One of the many beautiful high-rises in downtown Louisville

 

Google “Kentucky stereotypes” and you’ll get lots of responses, few of them flattering. Those topping the list include hillbillies, moonshiners and family trees without limbs.
As a native Kentuckian I object! What’s wrong with moonshine?

In truth, Kentucky is a rather remarkle state, home to high-brow events like the Kentucky Derby, and a place where lots of things deeply rooted in the fabric of America are made. After all, where would our national pastime be without Louisville Slugger?

What you don’t know about Kentucky may surprise you.

Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth (the others being Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Originally a part of Virginia, in 1792 it became the 15th state to join the Union. Kentucky is the 37th largest state in terms of total area, the 36th largest in land area, and ranks 26th in population. It is a land with diverse environments and abundant resources, including the world’s longest cave system, Mammoth Cave National Park; the greatest length of navigable waterways and streams in the contiguous United States; and the two largest man-made lakes east of the Mississippi. Kentucky is the only state with seven other states bordering it. Only Missouri and Tennessee touch more states with 8 each.

Now for the good stuff:  BOURBON!

Maker's Mark bourbon in white oak barrels

Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Barton, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve are a few of the most popular brands and are all unique in their taste and the amount of time in which they are aged.

Bourbon, aka, “bourbon whiskey’ is America’s only native spirit and by law is aged in new white oak barrels. Scotch, Tequila, Rum and Irish Whiskey reuse these barrels once the bourbon is removed. As with French-appellation wines, there are strict laws governing just what a Bourbon must be to be labeled as such. For example, at least 51% of the grain used in making the whiskey must be corn (most distillers use 65 to 75% corn). Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of two years in new, white oak barrels that have been charred. Nothing can be added at bottling to enhance flavor, add sweetness or alter color. Though technically Bourbon can be made anywhere, Kentucky is the only state allowed to put its name on the bottle. And as Kentucky distillers are quick to point out, bourbon is not bourbon unless the label says so, and it’s even copyrighted by the state.

What’s ironic, is Bourbon County and many others where bourbon is produced, are dry counties, meaning that you can’t purchase alcohol there. I equate that with being in Chablis, or Bordeaux, France and not being allowed to buy wine, which is utterly ridiculous and the fault of the damn ‘bible thumpers’.

Yours truly standing in front of the world's largest bat

Probably everyone has heard of the famous bat, the Louisville Slugger, used world-wide particularly in Major League Baseball.  I toured the factory on my trip and even though I am not a big baseball fan, I truly enjoyed the tour and learned a few cool things about making baseball bats.

1. 80,000 trees are used every year to make the bats, and only 10% of all trees meet Louisville Slugger’s stringent quality standards.

2. The trees must be either white birch or white ash and produce 60 billets per tree.

3. Up until 1982, they could only manufacture 1 bat every 20 minutes. Thanks to advancements in manufacturing,  they literally make 1 bat every 30 seconds and produce 1.8 million bats per year!

4. The factory has multiple humidifiers hanging from the ceiling being fed by a water supply that is more pure than tap water and keeps the factory at a consistent 45% humidity. This keeps the bats from drying out and also rids the air of potential dangerous particles of saw dust.

5. Every major league ball player signs a contract stating that they will use 100-120 bats per season.

6. 400 bats are ‘hand-dipped’ in a lacquer finish every single hour, a terribly boring and monotonous job from what I saw.

7. Within the 25 minute tour, enough bats were made to stock the lineup of your favorite team 3 times over!

The atrium inside of the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum

Before beginning our tour, the guide instructed the packed group of people on the tour to remain behind the yellow lines due to OSHA regulations, and to refrain from taking pictures. Being the anarchist that I am, I kept thinking of ways I could take a picture without him seeing or maybe even jump on the lathe and fashion my own bat. Fat chance.

Before I took the tour, I had the opportunity to hold a ‘game used’ bat which Mickey Mantle had hit a home run with in 1961. This was prety cool. An attendant greeted me and instructed me to find a pair of baseball gloves that fit me. Once my hands were gloved, he grabbed the bat with his own white-gloved hands and placed it in my hands so I could pose for pictures. I truly enjoyed the experience and felt like I was holding on to a true piece of sports’ history. Any real baseball fan should have the opportunity to experience the Louisville Slugger tour, and I implored Adam to go to Louisville if only to take the tour.

Kentucky has always been known as the ‘Bluegrass State’ because of the bluish tint seen in the grass. This is due to the incredibly fertile soil which in turn also produces excellent live stock, particularly thoroughbred race horses. It’s like steroids for animals.

Calumet Farm, the most prestigious in Lexington, has produced 8 Breeder's Cup champion horses

Kentucky’s 2nd largest city, Lexington, is literally known as the horse capital of the world and when you drive through it, it’s very easy to see why. Lexington is littered with horse farms. And I’m not talking about the kind of farms with old, rusted out barns that smell like manure. The barns on these farms sometimes have marble floors and crystal chandiliers and are nicer than most people’s homes! I guess this makes sense, they house millions of dollars worth of race horses. They even have a landing strip for private jets right next door to Keeneland, the premier horse-racing track in the U.S. I’ve been told that if you came to Lexington with a suitcase full of money, you’d never be able to purchase one of these prized farms which are handed down from one generation to the next.

In front of the Belle of Louisville in downtown on the Ohio River

 

I was so thrilled to be able to return to my city of birth, Louisville, the largest city in the state. We attended my uncle’s 80th birthday party and I was so very happy I got to spend time with my extended family. It had been 8 very long years since my last visit, this due primarily to my previous career in the automotive industry. Even though I’ve lived in the Atlanta area for the majority of my life, I still ‘bleed blue’ and consider Kentucky my home.

Like Atlanta, Louisville comes complete with high-rise condos, art galleries, performing arts centers, museums, bistros and gourmet restaurants. It is a fantastic city with a huge water-front area on the Ohio River that was recently refurbished, complete with miles of walking trails and acres of new landscaping, giving this once ‘burnt out’ area of downtown a fresh look and an international appeal. The economy there, unlike most cities in the U.S. right now, is doing pretty well.

It even has a Hard Rock Cafe!

Louisville's 4th Street Live complex complete with a Hard Rock Cafe

After living in Atlanta for 32 years, I find myself missing my hometown more and more. After all, half of my family resides there and it’s a wonderful place to live.

Think I’ll have a Maker’s and water while hitting the baseball on my blue grass lawn. :)

9 Responses on “Bourbon, Bats and Bluegrass

  1. Very informative about the state of Kentucky. Great picture at Calumet horse farm with the thorouhbred horses.

  2. Awesome blog… being a faithful drinker of the Jim Beam, I can appreciate this. In fact, when they caught fire several years ago, I think I might of actually had a little tear fall down my cheek !!

  3. Wonderful article, Derek! My husband and I have been meaning to visit Kentucky but something always comes up. Well – I’m putting my foot down! I seen enought beaches to last a lifetime . . . I’m ready for something new. In 2012 we will discover bourbon, bats, & Bluegrass.

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