Monday, January 16, 2017

Birmingham, Alabama

Carl surprised me this weekend with a mini weekend getaway! I knew we were going somewhere, but he wouldn't tell me where until we were on the road. If you couldn't figure it out from the title of this post, our destination was Birmingham, Alabama!


Our first stop Saturday morning was the Barber Motorsports Museum.  They have so many motorcycles, they don't even have enough space to display them all! There was an extension to the museum opening Fall 2016, but it hadn't opened yet which was disappointing.  Anywho, the museum was full of motorcycles from when motors were just attached to bicycles until now, from a variety of makers.  We definitely plan to go back once the exhibit expansion is complete.



There is a large racetrack outside the museum, but you have to be a member of a racing club to get into it.  We cheated the system however, and sat on the lawn outside the fence of the track and enjoyed a picnic of sour gummy worms as we watched the cars zoom by.  It was interesting to watch because of the variety of cars.  Motorists drove everything from race cars to Toyota street cars!

Our next stop was SAW's Juke Joint for lunch. It was in the ritzy part of town (a part that, we later found out, is one of the richest areas in the country).  We ordered fried pickles for an appetizer as I had never eaten them before and it seemed like a southern thing to do.  Carl had a smoked chicken sandwich with homemade chips and I had a loaded "stuffed tater."  And when I say loaded, I mean loaded!  It came with the normal "stuff"- green onions, cheese, sour cream, but also came TOPPED with bacon, pork, chicken, and BBQ sauce.  I don't even think I managed to eat 1/3  of it.  It was delicious though!

After lunch we headed to meet the host of our first Airbnb experience!  Thirty-four year old Antoine lived in a two bedroom apartment down the street a ways from our lunch restaurant.  Not going to lie, I was a little apprehensive about staying with some random person, but for the sake of adventure I went with it.

The experience turned out to be a great one! Antoine was so accommodating.  When we got there he chatted our ear off for a good hour or so about everything from good places to eat to his childhood.  His apartment was adorned with photos from his own travels and adventures which were pretty impressive!  His twin sister even stopped by for a short while and talked with us as well.

In the afternoon we headed down to Railroad Park for a walk.  It was 75 degrees out and apparently everyone else had the same idea as we did as the park was packed with people!  Kids were playing, teenagers were skateboarding, college kids were walking their dogs..heck, there was even ice skating! We had finished walking around the park but were enjoying the nice day so we headed down some side streets and walked towards the University to enjoy the fresh air a little longer.



It wasn't quite dinner time, but since we knew where we wanted to eat we headed that way anyway.  We found a little brewery (Trim Tab Brewing) where Carl got a beer and I had a Mello Yellow (I'll like beer someday, I swear!) It was the perfect weather for sitting outside and discussing future travel plans ;)



For dinner we went to a taco place called Babalu Tacos and Tapas.  It was pretty good.  Our waiter accidentally gave us extra tacos, not that we were complaining!  Carl and I are definitely taco fiends; we make a point to try a taco place whenever we go somewhere.

Of course you can't go out to dinner on a trip without having dessert, so we went to a local place called Mountain Brook Creamery.  I was so excited to see that they had Superman Ice Cream, but was let down when it turned out to be just colored vanilla ice cream. We walked around the area and admired the nice store fronts and window displays before we headed to the movies.

We went and saw the movie Live by Night, which was definitely better than the ratings that Rotten Tomatoes gave it!  By the time it was over, we were both exhausted and headed back to Antoine's.  Luckily, he wasn't home (or he probably would have talked our ears off), so we went right to bed.

Sunday morning we headed home right away.  The weather was so nice we wanted to get some yard work done.  However, we both agreed that we definitely want to go back and visit B-ham again, especially since it is less than an hour and a half drive away!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Jack Daniel's Distillary

It's been awhile, but I've finally done a little adventuring worthy of a blog post!

Last Sunday was Carl's birthday, and since his parents were in town, we decided to do something fun. We drove up the back roads from northern AL through southern Tennessee to Lynchberg, TN, home of the infamous Jack Daniel's Distillery.

We did the Flight of Jack Daniel's Tour which entailed an hour and a half long guided tour of the facilities and a sampling at the end.

Our tour began on a shuttle bus, as it was "so cold" outside (and by so cold, I mean between 20 and 30 degrees).  The shuttle took us to the top of one of the hills and our guide showed us where they store the American White Oak wood used to make the barrels for aging the whiskey.  The JD Distillery is one of the only distilleries in the world that makes their own barrels. Quite a feat considering each barrel is only used once! They let the wood season outside for some time before making barrels with it.  The same area is used to handcraft the barrels and then char the insides.  They don't burn the barrels on Sundays however, so we didn't get to see that process. Fun fact: the wooden staves that the barrels are made of are not nailed together, they stay together simply by the pressure of the arrangement.  

Then we shuttled back down the hill where we were shown the cavern that extends throughout the property.  The water from the cave is iron free and is so clear and pure! They use the water for a lot of the distilling processes.  Near the opening of the cave was the little white office building where Jack once worked.  Inside that building was where he committed an act that would end up being fatal to him- he kicked a safe. (Okay, so that was a little dramatic).  When he had kicked the safe, he injured his foot. Unfortunately, he didn't get it examined until almost a year later, but by then it was too late.  He had an infection that had traveled into his blood steam and ending up killing him at the ripe old age of 60-something (I can't remember exactly!)  

The mouth of the cave with a statue of Jack in front of it. This statue is actually 7 inches taller than Jack's actual height of 5' 2".


Some more fun facts about Jack's life- the distillery was actually sold to him for like 20 bucks I believe from his pastor (minister?).  The pastor had been the one who taught Jack to make whiskey at the age of 7 or so, but when his parishioners found out about his secret hobby, they made him choose between the whiskey and the church.  He chose the church, and thus his sale to Jack.

Anyway, we then finally got to go into the distilling building where they presented to us the giant vats that held the mash. The mash is created by using a mix of grains combined with water from the cave.  From there it is fermented for about a week, and then distilled in a copper still where it becomes clear bourbon.



From there we went to the building where they do the charcoal mellowing.  The clear, 140-proof bourbon is dripped into the top of one of the 14-foot tall vats full of charcoal.  By the time it drips to the bottom of the charcoal pebbles, approximately 10 days later, the clear bourbon has become a whiskey.

The (almost) last stop of the tour was a barrel house.  Whiskey at the top of the storage area ages the best because of the temperature changes, and because heat rises.  Thus why good whiskey, especially single barrel whiskey, is called "top shelf." The JD process does not determine maturity based on age, but rather on professional tasters.  People taste the whiskey in order to determine if it is done, and if one barrel of a batch is determined "unready," the whole batch stays in the barrel house until it has matured. (I'm still trying to figure out how to become a qualified taster).

The actual last stop of our tour was the tasting!  We got to try five different Jack Daniel's products.  The first one we tasted was the Gentlemen Jack.  A fun fact about this whiskey is that it goes through the mellowing process TWICE.  Our second sample was the Jack Daniel's Old Number 7.  I've never had JD straight before and while it wasn't my favorite whiskey, it was better than I expected it to be.  The third sample was a single barrel whiskey, which again, was good, but not my favorite.  Fourth, we sampled the Jack Daniel's Honey Whiskey- now THAT was a JD whiskey I could get on board with! It’s technically more of a liquor, but regardless- delicious!  Lastly, we sampled the Jack Daniel's Fire, which was similar to Fireball, but better.

Our samplings


Now I've only toured 4 or 5 distilleries, but the JD tour was by far the best one I have been on.  (And the only one I could tell you the process of still 4 days later!) I'm still not a whiskey connoisseur but I like to think I'm on my way there!