The Epic Trip – Kentucky, Nashville, TN and TOTC 2012

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As I sit on the floor of Louis Armstrong Airport in the great city of New Orleans, reflection and the need for serious amounts of sleep are serving as pivotal elements of the game at 7:42 on a Monday morning the 30th.

Our trip began on Wednesday July 18th in NYC. News of a storm brewing on the cusp of the Eastern Seaboard did little to damper my joyful mood of leaving the rotting smell of summer in the Big Apple to the Epic Trip of 2012. The itinerary was a sold affair – three days in Kentucky with Drew Kulsveen of Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, a night in Nashville to research the ever-expanding cocktail scene’s penetration into the Southern states and a big week of cocktails and friends and a rash of bad decisions in New Orleans for Tales of The Cocktail 2012.
Alas, trying to escape from New York was on par with Snake Pilsken trying to save the President.

Tuesday night the 17th, we packed up the vermouths, a collection of herbs and spices and a mess of bar and kitchen tools into the Box of Wonder – my 50 qt wheeled cooler. The Box of Wonder is a cooler I bought for Tales 2011 and it has served as a faithful member of many pop up cocktail adventures during the past year.  Excitement was the smell of mama’s cooking in the air, boarding passes were printed, bags packed and we were ready to rock!

Wednesday morning the 18th, I checked the NYC weather report and it appears 30% chance of rain. We were looking good to go. Car ride was a quick jaunt. The cooler weighed just under 46 lbs upon check-in. Security was a breeze. We grabbed a pint of Green Flash West Coast IPA and a Knob Creek double bourbon to ease on down the road to our vacation.

Yeah. Those good times came crashing to floor within four hours.

My phone rang to inform me our plane was delayed. A following hour, we finally boarded and settled into our seats. My mind was set on Seelbachs at the Seelbach Hotel in Louiseville, KY. The storm clouds so prevalent during of NYC Summer of 2012 came on with gusts of madness and jealous. A magnificent storm of fury dropped a ridiculous amount of rain and wind in less than 30 minutes. We taxied out to the tarmac and then…nothing. For 2.5 hours, we circled the parking lot of LGA. We become drunk guys at 3AM looking for a pretty girl to chat up. My anxiety slowly racked up and the pilot announced we were returning to the gate per FAA regulations. The plane was parked and without a whimper…the flight was cancelled. That’s it. Get off and suck it US Airways customers.

We deplaned and stood there dumbfounded. Our glorious vacation had become a pitiful stay-cation. In NYC. Oh vay. The US Airways customer service line was a red roped celebrity affair in the Meatpacking District. Lauren – my fiancé – called US Airways and we were set for 10AM tomorrow.

Frak. Frak. Frak.

There are few things on par with rolling your suitcases out of the terminal and hailing a cab to take you back home. A first date crashing into the “friend zone” after several rounds of drinks. The abrupt realization that you left your wallet across town after arriving at your best friend’s dinner party. That moment when you realize that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. We returned to the cats and a house all packed up. My solution – a movie marathon and glasses of Rhum Clement, Gentleman Jack, Ron Abuelo 12, Old Van Winkle 10 Year and several others that seemed to blur together as the night progressed.

We awoke the next day – Thurs the 19th – to bright skies and high hopes. The bags were packed (once again!) and away we went. Alas – the plane was delayed by 30 mins (US Airways…you bastards) BUT we made to the air with me holding Lauren’s hand in fine Superman fashion.

Note to fellow travelers – Dulles (aka Ronald Regan) Airport has two things. A Five Guys burger joint and shuttle buses to your plane. A plane that only has three seats in a row. Yeah. Let’s do this.

FINALLY – we hit the tarmac of the Louisville Airport and we had arrived in Kentucky. Close to 24 hours after our vacation had begun. Drew – our main man in Kentucky – picked us up and away we went…to the grocery store!

This is a funny thing about getting older. Years past on previous vacations – I would have suggested that we hit the first bar and drink until everybody looked pretty in the place. Now – the thought of buying groceries and starting up the BBQ is my ideal of a relaxing night. Call me crazy but the grocery store we hit had two things I covet – six packs of Bell’s Brewery AND Brocoli Bacon salad. Go ahead – stop and take it all in. I lost my breath for a few ticks on the clock.

We hit Drew’s house, unpacked and settled in for the night. An epic evening containing an impressive thunderstorm, BBQing in the rain, raiding Drew’s jaw-dropping liquor cabinet and something involving rash decisions at 1AM during a blackout to go outside with glasses of 28 Year Old Willett and light off serious fireworks. Fireworks that go boom in the sky. Oh damn. And yes – dear reader – I did fall asleep on top of the bed with my clothes on. Please note: the term “fall asleep” is employed with loose definition.

Friday morning – the 20th – we awoke (sans hangover), drank coffee, ate Sweet Potato pancakes and hit Bardstown. Lunch at Talbot Tavern (oh yeaahh…Hot Brown), a massive tour of the new Willett / KBD distillery – including drinking “white dog” straight from the still and a walk-through of a very impressive distillery in the works and a required trip to the Maker’s Mark Distillery.  And now…my diatribe on Maker’s Mark.

I owe a lot to Maker’s Mark. A ton of respect. It was my first “real” bourbon back in ’04. When I was a kid, my grandfather fed me sips of Canadian Club and blended Scotch and I served as “bartender” during weekend visits and cribbage matches. I’ve always appreciated whiskey but Maker’s was my first step in the right direction. The Maker’s bottle give me the courage and the emotional fortitude when running Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco during 2004-05. During a weekend with Mike Epps, Maker’s kept me from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday night. And the best part – Maker’s red wax seal and label was built by the Don Drapers of the NY Advertising world in the 1960s plus  our favorite “Pappy” – Mr. Van Winkle – helped Bill Samuel’s Sr with the recipe for Maker’s. None the less – Maker’s is a solid product and is invaluable in bringing the masses into the fold of bourbon’s universe.

Plans for the evening had been set for Louisville but with our trip set for Nashville the next day (and a full schedule of events) – we decided to stay local and check out Bardstown’s “locavore” restaurant – Circa. Dinner was lovely – solid appetizers of goat cheese crostini and tasty arancini and mains including braised rabbit, filet mignon and bourbon-soaked flank steak. When you are in Kentucky – bourbon is all around you. We retired to Drew’s place and watched “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ on a 70” 3-D TV. Holy frakin’ hell. Bourbon and Voldemort – in your face!

warning – big frak of a spoiler right here…

Saturday morning – the 21st – we set out for Nashville. Lauren served as Geordi Laforge so I crashed out in the back of the car. We drove through a good chunk of Kentucky and hit Nashville in the early part of the afternoon. We dropped off some tasty treats to Drew’s buddy – Nick Brown: leader singer of the rockin’ band Mona – at his crib in Nashville and we hit Burger Up for lunch. Awesome place – highly recommended! We checked into our hotel – reset a bit – hit the local mall for swim trunks – and headed out to Lauren’s best friend Katie Magoun (Bubbles!) brother’s place – Jay and his lovely family – for an afternoon of swimming and good times.

We shook off the salt water around dusk and headed back to Nashville proper with Katie and her boyfriend George to check out Nashville’s nightlife. Our first stop was Holland House. Damn solid place with inventive drinks and a square bar. Jeremiah Jason Blake – Holland House’s bar manager – treated us to shots of Fernet and said “I’ll see ya at Tales!”. We walked over to the next stop – No. 308. Another winner in Nashville. Inventive interior, awesome drinks (No. 209 Gin and house Tonic!) and goddamn motherfrakin’ hot wings! We stayed until the crowd grew younger and we headed back to the hotel to rest up for the big push towards NOLA. Katie and George bid us adieu and at the hotel – we parted and set up a time for the next morning – breakfast at 8AM and then..onto Tales…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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