handy and all electronic devices turned off, off, off. Maybe even stepped on and ground into the carpet. So with that in mind, I’ll say that the leader of the pack just now is Opus Vino, edited by Jim Johnson. It’s a Dorling Kindersley production, which means

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzspread_3[1]
All graphics all the time: DK’s Opus Vino.

it’s well-organized [by country, by region, by winery] and heavy on the graphics: bottle shots, maps, mavens, labels and sprawling spreads of vineyards to lighten the many hectares of text. It’s also heavy, period; at just over seven pounds, it might require two laps. And there are contenders in the lightweight [under seven pounds] division. Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine, long-established and now in its third edition, has gravitas to outweigh its ho-hum graphics: like OV, it has an impressive list of contributors; unlike OV, its individual entries are signed. It’s organized as a dictionary, with far less attention paid to individual wineries. So you’d better buy both? Yes, and toss in a brace from John Wiley: Wine Appreciation, by the aptly named Richard P. Vine, and Exploring Wine: Completely Revised 3rd Edition, by the CIA troika of Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss. The former gets no cosmetics points for its plain-jane black-and-white approach but the latter is a handsome full-color production, nearly as heavy as OV.

Another route is the contemplative narrative. It’s especially attractive to those who’d like to give Dad the trip to France he deserves but who have been scared white by airfares of oh, $1500 per person. A feasible, feastly alternative is provided by the Dryanskys, G.Y. [Gerry] and Joanne. They’ve been in France longer than most Frenchmen have, just shy of half a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzdryFC9781605983295 century, bien sûr, and their Coquilles, Calva, and Crème is a rewarding memoir in two parts. One covers Gerry’s career as a fashion correspondent and general reporter for some A-List U.S. publications; it’s full of good gossip, cool-eyed but never malicious. It’s a treat for example to know that Régine missed attending the party of the year [or decade or century] because her elephant got lost in the Bois de Boulonge; that the Duchess of Windsor wasn’t really out of line when she wet the floor of a restaurant bathroom; that Coco Chanel said of a critic she loathed ‘mouth like a sewer, talks like a sewing machine.’ The second part follows a series of locavore voyages into la france profonde, the deeply rural countryside that remains, to most Frenchmen, the heart and soul of their nation. The object? To seek out the products, places and producers of France’s traditional cuisine: lampreys and smoked eels; calva distilled the old-fashioned way [unfiltered]; some of the celebrated 246 kinds of cheese; the beouf gras of Bazas; and Billom garlic, cassoulet and Baeckeoffe. The places? Pays d’Auge, Alsace, Normandy, the Auverne and elsewhere. The people range from cheesemakers who persist despite the crushing zealotry of EU sanitation laws and cooks who’d rather work 16 hours a day almost alone than submit to the bullying big-time rat race with its ‘shrill refrain of new, new, new’. The result is a book that is truly vaut le voyage.

Now then: Having dismissed McNamee’s Claiborne book at the outset, I owe some explanation, and so: the writing is what I’d wincingly call workmanlike at best and it’s too often not best at all. It’s repetitious and hagiographic; it’s unfair to Mimi Sheraton, Clementine Paddleford, John Hess and the early Gourmet; and it makes way too large a claim. Changed the way WE eat? Who the hell’s we? A vexed question. Oh, we means that ridiculously small tribe of people called foodies. Never mind about the 300 million+ Americans who put agribusiness on its throne and fast food in their bellies; who make the author’s we about the smallest since Mark Twain’s  ‘kings, editors and people with tapeworms’. OK, Claiborne essentially invented restaurant criticism [in the U.S. anyway] and got food writing a much larger and more serious audience. And he was notably, even unusually generous in helping to launch the likes of Julia Child [whose influence was, I think, far greater], Marcella Hazan, Diana Kennedy and others. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz His personal life? It’s nightmarish for readers, so how must it have been for him? Born in the Deep South in a family for which the term shabby genteel could easily have been invented. Mom ran a boarding house but she never surrendered her airs and graces, even to her end as a Frat Row house mother. She rejected him and boys in general as filthy creatures but haunted Claiborne like a curse: he finally cut her out of his life, not even going to her funeral. Dad may/may not have molested him [Claiborne was coy here]. He was an uncloseted homosexual in an era when that took real guts, but all his affairs seem to have been uniformly doomed and unfulfilling. That he drank himself to death can be no surprise. That he managed to make of himself an important figure with a positive contribution; to drag at least some of New York’s restaurants out of the Canned String Bean Era; to explore foreign cuisines before anyone’d ever heard the word ethnic; and to compile best-selling cookbooks that are still popular today? If you took that script to MGM you’d be back on the street so fast you’d think the building collapsed.

By the bye, all the books can be ordered from Amazon or, of course, anywhere else. Amazon’s advantage is in used books, whose prices and availability are noted right alongside the new-book prices. Often the books are not used but overstocks or remainders, and the sellers are reliable.

© 2012 Bill Marsano

Derby Day, Bourbon Barrels and Woodford Reserve

It’s Derby Day Saturday, Kentucky’s National Holiday, which involves many ponies and enough mint juleps to drive you to drink. Want a recipe? You could look it up, as Casey Stengel used to say. The April 2010 post Talk Derby to Me has recipes given to me by some distilling luminaries: Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve; Booker Noe, Jim Beam’s grandson; Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey; Kevin Smith of Maker’s Mark and their legendary like. [Fred Noe, Booker’s son, possibly aware of the huge brogans he must fill, provided two, one based on Beam and another on Knob Creek.] They’ll keep you adequately lubricated for the whole weekend.

DerbyStayThirsty

My personal Derby pick is Stay Thirsty [above, with Ramon Dominguez up], whose cheerful name recalls not only my devoted Thirsty Reader but Dos Equis beer’s Most Interesting Man in the World TV and radio commercials, memorably taglined ‘Stay thirsty, my friends.’ The MIMW’s sophistication, worldliness and craggy good looks blend Marlboro Man, Fidel Castro, Ernest Hemingway and Ricardo Montalban [in his Rich Corinthian Leather Period]; finding a face for that was a tall order*. That plus the patended deadpan narration of Will Lyman and good copywriting makes ads that are funny, witty and imaginative; unlike, for example, most wine commercials. So funny and witty they inspire the same from viewers: quite an accomplishment, considering that as a rule YouTubers’ comments are usually moronic when not worse.

Of the 15 spots in the series so far my favorite opens deceptively with an idyll in the Italian countryside but goes wild very quickly. Most can be seen online: start with Google and YouTube, then check out www.facebook.com/dosequis; it has more spots, plus details of the upcoming ‘League of the Most Interesting’ contest. Unfortunately, the contest doesn’t involve overhand bowling or being thrown out of an airplane in a kayak [perhaps due to some PR-side fretting over ‘liability’].

My backup is Pants On Fire [Rosie Napravnik in irons], again for the name. Both names, in fact. Just imagine the track announcer excitedly shouting ‘Napravnik’s taking Pants On Fire to the rail!’? Not quite the same if it’s Mucho Macho Man, say, or Archarcharch? To say nothing of Comma to the Top, a horse unreliably reported to be owned by a renegade international copy-editing cartel.

When last in Louisville [say Looville, never Loo-ey-ville] I was not on the rail or in the infield or at the clubhouse turn but was immersed in whiskey and baseball at two of the city’s finest wood-working institutions. One is the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, which got a magnificent makeover, renovation and general glorification in 2009. You know the drill: immerse thyself in the National Pastime; see trees become bats; soak up the wisdom of Ruth, Aaron, Williams and other great hitters; and learn about women and minorities in the game. Then play with the many interactive displays and achieve photo immortality while clutching an immortal’s bat. That’s me [below] with the Model B220 warclub of the great No. 7**]. It’s the real thing, hence the white cotton gloves.

Bill and Bat

Then came the Brown-Forman Cooperage [née Blue Grass] which makes 1500 barrels a day for Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Jack Daniel’s, Early Times, Canadian Mist, El Jimador and Herradura. Among spirits companies only B-F has its own cooperage, and despite the addition of modern equipment and constant updating, the plant still has a 1940s look and feel—and smell: the air is rich with the aroma of furnace-charred American white oak.
 FIRE

Chris Morris, B-F’s master distiller, guided me safely through and warned me about the perils of the barrel railway, while saying the aromas are his favorite part. Mine was the hand-work. The hand tools of the cooper’s mystery—the sun plane and the croze, the long joiner [a plane about 6 feet long], the bung auger, the chince or chincing iron [‘used for driving the flag into the groove’] and such—were vanished even by the time the plant opened in 1945. Even so, barrels are still raised by hand [N.B.: not made, assembled, built, erected or slung together; the term of art is raised]. An expert can raise a couple of hundred per shift, and there are hushed whispers of veritable Stave Gods known to have raised 350 and even more. The cooperage has since opened to the public; it’s a treat for kids and factory-tour fans who delight in seeing raw material become parts become products, also for fossils like your correspondent, who is so old he can remember a time when American workers actually made things. See www.mintjuleptours.com or call 502 583-1433 and seek ye the peerless Joanie. And just watch your step anywhere near the barrel railway.

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This is no drill, as they said at Pearl Harbor. Barrels come down the rails without warning, swiftly and silently; they weigh more than 100 pounds apiece and will flatten anything and anyone that gets in their way.

It’s thirsty work watching so much barrel-raising, and it called for a drink or few, which Chris elected to lay on at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, down the road a piece near Versailles, which you’ll want to pronounce Ver-sales. You don’t want anyone thinking you’re French. The building, a handsome limestone structure dating to 1838 and added to on several occasions since, sits serenely in a bosky dell beside Glenn’s Creek.

Woodford

The setting inspires romantics to dream of colorful artisan moonshiners, but Chuck Cowdery, author of the superb Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, has said that modern ‘shiners, who merely cook bulk sugar into crude booze, deserve not folkloric halos but sojourns in the Waddy-Petrona Correctional Facility and Dental School. Max Watman, whose delightful Chasing the White Dog : An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine, would no doubt agree.

Brown-Forman has restored the distillery to a thing of rural-industrial beauty, and visitors are welcome to stop in and see Woodford Reserve being made. It’s awful-looking, awful-smelling stuff you see pumped into the big wooden fermenters, but then chemistry takes over the ancient practices of pot distillation

Mud

and oak-aging work their miracles, first in the three big Scotch-built copper stills, then in the barrels stacked for six or seven years in the rickhouse.

Tours of varying length are but $5 and $10 [call 859 879 1812] and there are spaces available to rent for festive events, but weddings and wedding receptions are excluded, most likely for reasons of self-defense. Wedding-rehearsal dinners? They’re another story because they’re reliably less boisterous events [859 879 1934]. Whatever the reason for your visit it will be the part of wisdom to call the tour office first, for precise directions are required. The taped message warns that ‘due to our distinct location’ [i.e., the 19th Century], ‘using GPS is not advisable.’

The distillery is a landmark partly for its beauty [it’s considerable; this is Thoroughbred country, after all] but mainly for its importance in bourbon history. It was here under Oscar Pepper [son of the distillery’s founder, Elijah] that Edinburgh-born Dr. James C. Crow pretty much created modern bourbon by innovation and experiment. He created the sour-mash process and maintained rigorous cleanliness in thesearch for product consistency, and he was the first, so far as is known, to sell exclusively whiskey that had been aged in new charred oak barrels. Before the Good Doctor made bourbon, most of what Kentucky made was mere whiskey, and often very mere whiskey at that.

Our farewell drinks that afternoon came from a barrel in the rickhouse: Chris tapped it with an electric drill and I came thirstily to the rescue when the bit jammed in the dense wood. All those hours of This Old House turned out to be useful after all. Imagine that.

Stay thirsty, my friends.

RED

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*well filled by the actor Jonathan Goldsmith. You were expecting maybe Ludwig Stössel?

**Mickey Mantle. You had to ask?

BAR-BET TRIVIA

The distillery became a National Historic Landmark in 2000. Dr. Crow did indeed practice medicine, and he gave his services, according to Chuck Cowdery, ‘mostly without charge.’ Cowdery adds that he ‘was fond of reciting the poems of Robert Burns’ and that after his death his name became part of one of America’s first brands, Old Crow. Once famous, it is now no more than a bottom-shelf ‘value brand.’

© Bill Marsano