It’s a fourteen hour drive down to where Erica’s brother and sister-in-law live in South Carolina, so our last trip, over the Independence Day weekend, we decided to break up the return trip. We left a little early and spent the night in Asheville, NC. From what we’ve heard, and what I read on a scattering of Yelp reviews, Asheville is quite a food town. There’s Southern food, of course, but then there’s also a hearty dose of a hippie/outdoorsy vibe, so everywhere seems to have plenty of vegetarian options, local organic ingredients, and so on. A number of places we would have liked to try were closed for the holiday, but we had a great pizza and good beer at Asheville Brewing Company. And the next morning we had the best breakfast sandwiches on biscuits that I’ve ever had (that I didn’t make) at The Green Sage.
Looping back to the beer for a second: we had brought a growler of Half Acre Daisy Cutter down to South Carolina with us, and so we happened to have an empty and clean growler in the car. We figured it would be a shame to waste that opportunity and not take some Asheville Brewing beer home with us. Now, we’ve only been getting growlers of beer for the last couple of years, and only in Chicago, so we’re certainly no experts on nation-wide growler custom and/or law. In Chicago, it’s your responsibility to show up at the brewery or brew pub with a clean growler which they will then fill (Revolution gives your growler a quick rinse using the water-squirter thing, but that’s the most I’ve seen). At Asheville Brewing, they said that they wouldn’t fill our growler, but instead would trade us for a clean one of theirs. So I’m wondering if that’s just their custom or if that’s the law in North Carolina? And what do they do with the Half Acre growler we left there—do they clean it out and now some Asheville resident has Asheville Brewing beer at home in a Half Acre growler? Things I wonder.
So on Monday the 4th we woke up with an eleven hour trip back to Chicago ahead of us. I doodled around with the map and realized that it would only add an hour to our trip (plus whatever time we spent there) to stop at the Maker’s Mark distillery on our way back.
The trip was a win right from the start, because we got to take US-150, a Kentucky Scenic Byway. It’s a little silly, but we had just seen Cars a few weeks prior and had been telling ourselves that we really should try to get off the highway more often. It feels like a big commitment to do that for the entirety of a long roadtrip (though, clicking the “avoid highways” option on the Google Maps directions for Asheville to Chicago only adds 3 hours to the overall trip) but it’s good to remember that you can often just do a section of a trip that way.
We both like Maker’s Mark, which is why we wanted to visit the distillery, but I have to admit that my affection also had me a little worried. I had never visited a distillery before, but I’ve been on brewery tours and it’s always seemed that at any sort of scale brewing quickly becomes a gleaming stainless steel industrial process that, but for the requisite tasting at the end, might as well be making soda or floor wax or something.
The Maker’s Mark distillery turns out to be a delightful combination of modern technology where needed or useful and of old-fashioned hand-crafting where it isn’t. The bottling room, for example, is plenty modern and efficient (and smells heavenly) but each of those bottles really are hand-dipped in the red wax. Waste material from the distilling process goes through a modern “anaerobic engine” that produces methane that fuels the actual stills. But the vats where the fermentation takes place are huge wooden vats, open to the air, that date back in essence to the early 1800s.
In the gift shop we went, as we Gerdeses say, hog wild. We of course wax-dipped our own bottles of Maker’s Mark. And Maker’s has a new white whiskey which, when we visited, had only been available for sale for 10 days and only at the gift shop. We’ve been enjoying Death’s Door White Whisky cocktails at Watershed, so we were excited to try this raw offering from one of favorite big brands of whiskey. Maybe I can get Erica to post her Maker’s White Sour recipe.
There are five other distilleries in Kentucky who offer tours and together promote the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We’re already planning a weekend getaway to go down and finish off the trail, perhaps in conjunction with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, if we want to overload ourselves.