In previous Anthology posts contributors pinned thoughts on all things “Party” the where’s and why’s and the how-tos. This will be nothing of the sort, for I am not given to the party the gathering or the soirée. I am a bit of a George Banks in that way Father of the Bride or even Mary Poppins “Every party has a pooper that’s why we invited you – George Banks”. It isn’t that I can’t rally and see my way through an event with actual enjoyment. I would just rather not. Imagine then my excitement when I was informed our anniversary would be spent going to parties with complete strangers! The first nugget of detail, the events we would attend were part of a Garden & Gun week. This helped, I’d at listen. The clincher…A week titled “Garden & Gun Distilled” a celebration of Kentucky bourbon, from Louisville (the town of my birth) to the bourbon hills of Bardstown, Frankfort, and Lexington areas. I was sold! Though still slightly apprehensive.

Our first outing was the opening event held primarily on the lawn of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville. Nestled quite inconspicuously into an industrial park in the Westend of Louisville, doubtful that was the case in the 1935 when it was established, the campus of Stitzel-Weller and the Garden & Gun Clubhouse are a bit of an oasis hidden amongst the common industrial park metal and cinderblock buildings. To me the simplicity of a rickhouse – completely purpose built whose primary job to wait is a thing of beauty. Uniformed in black, standing row on row at attention, giving only leave to the angel’s share as it evaporates into the heavens. And the smell – what a glorious aroma. One of our missions of the night was to meet and introduce ourselves to a couple of makers of the area we’ve been following for a little while (see this space in the future). With the accompaniment of live music in the background we mixed and mingled the lawn and the clubhouse with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and of course a sampling of Blade and Bow the Stitzel-Weller Distillery headliner. The old Fitzgerald smokestack behind us we made our way back downtown to dinner at the Gault House Hotel, a place I’ve known all my life yet had never been.

The next morning we walked the streets of Market and Main and downtown Louisville, had tacos in NuLu, and double back to a leather goods retail store, then started our pilgrimage to Frankfort. With better weather than we could’ve imagined it was a short and lovely drive from Louisville to Frankfort passing countless posts, horses, barns, and pasture grazers. After settling in our downtown Frankfort airbnb we ended the night visiting an absolutely delightful surprise – HOC: A Bourbon Library.

Day three, after visiting a coffee shop we headed south to one of the epicenters of Kentucky Bourbon, home to Buffalo Trace, Castle & Key, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Willett, and many others. This evening was to be spent at Castle & Key Distillery so that exploration would wait. Our first stop was Buffalo Trace a distillery we had visited before and where I had first experienced the aroma of the angel’s share. Our first visit went very different than this second the parking lot where we first had our choice of spaces was completely full, so to the overflow. Seeing little other option I rolled down the windows, inhaled as deeply as I could, and drove on. Stop #2 – Glenn’s Creek Distillery, to say this is a craft distillery is a bit of an understatement but this is also the perfect example of you don’t have to be large and backed by tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to turn out good product. I have sampled bottles that sell for thousands of dollars and they have little to nothing on the bottle of “OCD #5″ I purchased for $65. Stop #3 – lunch at The Stave a tiny little creek side shack on the road between distilleries. The whiskey selection is extraordinary, even for this area, but their food really is the star. We had missed breakfast by a few minutes, which was disappointing having previously enjoyied their biscuit. My preferred form of entertainment while dining here each time has been to watch the reactions of fellow patrons as they struggle to find the restroom, two doors one marked Pantry on the right and WC on the left. WC being sandwiched tightly between two chairs at opposing tables. It’s always a hoot. Stop #4 – Woodford Reserve partly from my friend telling me this is his favorite distillery. However, my main reason for wanting to visit was to hopefully get a taste of Double Double Oaked, which they had for sample but not for purchase. It’s delicious. With time running short our last stop of the day would be a quick visit to Wild Turkey Distillery, I have heard it is nice, but never been. When GPS told us to turn right into the distillery a makeshift sign told us to go left, and for just a moment I ignored said sign. After an all too quick U-turn we were heading in the direction of the sign down a quarry road. We soon drove past a tiny little house related to Wild Turkey, but did not in anyway convey “visitor center” – there might have been a sign. Upon reaching the quarry another U-turn! Somewhat disgusted I thought “let’s just go back to town”, but I was encouraged to just stop and see what was in this little shack cottage. The mostly empty parking lot didn’t help matters and someone completely ignoring that there was a parking lot had pulled their minivan almost to the front steps, which struck me as strange-er. All to be made crystal clear the second I open the door. Sitting on a barstool directly in front of us, the “house greeter” with pen in hand, Mr. Jimmy Russell! A few years ago, we went to see Steve Martin play at the Ryman Auditorium. An absolutely amazing concert made all the better when Earl Scruggs came out with his banjo to join Steve Martin and band. I had never seen Earl Scruggs play and assumed I never would, but it was a moment of absolute wonder. I had never met Jimmy Russell, did not even know who Jimmy Russell was until a few years ago, but I just assumed I would never meet the man. I didn’t enter with the need of another bottle of Rare Breed, but I left with a treasure. I later learned he carries a pen at all times. On our way back to Frankfort to change for dinner, we drove by Castle & Key and spied rows of tables resembling something of an assembly line or staging area for something to do with the distillery – certainly not a dinner.

Our last event of Garden & Gun week hosted on the grounds of Castle & Key Distillery “Rise from the Ruins” started off as we expected with a very welcoming greeting, and being directed through large double doors into the castle like building dating back to 1887. Then the expected, unexpected, we were directed down a flight of steel industrial stairs into what I can only describe as the belly of the production area of the distillery that looked like it was in use since the distilleries early days. A short walk through another set of doors lead out of the building into a sunken garden, where we were greeted with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on a sunlight drenched lawn surrounded by the fresh greenery of Spring in Kentucky. It was a lovely day tempered perfectly with the sunshine and blue skies. We sampled, talked, and worked to avoid the camera shutter. As the sun began to set we immediately realized it’s warmth was fading. Soon we were escorted down a gravel path to a small desk covered in name tags with a number on each. I quickly spotted Jen’s #7, and I thought “that’s my number! This is gonna be a good night”, but it was not to be. Upon glancing over and seeing my own name – my card was mistakenly #8. What’s going on here?!? Knowing this was a simple mistake we started searching for our table. Interestingly enough the tables were the assembly line we saw earlier in the day with the enhancement of flowers, greenery, candles, lighting, and table settings. The industrial flavor had morphed into an enchanted garden setting. The longer the search went on the more convinced I became that we were seated at separate tables, “a mix and mingle makes it more interesting” sort of thinking. I decided that I would slip out and skip the whole thing – retreat to my safe place. Eventually at a loss as to where our table was hidden I told myself “look you can talk to anyone for a few hours. Suck it up and see this thing through”. Shortly after my recommitment we located our tables, and with the greatest of relief. Jen was the
last chair of table 7 and I the first chair of table 8. I wanted to jump with joy! Once seated and introduced to our fellow guests the dinner parade began: cocktails, amuse-bouche, appetizer, cocktail, salad, wine, main course, wine, wine, cocktail, dessert, wine, and lastly an ounce’ish of the oldest barrel of bourbon Castle & Key had housed – it was sooooo nice. For all my anxiety of being separated from my safety net I spent practically the entire evening conversing with Paul from NYC, who we now refer to as “My Bourbon Buddy Paul”. Though I probably spoke fewer than 100 works to Jen the entire dinner we both had an amazing experience together and separately. This night, that I should “disappear from” was the perfect conclusion to a wonderful anniversary week.

Friday would be mostly a drive home adventure with one official stop in Berea to reconnect with a broom maker. Berea is quite a neat town primarily occupied by the college of the same name, and also the location of The Kentucky Artisan Center. We spent several hours immersed in brooms and all manner of Kentucky craft with amazing artistic and technical quality. Then, starting the feel the pull of home we headed south.

On a daily basis we live pretty charmed lives but spending a week in “heightened opportunity” left me with too much to process. It has taken weeks to more fully appreciate all that Jennefer packed into those days and nights – she is our planner.
It starts with the destination, or event, I buy in or don’t, once the “it/where” is agreed upon, she’s off to work. My only real contributions are driving, loading the car/van/truck/bike, and probably singing her crazy. This was our second anniversary in a row wandering bourbon county, I was informed next year will not be, but I have faith in Garden & Gun to deliver something she simply has to attend. As far as Garden & Gun goes, I assumed things would be interesting, what surprised me was how much I enjoyed each event and how cleaver the event staff was at taking each location and utilizing time, space, and usage in a completely unexpected way. Marvelous! Sadly, the event in Franklin was sold out or would have be attended another G&G extravaganza last week. If you get a chance – do. I will! Cheers to my Bourbon Buddy Paul, and many thanks and love to my tour guide and bride.