Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bourbon made in Florida?

My under-graduate alumni magazine had a feature on Rollins graduates who are operating breweries, wineries and a distillery.  The Winter Park Distilling Company, in Winter Park, Florida ( WPDC has only been open a few short years.  They make a variety of white distilled products, a vodka, a rum, an un-aged whiskey, and they have released a bourbon.  While I was visiting family, I decide to look into it.  The WPDC website does not give a street location and there is no mention of tours (darn!) So I went in search of a bottle to buy.  The first store had the un-aged whiskey (moonshine is not my favorite.)  The second store store had never heard of WPDC. The third stop had two bottles of the bourbon left in stock.  I bought both, when you find rare items, buy them.  With tax it was about $43 a bottle.  

This is listed as batch #4, bottled at 107 proof.  As far as the flavor, it is young, and you can taste the oak. I detect hints of pine, and southern charm.  Being classified as a bourbon, it has to be at least 51% corn and aged for at least 2 years in oak.  My guess would be that the secondary grain is rye, is has the spiciness of a corn/rye mash-bill.  It is relatively smooth.  If there are aging in the climate, it should age fast due to the abundance of hot weather - but I suspect this would be even better after a couple more years in oak. 

They say they are using pot stills, all small batch, handcrafted.  This is a combination that has great potential for high quality.  With a Rollins graduate in management, I know they will go far.  

So can you make bourbon in Florida? Yes, the definition says it is an American whiskey, it has to be made in the United States to be labeled as bourbon (despite being named after a county in Kentucky, that was named by Thomas Jefferson to honor a French King.) It does not have to be made in Kentucky. The location will impact the flavor.  The water, the aging temperatures, even the grain will be slightly different based on location and will impact the flavor of the final product. This type of small batch hand crafted operation can capitalize on the geographic distinction to a make a uniquely southern bourbon.  

There is an ongoing fight at the moment over the definition of Tennessee whiskey, strangely enough centering on if it has to be made in Tennessee - Jack Daniels and Dickel are bankrolling a campaign to place a geographic limitation on the name. Pritchard's in Kelso Tennessee, makes a couple of excellent bourbons and at least one Tennessee whiskey.      

Friday, November 28, 2014

What do I have to be Thankful For?

  1. Jay, my Sweet Loving Bear - the light of my life for over 21 years
  2. Family that somehow manages to be functional most of the time
  3. My sister Karen and her husband Pete for the extraordinary hands on care they are providing for my frail parents  
  4. An intact mind and memory 
  5. A job that I enjoy and that gives me the flexibility to take on interesting projects 
  6. The ability to live comfortably and pay my way in the world 
  7. Having been able to travel and see so much of the country and Europe. 
  8. Home - 
  9. Friends - in person and cyber
  10. The ability to indulge in hobbies 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What would be in the jars?

Cinnamon and peach pie hooch of unknown origin. The cinnamon is quite good,  straight or over ice. I didn't try the peach pie. No idea how it ended up on the back of someone's pickup truck,  but a very natural place for it to be. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Couple of Cruise Ships in Port Canaveral

Old Familiar Places

Having lived in five states and no longer having strong connections to any of them, I find it hard to answer the question "where are you from," and yet I find an emotional connection to old and familiar places.  The other day I drove through Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.  I spent many happy years there getting a four year degree. Intellectually I really grew up there. It is also were I first poked my head out of the closet and found people like me, oh and love, I found love there.  My sweet bear was an adjunct professor there when we met (I had a faculty parking sticker the last year I was a student there.) Just driving by, brings on a sense of calm and a desire to get back in the classroom again. When I am back in Lexington I always need to drive down Main Street and back up Vine Street.  I like driving past my former offices.  In the town my parents live in, I always need to drive along the old road along the Indian River, great views of the Space Center, and quiet and calming memories. I don't remember a lot of Arizona, I was in the first grade the winter we lived there, but I remember the smell of the high desert on a cold winter morning.  Smells have strong memory associations for me.  It has been about a decade since I was last in the area I was born in - in Michigan.  Even there the place evokes memories - but I have little desire to visit and no desire to ever live there again.  But still even after nearly four decades, there is a sense of familiarity. People, and buildings and even roads have changed, but the place remains hauntingly familiar.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Most of the time, I live on the 3rd floor of a 16 story high-rise.  The condo building is cast concrete with brick on the outside.  It is the quietest place I have ever lived.  I was surprised when I moved there at how quiet it is.  There are 250 units in the building, and I seldom hear my neighbors.  I don't hear traffic, in the dead of the night if you listen carefully you can hear the passing freight trains a mile and a half away - but not the subway station less then half a mile away.

I woke up this morning to the sound of thunder and rain.  It is kind of loud if you are not use to it. I am at my parent's house for Thanksgiving. We are in the semi tropics and it rains (it takes liquid sunshine to keep Florida green.) I dare not look at what the thermostat is set, likely in the high 70's or low 80's, old age and decades in a semi tropical environment and the house is kept rather warm and humid. So I have my door closed, a window open and a fan has been running in my room constantly since I have been here.  I bought the fan in self defense a decade ago and it has been a constant presence in the guest room ever since  So I can hear the hum of the fan.  Not something I hear at home, where I control the temperature, set year around in the low 70's in the condo (the new climate control system in the condo switches between heat and air conditioning automatically - I don't have to touch the controls for months on end.) Because of the design if the system in the condo, I can't hear it run unless I am standing next to the utility closet in the living room.

It is still early, maybe I will lay back and listen to the rain.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014


We are a nation of immigrants.  My father's mother was born in London, her father was born in London, her mother in Wales. My family roots have been traced to the Mayflower, we were early immigrants.  We believe, but lack documentation, that my great grandmother on my mother's side was native American.  But pretty much all the rest of the ancestry is European.  British, Irish, German. The arrivals in the last century arrived with paperwork in order, my grandmother was able to bypass Ellis Island and go directly to her father on the piers in New York, he had been here for sometime working and had filed all of the paperwork so his wife and kids were legal before they left Southampton.

Immigration is a hot topic in the United States at the moment.  It is estimated that there are between 12 and 20 - million illegal aliens in the country.  I know I just crossed the politically correct line, by referring to persons who violated the laws and entered the country without legal permission as illegal aliens.  It is what they are in the word of the law. I can recall attending a workshop 10-12 years ago on this issue and being admonished that "no person is illegal, you must never refer to anyone as an illegal alien, it makes them sound like they are from another planet."  First they control the words, then they seek to control the thoughts.  A non-citizen is an alien in the words of our immigration laws.  If they lack the legal authority to enter or remain in the country they are breaking the law and hence are illegal.  If people don't like the law, they should get Congress to change it.

As a moderate, working in a world of liberals, I am troubled by the issue of 12-20-million illegals living in the United States.  We have two very long and very uncontrolled boarders.  We don't get a lot of unauthorized crossings from the north, though that boarder has tightened because of fears that people who wish to harm the country will take advantage of the thousands of miles of boarder in largely rural areas.  The southern boarder has more fences and security- but still leaks like a sieve. No political power has ever had the guts to spend what is necessary to properly defend our southern boarder and the vast majority of our illegal aliens have entered there.  Our neighbors to the north live in a prosperous, stable, lawful country and have fewer reasons to want to break into the US; our neighbors to the south experience relative poverty, brutality and instability. During the W years, we spent a fortune trying to create an electronic monitoring system on critical boarder zones, an effort that only succeeding at generating profits for the contractors that designed and built a system that didn't work.

I am troubled by allowing 12-20-million people who entered the country illegally remain, while millions of others world-wide wait for years, sometimes decades for permission to enter legally.  I have asked people who immigrated legally how they feel about others jumping the line, and the answer if complicated.  They frequently have friends or family who are in the country illegally that they don't want to have shipped home. This leads to a couple of issues. Families that are a mixture of legal and illegal - how do we ship out the illegals without breaking apart families.  Few of those with legal status, are going to accompany their illegal family back to poverty.  And how do we justify deporting people who are vital and productive parts of our communities and economy? Underlying this is the hard truth that without the 12-million plus illegals we would have critical labor shortages in agriculture, and some building trades.

We are a nation of laws.  Among those laws are laws controlling entry to the country by non-citizens. Underlying all of this for me, is a personal value, that if you want to be a part of this civil society, you agree to comply with at least the majority of the laws - and especially the big ones.  Legal status to be here is a big law.  I am troubled by somehow overlooking the fact that 12-20-million people broke a significant law. They are by and large good people, but forgiving them, while holding others to the same law, seems wrong to me.  Would I load 12,000,000 people on 747's and fly them home?  I don't know.  But how can we overlook breaking the law, by people who want to be here and be a part of a nation of laws? There is no easy answer on this issue.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dinner Music

Good local shrimp and a fun piano player

It is my Father's Fault

My father liked the great American road trip, growing up we went to Arizona twice and Florida seven times.  So, his geographic interest was limited, but he did like to pile the family into the car and drive - for long endless days.  I hated it.  By the time he squeezed in another 100 miles and pulled off for the night my body would hurt. And I loved it, because I got to see the differences in other parts of the country.  Now unlike a friend of my sisters, I didn't expect the landscape to change colors when we crossed state lines, like it did on the maps, but I knew that people lived differently and thought differently in different parts of the country.

Rolling across the landscape on my latest adventure a few things struck me.  There are a lot of dead deer on the roadsides.   Hunting has become politically incorrect and the deer population has exploded.  It seems that the only natural predator left is traffic.  People still let their dogs run loose, a couple of dogs splattered along the expressway makes me sad. The owners who let them loose should be forced to come face to face with the fate of their dog.  In North Carolina I saw several business with billboards saying, American Owned and Operated.  Do we really dislike immigrants that much?  It can be frustrating trying to do business with someone who does not speak the language or does not understand the culture.  But I always appreciate the immigrant who is working hard to earn a better life and doing a good job of it. NPR is nearly constant, I have to change stations every hundred miles or so, but I was able to follow NPR for over 400 miles.  I like NPR, yes they can be a little liberal, but because they are not beholden to advertisers, they will take the time to report stories that no one else will.  As a country we need that.

I have learned to pace my road trips.  If I make hotel reservations ahead of time it forces me to stop.  Hopefully in time to smell the roses at the end of a day crossing the landscape.

Oh My!

Oh My, it has been a week since my last post.  I have been busy getting ready for the Thanksgiving Holiday.  I have moved most of the end of the year projects off my desk (one big one left to do in December.) All is reasonably well, I am getting ready for some quality time with family over the next week.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Town Branch distillery

Town Branch Distillery is relatively new, starting about six years ago just west of downtown Lexington, Kentucky.  The founder is Pearce Lyons, an Irishmen with a masters degree in yeast and a Phd in biochemistry.  About three decades ago, he was brought to Kentucky to look into a yeast crisis, he liked the area and stayed.  He formed a company called Altech to culture and grow yeast for the distilling industry.  From that he developed a line of livestock nutrition products. About 20 years ago he was developing yeast for beer brewing and bought the Lexington Brewing company, so he could brew large batches of beer legally to test the yeast.  The beer proved popular and Lexington Brewing produces a high quality line of specialty beers, if you get a chance try the Bourbon Barrel Stout. Through the fermentation process distilling and brewing are essentially the same process.  The natural progressing was to open a distillery. 

Town Branch uses two huge copper Scottish pot stills and cypress fermentation tanks. The still room is in a spectacular stone and glass room on a small hill. They distill, barrel and bottle in Lexington, the aging is done in Bardstown. Lexington limits the number of barrels they can have onsite in Lexington for fire reasons.  The last fire in a Kentucky barrel warehouse was at Wild Turkey and took two weeks to burn itself out. The last fire in Bardstown ended with a river of flaming bourbon running down hill to the Kentucky River. 

They make a fine single malt.  Single malt is made with malted barley, yeast and water.  All scotch whiskey is malt whiskey, but malt whiskey can only be called scotch if it is made in Scotland.  Pearce Lyons Reserve is a fine American malt whiskey.  Wonderful malt whiskeys are made all over the world, I have excellent examples from Scotland, the US, France and Japan.  Town Branch is named after a stream that use to run through downtown Lexington, Kentucky, it now runs under downtown Lexington.  It was buried about 100 years ago.  Town Branch also makes a good blended Bourbon and a coffee liqueur. 

The Tour costs $7, and covers both the brewery and the distillery. It includes up to four samples of the products, I tried two beers, the single malt and the coffee liqueur.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Barrel House Distillery

The Barrel House Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky opened in 2008.  It is tiny operation, five staff members, only a couple of them full time in less space then the average home.  They are located in part of the long closed Pepper Distillery - Pepper quit distilling in 1958 and emptied the aging warehouse in the mid 60's. They started with rum.  Why rum, white rum requires very little aging and can generate cash flow.   They are currently selling three products, an Oak Aged Rum, a good quality vodka, and Devil John Moonshine.  They have bourbon aging, for release sometime in the next year.  

They mix and cook in a stainless steel tank, with a power stir, and ferment in plastic totes holding 300-400 gallons.  They use a traditional copper pot still that was made in Portugal.  They fire with natural gas - very rare - most distilleries heat the still with hot water or steam - the good stuff boils off below the boiling point of water.  

So what are the differences in the products?  
The primary sugar for rum is sugar cane.  They import sugar cane juice or molasses from the south, ferment, distill, and age in oak. Currently they are selling an oak aged rum, with about 4 years in oak.  It is mellow and smooth.  Rum is run through the still twice.  It is bottled at barrel strength - each batch varies in proof. 

Vodka can be made from almost any starch source. Vodka will have some flavor difference based on the starch source.   Barrel House makes a grain based vodka, using wheat and corn.  It is distilled four times, bottled at 80 proof and is a very nice craft made vodka. 

Moonshine is an American term for an un-aged whiskey.  The tradition in the Appalachian regions was for un-taxed - illegal whiskey to be made at night.  Hence the term Moonshine. Devil John Moonshine is made with an old family recipe of corn and cane sugar. It is distilled twice adjusted to 100 proof and bottled.  The first sip has a little bit of a bite, then it is smooth.  It is slightly sweet and has a mild floral scent.  Moonshine is undergoing a renaissance in  the US.  I have never sampled the illegal kind, but a lot of legal distilleries are selling un-aged whiskey.  Last summer I bought an un-aged Rye whiskey from the Mt Vernon distillery - it would qualify as moonshine. There is no legal definition for moonshine in the US.  The grain mix can vary widely and with it the flavor and aroma.  Distilling is part science and part art.  The first vapor that comes out of the still, is dangerous and potentially lethal.  I would be uncomfortable with a back yard distiller, the pros know then to cut from heads, to hearts, and tales.  You want hearts. 

Sunday, November 09, 2014

I am Back

I am back from a road trip to Kentucky.  Jay's 60th birthday was Friday and I went for that, and took advantage of being there to "stock-up."  It is not as bad as it looks, this will last a year.  There are half a dozen good single barrel Bourbons, three specialty liqueurs, two bottles of vodka and a bottle of moonshine.  Three of these are only available at the distillery, the moonshine, the bourbon cream and the Wheatley vodka.   There are two bottles of Wathens Bourbon, I think it is one of the hidden gems of the single barrel world.  Since I moved to DC, Kentucky has changed he law and distilleries can now serve small samples and sell onsite.  This seems to have greatly expanded the world of bourbon tourism.  I will ramble on about the three distillery tours over the next few days.  None of the bourbons on the table came from any of the distilleries I visited. The products of one are very widely distribute and there is no reason to haul them home, the other I have on hand.  The third one is a few months from releasing their first bourbon.  Good bourbon takes time, and can't be rushed.    

Saturday, November 08, 2014

What is a traveling penguin doing in West Virginia?

I just logged my 31st night in hotels this year.  West Virginia has lots of natural beauty, the Appalachian Mountains dominate the landscape of much of the state.  There are a couple of navigable rivers in the state, bringing with them hydro electric power, bringing with it energy intensive industries of steel making and chemicals.  West Virginia has a lot of coal - increasingly mined using open pit, also known as surface mining, also known as mountain top removal mining.  I was reminded as I drove across WV that you only get one chance to do coal mining, and the results remain for a long-long-long time.  Sometimes it is done well, other times it leaves scars on the landscape.  There is a big push underway to enforce the surface mining act that was passed 30+ years ago, I believe it was signed into law by President Reagan. Because the enforcement of the act began under President Obama, he gets blamed for forcing people to comply with a law that they have known about and ignored for decades.  If Congress does not like the effect of the Act on mining, they should amend or repeal it, not blame the administration for enforcing a law that should have been enforced 30 years ago. The EPA gave the mining industry time to come into compliance, like 30 years to adjust. What am I doing in West Virginia.  There is still a lot of logging in West Virginia.  A lot of the land is to steep to farm, but growing trees works.  Properly managed, timber farming creates a long term sustainable resource.  Selective cutting, planting and regrowth, and over time the forests regrow.  The hardwood of today is third or forth growth for much of the state.  Earlier I passed through the region of the state that had a major chemical spill into the water supply last year, leaving hundreds of thousands drinking bottled water for weeks.  The chemical company responsible, was a tiny corporation, shielding the investors from liability, that as I recall filed for bankruptcy before lawsuits were filed, leaving the injured with nothing to compensate them for their loss.  If you are going to endanger the water supply to a few hundred thousand people, shouldn't you have to have assets at risk, or and insurance company willing to protect the bystanders? Apparently not in WV. What am I doing here?  Passing through. It is between home and home.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Cool Wet Afternoon in Kentucky

It is early November in Lexington, Kentucky.  The leaves are about half off the trees and some of what is left is very pretty.  This is the front drive at Keeneland Race Course.  There was a horse auction going on.  I toured a couple of distilleries - I will post on them and their quality products soon.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Good Bourbon

The picture is the first still used by Maker's Mark.  Maker's is decent bourbon,  a little raw or bitter for my taste.    I have been to Loretto to see it made and bottled. I like select single barrel bourbon.  Most bourbon is a blend, mixing the best,  the average and the not so great for a consistent flavor profile.  Single barrel bourbon is the best,  one barrel at a time.  They tend to be older. Bourbon changes over time in the barrel.  The best get smoother, more mellow in flavor.  There are some super select blends of the finest old barrels.  There are also some double barrel bourbons that have a second aging in seasoned barrels.  I am off in search of the really good stuff.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Election Day

Time to get dressed and go vote this morning.  A Senate race and Congressional race on the ballot, both are easily predictable outcomes, but there are a lot of close races across the country.  We also have a bond issue and a State Constitutional question on the ballot.  The Bond issue is a routine transportation bond, under Virginia law the county can't sell bonds without voter approval.  The State Constitutional question I didn't know about until yesterday, it would allow a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of military personnel killed in the line of duty.  So the surviving spouse who is drawing a survivors pension for life, would get a break on property taxes - I know how I am going to vote on that one.

I have missed a couple of elections in my adult life.  I was busy and skipped a governors election in Florida one time, I spent the next four years telling myself, I can't complain about the moron governor I didn't vote for him, I didn't vote against him.  He was still a moron! I missed an election when I started working in DC and was still registered to vote in Kentucky.  I couldn't make it back there to vote, and I was not registered here. Again I lost my right to complain about the officials elected in that election.

Go vote! Earn your right to complain about our elected officials.