I sincerely hope you and your loved ones have had as wonderful a Christmas season as I have. For the first time we welcomed, not one but two new members of our family to a cabin Christmas on the Ridge. We had gatherings where we feasted, played games and exchanged gifts. My two new son-in-laws spent their very first Christmas with us, and I feel confident they felt welcomed, maybe a little overwhelmed, but most definitely welcomed.
As many of you already know my two daughters, Cindy and Kate, were recently married – Cindy in May of this year and Kate, May of last year – but this was the first Christmas any of them had spent with each other. Although Kate was married this time last year, she is a military wife and her new husband was deployed to Afghanistan during their first holiday as a married couple; and last year Cindy’s husband-to-be spent the holiday alone in NYC with work obligations.
So for this very special Christmas on the ridge I wanted to go all out; beginning with decorations. Thankfully my creative brother and his equally creative wife were available to help, and together we made the cabin look amazing. When the kids finally arrived, on the day of our annual tree trimming party, they found the cabin transformed into a wonderland. Four full-sized cedar trees, cut from our land and covered in lights and a miniature wagon overflowing with poinsettia, greenery and gourds filled the porch while icicle lights dripped from both the porch and roof eves. A giant snowman singing and dancing with Christmas cheer greeted/startled our arriving guests (Ok the snowman may have been a bit too much) but the overall welcome was magical.
Making this holiday even more special were the gifts: One of their father’s handcrafted wine racks and one of my handmade ornaments for each of the couples and a rugged video camera perfect for our adventurous son.
But the most unusual gift we chose for the kids was a trip along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail! I pre-contacted each of the distillery’s we planned to visit (Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace) to make sure they would be open on December 26th; ordered official Bourbon Trail passports for everyone; mapped out a route; rented a fifteen passenger van; packed everyone a breakfast burrito – filled with eggs, peppers, onions, mushrooms, cheese, ham and bacon; packed a lunch of ciabata bread, cheese, prosciutto, olives and humus; coffee, hot chocolate and sugar cookies for the road.
Amazingly at 8:15 AM me and my hubby, our daughters and their hubbies, our son, my brother and his wife and two of my children’s life-long friends piled into the van right on schedule just to discover that the rental company had failed to secure one of the van seats. After a twenty-minute delay and frustrated phone call to the rental company (“Sorry will not get us to our tour on time”), and an hour and half drive we were finally sipping bourbon and getting our first passport stamp at Four Roses Distilleries – yes if you do the math, we were tasting bourbon at just past ten in the morning.
Beautiful Spanish style architecture distinguishes this distillery from others along the trail, not to mention the special Master distiller’s select bourbon, bottled, numbered and for sale only to those that visit the historical landmark facilities. The tasting was informative and fun. While the van delay permitted us only enough time to do the tasting, which consisted of four great bourbons, we’ll definitively be returning for the full tour.
Twenty minutes down the road was our next stop, Wild Turkey Distillery. Most of the distilleries along the trail offer tours on the hour between 10am and 3pm. The tours can take up to an hour and with the driving time between them ranging from twenty minutes to more than an hour, timing is an issue. So we opted out of the tour but were still welcome to take part in a tasting, after a required viewing of an entertaining short film/Wild Turkey infomercial. This time the tasting consisted of our choice of two out of seven bourbons; and once again the host conducting the tasting was friendly and informative.
After Wild Turkey we were off to Woodford Reserve another twenty or thirty minutes away and the only distillery on the trail that my hubby and I have previously toured. Nestled along a scenic creek flowing through the middle of idyllic, Kentucky horse farms and bluegrass pastures, sits the collection of limestone and brick structures that is Woodford reserve. After viewing Woodford’s own brief film/infomercial, our guide, with his slow Kentucky drawl and sometimes rambling descriptions, lead us through the interesting bourbon process and the faculties that are simply beautiful. We learned that bourbon has to contain at least fifty-one percent corn and be aged in new oak-charred barrels for a minimum of two years.
Our last stop on the trail was actually not on the trail at all; Buffalo Trace Distillery has opted out of the official Bourbon Trail marketing campaign but is still a worthy destination for Bourbon and history enthusiasts; the historic distillery was one of only three in the country that manged to stay open during prohibition by manufacturing bourbon for “medicinal purposes”. We pulled into the Trace just as the last tour of the day was departing. Walking through the collection of brick warehouse style structures, complete with their own water tower and street signs and elevated barrel rails, was like stepping back in time, into the streets of a turn of the century town.
After sitting through yet another film, this time lasting almost ten minutes we were given a tour of the bourbon aging warehouse where racks and racks of barrels stacked several layers high created a cave like atmosphere permeated with the sweet, smoky aroma of aging bourbon. Apparently the smell is so enticing that a percentage of the bourbon is lost during this process to the “angles’ share”, although some claim it’s merely evaporation. We finished the tour with a tasting of two bourbons, some “White Dog” (freshly distilled alcohol before being transformed into bourbon) and their new cream liqueur, Bourbon Cream. Being that is was Christmas time, the entire complex was festooned with Christmas lights and decorations creating an enchanting scene.
We finished the day in Lexington at Joe Bologna’s Pizzeria where we feasted on pizza pie, toasted a great day and made our first New Year’s Eve resolutions – visit the remaining distilleries along the Bourbon trail by year’s end of 2012, filling our bourbon passports!