Thursday, December 12, 2013

{Vacation Re-cap} Kentucky Bourbon Trail 2013

This past weekend was!   We took advantage of super cheap flights to hop a short 1 hour ride to Bourbon Country.   It's something we have been wanting to do for a few years now.  Seeing our cousin (don't get it twisted: she's technically Tom's cousin but I practically grew up with her so she's my family too) Al go on a similar trip with her friends and now fiance (!) not that long ago only fueled our desire to make it a priority this year. She was super helpful in giving suggestions and we cannot wait to go back!

Unfortunately, horrible weather swept the country that weekend, but we still managed to see a few distilleries.  The ones we didn't hit (I'm looking at you Maker's Mark and Wild Turkey), are on our list for next time.

Once we landed and came out of the airport we were greeted with this:

I know.

After scraping off the snow/ice, we felt like grabbing some food, but many restaurants had closed early due to the weather. Luckily we picked a great hotel not far from the airport that had a restaurant and got there safe and sound. 

We chose the Marriott East Louisville due to it's close proximity to the interstate and because it would give me more travel points (hehe, I can't resist racking them up!).  We had no idea how perfect it would be for our stay.  It was completely decked out in Bourbon decor which made it fun, and also had decent steakhouse which we ate at that night.  However, the real win was a VERY well stocked bar.  We chose wisely.

A pic of the 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle we shared.  Tom originally ordered 2, but when he found out they were $50 EACH, he said we should share one. Ha

The next day we woke up and headed out!  We passed a Waffle House and couldn't resist stopping. It essentially gave Tom his start (he worked there in high school and in college).  I had no idea how big the pours were going to be at the distilleries, so it seemed like a good idea to go in with fully bellies.   Waffle House actually has some decent gluten free options (eggs, sausage, bacon, hashbrowns) so we ate up. We figured that it has been about 8 years since we last went there which is crazy when we think about how he basically ate there almost every day for 6 years.  I guess we needed the break!

Our fist stop was Buffalo Trace (Not technically a part of the KY Bourbon Trail due to political conflicts, but whatever).  Its the oldest continually running distillery in the country and looked it in the best possible way.  When we got inside the property (after a pretty drive) we were blown away by the property.  It gives a great first impression.

We signed up for the "Hard Hat Tour" which usually isn't free.  However, I think they were so impressed that everyone made the drive out despite the weather that they decided to not charge anything.    If you ever go to Buffalo Trace, I HIGHLY recommend this tour specifically with Freddie if you can get him.  It was an 1.5 hours and so informative and fun!  Freddie is actually 3rd or 4th generation from this distillery (through many different owners).  He really knows his stuff.   He had a great story about how his dad's dying wish was to pass down his knowledge to him (believe he ran the warehouse), so he took retirement from his job to come home and learned the ropes.

One couple had him for the regular tour last year and loved him so much, that they made sure to come back and do this tour with him. They said he was by far the best they had seen in Bourbon Country.  I am inclined to agree.

This tour took us EVERYWHERE.

We learned some fun facts:
 1. Bourbon street got it's name because this distillery once sent such a large shipment of bourbon to New Orleans, that they ran out of room and had to store some of the cases on the street with armed guards.
2. Hospitals and distilleries are the only places either sides didn't attack in the Civil and Revolutionary Wars.  They benefit both sides equally so they have a vested interest in not destroying either.
3. During Prohibition, you could only get Bourbon with prescriptions.  Therefore, EVERYONE had colds, etc so they could get scripts for "hot toddys" and the like.   Even colicky and teething babies were given scripts so they could have bourbon rubbed on their gums. Pretty sure the bourbon was for the moms and not he babies ;)

He also talked about how there were groups of men who would ride with barrels of bourbon down the river located out back and would disappear for up to two years at a time.  It took at least 7 months to travel down and then they had to travel all the way back.  That is, if they made it back.  It was an extremely dangerous job and not for the faint of heart apparently.

The grounds were amazing. It was like it's own private industrial village.   They have done a nice job of retaining some of the historic buildings and tools, but incorporating modern advances.   When we go back, I wouldn't mind checking out their historical tour or ghost tour.

It was a very interactive.  He showed us the fermentation barrels at different stages of the process.   Some of them looked to be boiling or seemed be in the process of being mixed, and he pointed out that there is no blade or motor; it's purely from the fermentation.  He also had us stick our hands in some of barrels to feel the difference in heat and in taste (Tom said it tasted like sweet beer). They also had some of the old rotting fermentation barrels hanging up from the original distillery which were a bit nerve wracking to walk under but cool nonetheless.

This part of the tour might have been my favorite.  He talked about moonshine and how, back in the day, one would go about testing different batches before they bought any.   He called one of the samples heartache and the other headache (hehe) and had us evaluate the differences using an old method: "Cup, Slap, Rub, Smell, Repeat"

You cup your hands to hold the sample, then you slap your hands together (and see the liquid evaporate which is fun), then rub, and finally smell your hands.  The first time you do this, you should be able to smell how strong the alcohol is.  Then you repeat the process all over (minus the cup part) and this time when you smell it you can smell the actual grain it came from (I believe this one was corn).  You do it a third time and then your hands smell bread.  At the end of all this, your hands are also super smooth and soft.

We finished up the tour with tastings. I loved that they paired the bourbon with chocolate.  I knew this trip was right up my alley ;)

Freddie caught on to the fact that I had a gluten problem (when he noticed me not tasting from the fermentation barrels) and basically pointed out that the longer bourbon is fermented and then separated from the grain, the better it would be for me. What this essentially means is that I need to stick to expensive bourbon ;)  Poor Tom.  I have never had trouble with bourbon so did participate in the actual tastings which was great.   He included their bourbon cream which he had us taste by itself, then taste and sample with chocolate, then taste and mix with some of their root-beer.  Needless to say, it was delicious!  We also tried Eagle Rare (which we love), Buffalo Trace (of course!), and their own Vodka which was surprisingly smooth.

During the tour he showed us the bottling shoppe and told us about Blanton's Bottles.  There are 8 different stoppers which you can collect, each with a horse in a different stage of racing.  He gave us one to take home and gave me the one ("O" how appropriate) with the whip because he said I was clearly the driver in the relationship, ha!  Everyone got a laugh out of that one.  Tom got the "S" so now we only have 6 more to go.

We had such a blast there that we said if we went home then and there, we would walk away from the trip happy.  Lucky for us, there was more to look forward too!

We hit Four Roses next which had beautiful grounds but oddly more of a Spanish Architecture thing happening.  I could see from the area it would be amazing to visit in the warmer months as it was a beautify property. The tour was closed due to the weather, but we still enjoyed hearing about the history of Four Roses and sampling three different products.

It was named Four Roses after the original owner's wife.  When he proposed to her, she didn't give him an answer right away.  She simply said he would know if her answer was yes if she showed up to a dance with a flower corsage.  He was obviously elated when she arrived guessed it: a corsage made of four roses.  He decided to name his distillery after that memory.

We also found out that it was once the most popular bourbon in the country but when Seagram's bought it, they made it an export only distillery meaning you could no longer buy their bourbon in the US.  Unfortunately, Seagram's slapped their Four Roses label on cheap bourbon and ruined their brand.  When Seagram's went bankrupt, they were able to bring their bourbon back to the US and are now steadily rectifying the situation.  They are celebrating their 125th year anniversary and we toasted to that which was fun.   Because of the weather, the shop gave us our own 125th anniversary tasting cup as a parting gift.  I loved the rose design at the bottom.  It pays to show up in bad weather!

Finally, we hit Woodford Reserve which we were super excited about.  It's one of our favorite bourbons and the actual distillery is a historical landmark.  The drive there was stunning and worth the trip in and of itself. It takes you through "horse country" and lots of windy roads.   I wish I had snapped some pics. I made up for it once on the property :)

We decided to hit their tour because we knew that Wild Turkey was completely closed and had time to kill.  Allison warned us that it was bit more "corporate" than the others.   I can definitely see what she means.  They used headsets on the tour (it's loud so they want you to be able to clearly hear the guide) and loaded us onto buses.  They even called out numbers over a mic and had us line up in this gated area which made me feel a bit like cattle.  It was a very efficient way to do a tour but wasn't very personal or interactive.  It was informative though.  I found the lobby waiting area somewhat crowded but apparently they are in the process of building it out.  Despite this, I would recommend it if only to view the property.    When we come back, we might try a historical or ghost tour here as well.

The tasting was delicious (it is Woodford after all) and included the famous Kentucky Bourbon Balls.  They had us taste the bourbon without ice, with ice and with the chocolate to pick up the differences in taste.  So yummy.  I'm definitely a bourbon on the rocks kind of girl.

Barrel Runs - still in use today!

Days after prohibition, the government showed up and demanded that they let them live on the property.   They complied....but not before ripping out the bathroom in the guest house :)

I love the storage houses. They smell amazing due to the "Angel's Share" (the bourbon that evaporates from the barrels). Woodford keeps their storage rooms at consistent temperatures so they always get a consistent product.  It also keeps them from having to rotate the barrels (higher barrels getting hotter).  They also triple distill their product which separates them from other distilleries in the area.   The guide also told us that for 8-10k you could work with the Master Distiller to blend your own Whiskey and have your own barrel.   Hmmmm....might have to get some friends on board for that one!

Once we were done tasting for the day, we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap and to recharge.  Later, we grabbed dinner at local restaurant called Mussels & Burgers and then finally saw Catching Fire (Loved it! Even better than The Hunger Games).   

A perfect end to a perfect day:  Sipping Double Barreled Woodford on the rocks while watching FSU win and securing their place in the National Championship!  Go Noles!

The next day was nice but a little frustrating.  We thought we would try to hit Maker's Mark before catching our flight back to Chicago.  We called, checked their website, and even the Kentucky Bourbon Trail website to see if there were any cancellations.  Thinking it was fine, we drove over an hour to the property in not ideal conditions only to find a crude sign on the door saying they were closed.   Bummer!   The property itself was awesome though so we will definitely be back

We decided to make the most of our last hours there, so I found a great farm to table restaurant through Yelp called "Harvest".  We decided to grab brunch and made sure to have some of their "Kentucky Wake Up" (coffee spiked with Bourbon and Chocolate Liquor I believe) to end the trip. Another wise choice.

We can't wait to go back in Spring or Summer to see even more and also hit the horse tracks!


Living Room Refresh

The rug and end tables came in that I referenced in our Thanksgiving post, so I thought I'd include a few pics!  

We adore the Moroccan rug. It's incredibly soft and we love how it along with the white end table (thanks mom and dad!) really brighten up the space.  There was a lot of BROWN going on before and this breaks it up nicely.   Tom hated our old end tables and we've been looking for new ones for some time.  We are also really happy with the rustic feel of the other one. You can't see it, but it's similar to our dining table which we keep in the "sunroom" (using that term loosely these days).

Our other rug was great - it was jute - but it was kind of blah in this room paired with dark floors, bamboo blinds and our brown couch (there is also brown tile around the fire place). At the time, it was the only thing we could afford so we went with it.

It's taken 3.5 years but our living room is almost there.  At some point I hope to reupholster my grandmother's chairs (perhaps a blue?).  It can be tempting to completely furnish your room in one go of it, but I think I prefer to slowly find pieces we love (and waiting for massive sales!) and building it out that way. Which is surprising because it's completely at odds with my impatient personality!  Our wallets thank me though :)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Its been about three or four years since we've been able to go "home" for Thanksgiving so we were very excited to spend time with family and enjoy Tom's parent's new beach house!    I failed at taking pictures, so unfortunately, don't have much to share.  However, we had a great visit!

Here are some highlights
  • Spending time with family - love them!
  • Getting fresh seafood and oysters that don't cost an arm and a leg
  • The Thanksgiving Spread - Tom's mom sure knows how to cook (including a fabulous gluten free stuffing that even Tom approved of)
  • Celebrating Tom's promotion!  I'm so proud of him and it's great that we know were we will be next year.
  • Fitting in runs almost everyday - I've been slacking on the exercise front due to work, so it's great to get back to it
  • Sleeping in
  • Getting some support while I prepare for an interview coming up in the next week. I was super nervous but it was nice to be around people that believe in you and want it for you almost as much as you do!
  • Christmas lights on the Bay (even if we were a wee bit late to see most of the boats)
  • Tom Golfing with his dad and Gabe, the girls enjoying shopping 
  • Snagging Black Friday deals and getting a rug and end table we have been eyeing for some time (and getting an additional table from mom and dad as a Christmas present)
  • Finding old family pics and laughing at everyone
The one downside is I was "glutened" pretty badly but it was my own fault.   I couldn't resist ordering french fries at a place that probably breads and fries 90% of their menu.  Lets just say that my belly was NOT happy...sigh...I'll learn one of these days.

In any case, we can't wait to go back! 

Here's a few pics that we managed to take :)

The Bonfire

Lights on the Bay after dinner (the one that glutened me actually).  This is with Kris and Gabe but John and his parents joined us too.  This is actually my family's old neighborhood and it's crazy how much it's changed since I lived there.

We also found some amazing family pictures!  Here's an oldie but goodie :

Check out this blonde haired cutie!

So many years later and still obsessed with Reese's pieces from ET

Lord of the this guy!

Hope everyone else enjoyed the holiday!


Monday, November 25, 2013

Pics from our Weekend: 11/15/2013 - 11/17/2013

This weekend was pretty wild.

It started off with a Josh Radin concert in a historic Chicago venue, the Riviera (also in the movie The Breakup).  I love that guy and as Tom said, "I could listen to him sing the phone book".  Regrettably he was only opening.  Can't wait until he comes back next year for a full concert.
Then we hit up The Green Mill another historic venue and Jazz club.  We enjoyed some bourbon and listened to a wild techno jazz crew. 

On Sunday we went to the Bears game.  It was....interesting to say the least.   We knew the weather was supposed to be bad, but you really can't turn down free Bears Tix!  It it started off incredibly warm and then a horrible storm blew by and we all evacuated the stadium into the mezzanine level.  We waited about 2 hours before it was time to go back to the game where the temp had dropped a good 20 degrees.  We enjoyed watching the game and the fact that the Bears won.  However the good feelings were short lived.   Unbeknownst to us, horrible tornadoes were sighted in the area during the game and completely devastated a few nearby towns, like Washington, IL.   Its incredibly sad.   I was thankful to be in the city where tornado generally aren't a problem.

Hope everyone else enjoyed their weekend!

Pics from our Weekend: 11/22/2013 - 11/24/2013

Tom got a great promotion at work and I am incredibly proud of him! Now we know where we will be in the next years:  we will get to stay in Chicago!!!!!

It's fantastic for many reasons and we are excited to now be able to actively plan for our future.

I took him out for sushi at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Ora.  We first stopped into In Fine Spirits for a quick wine tasting and to pick up a nice bottle to go with dinner.  After a yummy (as usual) meal, we headed towards Evanston for a night cap at one of our favorite cocktail bars, Ward Eight.

Love their Old Fashioned's!

Didn't seem right not to celebrate with champagne!

The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing, working out, and catching up with our TiVo :)   Oh! And attending my board meeting with the Condo Association:  I am now apparently the treasurer. Lord help us...

Hope everyone else enjoyed their weekend!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Anniversary: Weekend Staycation in Chicago

November 7th marked our 3 year anniversary!  Crazy how fast the time has flown.   At some point, I'll re-cap our wedding and honeymoon on here because I want to capture it as it's obviously a pretty special time in our lives.

Its been such a wild ride!  So much has happened.  During the planning process of our wedding, I started noticing things weren't right with my health.  It would take the following spring for me to finally get diagnosed with Hashimoto's and the related Gluten Intolerance after many Dr's appointments and online internet sleuthing (thank you Dr. Google!).    It has unfortunately, made up a bigger part of our married lives than I would want.   I jokingly refer to it as the "other person" in our marriage.  Its, Tom, Me & Hashi.   And lemmee tell ya, that Hashi sure is a bitch.

This is where picking a great guy to marry, comes in ;)  I am incredibly lucky to have such an amazing guy to call my husband.  I refrain from posting a sappy open letter to my husband, because those things are for him to hear anyways, and he deserves to hear how wonderful he is person.

Despite this one major negative, so many great things have happened. I've watched Tom really grow into his career and make me super proud, I've grown into mine, we've enjoyed nesting in our first home, taken the best vacation of our lives (but certainly not the last!), explored and discovered amazing finds in a city we adore, enjoyed weekend getaways, grown closer to family and friends....I could go on.

As we enjoyed our anniversary weekend, I mentioned to Tom that as happy as I was when we were new to the city and making friends, and  as great as it was to be young (er) with less responsibility, I am really happy where we are today.   I wouldn't go back.  We have so many wonderful things in store for the next year.  A lot of changes are underway and I'm super excited about them.

Now on to the weekend re-cap!

Shortly after our wedding, I accepted a position as a college recruiter which meant Falls were no longer our own.   Because of this, we have gotten pretty creative planning quality time together around this time of year. Last year, the date coincided with a California Trip so we planned a quick trip to Sonoma which was incredible.  This year, as I happened to be in town, we decided it might be fun to cash in a few hotel points and take a "stay-cation".

After sleeping in, and going to the gym, we packed up the car and headed downtown.  We took advantage of early check-in at the W Hotel (where they upgraded us to a Lake view room - score!), dropped our stuff off and headed to M Burger to fuel our afternoon of power-walking and shopping along Michigan Ave.   I was excited to see that they had a pumpkin milkshake featured so we got a small to share and were amazed by the fact that we were actually sitting outside during November!   We only drank a small amount of it, but it was yummy.  I tried their turkey burger which they wrapped in lettuce for me and Tom stuck with the double cheeseburger.  I really wished they had one near my office, because I'd eat there every day.

(photos from Google)

Even though we live in the city-limits, we don't spend a lot of time going downtown to shop.  It's easier (and truthfully, much less infuriating) to just hop in the car and go to Old Orchard. However, there is something about the city in the Fall.   It was great to people-watch, enjoy hot-chocolate, and look at things way outside our budget (I'm looking at you All Saints). I can't wait to enjoy another day on the Mag Mile when the Christmas lights come out!

When we were shopped out, we headed back to the hotel to get ready.   Tom was a genius and brought a bottle of Brut Rose Champagne, so we enjoyed a glass or two while getting ready.   Then we decided to check out the Whiskey Bar upstairs.  We weren't impressed - the layout was odd although the view was gorgeous.  I also didn't spy many whiskey cocktails which was strange.  We kept it simple and stuck to Woodford Reserve on the rocks (splash of soda water for me) and then headed out to dinner.

We chose Vera which is a Spanish wine bar in the West Loop which we have wanted to try for some time. It was perfect and we are definitely planning on coming back.  The interior was cozy and the Rose they suggested to go with our small plates was both tasty and easy on the wallet.    We started with a charterurie plate which was HUGE.    It was also a bit puzzling.  There were 3 cheeses to chose from, and 3 meats, but for $2 more you could get the "chef's selection" which was essentially...3 cheeses and 3 meats.  I asked the server if there were meats and cheese that were "off menu" and she said "nope, they essentially give you everything listed. I know, it's weird."  So we did the frugal thing and built our own :)    We had to get bacon wrapped dates because you know...bacon. We also shared a rabbit paella, chicken thigh dish, and grilled octopus.   We spied a tripe stew that looked amazing but we were too stuffed to order.  Next time.

We thought since we were in the area we could also try to get into one of our favorite cocktail bars, Aviary. However, the wait was insane and we are old, so we headed back to the hotel.

We both slept in and ordered breakfast in bed. WOW.  Room service is expensive.  I do love that the W actually has a Gluten Free section in their room service menu - it makes it so much easier!    I got berries and because I didn't see yogurt listed, order the creme brulee (it essentially egg and yogurt right?!).   Tom's leg was hurting from his run the day before so he watched the Bears while I checked out the hotel gym. I wish I would have taken a pic, because it was a seriously great view.  The treadmill overlooks the lake just like our room.

Once I was showered and we got ready, we headed to our massages at Bliss.  We each got the "Blissage  75" which is 75 minutes of heaven.  It included a paraffin wax foot massage, scalp massage and your run of the mill Swedish massage.  You could then take advantage of their aromatherapy steam showers which I was excited to try.  After that, it was time to check out of the hotel.

Luckily, we still had one more thing to look forward to:  we were finally going to try Little Goat, the new-ish restaurant from Stephanie Izzard  of Top Chef and The Girl and the Goat fame.  It was sooooooo good. It is essentially an upscale dinner with all sorts of comfort food.  The interior is awesome eclectic and retro.   I got a goat burger with a ceasar salad, Tom tried the goat chilli and the burger, and we split the smoked fries.  We also ordered the "choco taco" for dessert.   While everything I listed (beside the goat part) seems pretty normal, it was all done with a twist.  For instance, the choc taco was her interpretation of a childhood treat. It included sour cream ice cream and matzo dough fried and dipped in chocolate,    I also appreciated that they had a gluten free menu.

(Photos from google)

It was such a great weekend and I'm sad it's over.  Thankfully we have a couple of upcoming trips to look forward to before the year ends.  We are going to enjoy Thanksgiving in Panama City with family, then we are headed to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail  in December.