The Pleasant Farm

Life & Family

Wood Hat Will Do! July 14, 2017

Filed under: Trips — Jess Z. @ 10:02 pm
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It’s no secret we’ve acquired a taste for good bourbon. But it’s not just the smooth flavors that we appreciate: trips along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, and other random places we’ve tracked down have taught us so much of the back story that we appreciate each of the ones we’ve personally visited even more.

Each tour starts the same. There’s always corn, then sometimes wheat, rye, or barley. There’s a mash that goes to the still, and a point in the process where moonshine is an option to pull from the line. The differences come from how they choose their grains, what recipe is their trademark, how long they choose to leave their product in a barrel, and what shape of bottle they fill. Then there are seemingly small variations that can make a big difference, such as the amount of char in a barrel, switching barrels at a point in the aging process, or mixing two different barrels.

But the stories and history are amazing. The more we learn about how a product came to be, the more we can appreciate the pour in a glass that is no longer considered simple. And that interest in wanting to know the people and the history are what lead us to the Wood Hat in New Florence, Missouri.

Let’s backup to last November, when we went to Whiskey in the Winter with the Jacksons, held in downtown St. Louis. If you can picture a huge hotel ballroom filled with different distilleries offering tastings and stories of their product, you would probably imagine it difficult to remember anything specific. But the Wood Hat stuck out that night, and listening to that bearded man tell part of his story while wearing his handmade wood hat left a mark in our minds—especially with the Jacksons, as they develop their soon-to-be café named The Wooden Tie. See a correlation?

The Wood Hat opened in 2003 by the bearded gentleman who has chosen to take his experience in agronomy and woodworking and marry them into a dream retirement of making whiskey: choosing varieties of corn (they use locally grown white, yellow, red, and blue corn in their mash bills, with 2 acres of corn even growing right behind the distillery), cooking corn and wheat into a mash, distilling, and then holding that product in wooden barrels also acquired locally until it’s ready to be served as Wood Hat Whiskey or Bourbon. It’s an insanely intimate production line, with the same few employees handling every step of the process while also humoring the customers who step in for a glimpse of that process and a taste of the end result.

The Wood Hat used to be the only distillery in the nation that cut its own wood to provide heat to cook the mash; now they are one of 2. They do everything for their whiskey and bourbon in a relatively small building with a line of containers in the back which hold all of the barrels for aging. The barrels are chosen, bottled, labeled, and loaded onto pallets all in that building.

It’s nice to see hard-working people carefully craft a product that has the end-result of being fantastic. While we enjoyed every part of the tasting, the Wood Hat Rubenesque, a 100 proof bourbon, is definitely their crown product. And now that we know how a single man’s dream, pride in agronomy, interest in woodworking, dedication to locally sourced inputs, and skill at creating quality products can all come together in a tiny Missouri town, I am excited to pick this out of a line-up on a shelf and I also look forward to seeing them grow.



48 Hours Of Vacation May 10, 2012

2 couples, 4 friends:   Not just any friends, but the type of friends that are great to be stuck around during long car rides, messed up GPS directions (“When possible, make a legal U-turn”), and sharing a hotel room.  Not to mention sharing a hotel bathroom!  The type of friends that I don’t feel inclined to pretend around (“Oh, I’d love that restaurant” or “No, I don’t have to pee yet”).  Hands down, the best part of the trip!

Our besties =)

208 miles:  Roadage traveled from home to Osage Beach, Missouri.  And yes, I realize “roadage” is not a word although maybe it should be.

Great view, great wine, great food. Triple wammy.

4 wineries:  One on the way there, 3 on the trip back home.  Perfection would be trading 2 of the wineries for bourbon distilleries, but I’m not complaining!  (Summit Hill Winery, St. James Winery, Three Squirrels Winery, Meramec Winery)

Winery in a remodeled dairy barn? I say yes!

8 bottles of wine:  Because seriously, I’d rather buy new, yummy stuff from a random winery than buy the same-o “tried & true” bottles at the local grocery store.  Spending money on wine one way or the other, right?

Turns out, Joe likes port. Who knew!

6 margaritas:  And even if there’s certainty that there’s not hardly any tequila in the drink early on, now we know it will be found later.  Guaranteed. 

Of course we celebrated Cinco de Mayo at a Mexican restaurant. With 32 oz margaritas.

2 pedicures, 2 massages:  At a spa located on the grounds of the resort, being done by people we could actually hold a conversation with.  Score!

An outdoor wedding reception we enjoyed from a distance.

200 rounds:  Shot of pistol ammo.  That’s from 1 Beretta and 1 Glock, and roughly 2 hours of amusement for men while their wives are being pampered at a spa.  Works for me!

Panoramic view from our hotel room. Sweeeet.

71 ounces:  Amount of pumped breastmilk.  I am 100% positive Trent does not partake of that much in a 48-hour period, but I usually figure might as well take what I can get.  That’s 8.8 cups, 2.1 liters, or 142 tablespoons.  Just call me Bessie and toss me some hay.


110 outlet stores:  At least, there were 110 available.  No, we didn’t conquer 110.  That might require its own 48 hour trip, but I’m willing to accept the challenge someday.

Clever idea for used wine corks… landscaping mulch!

3 smartphones:  One for navigation, one for music, one googling more info along the way.  And as for me, sans-smartphone?  Time to catch up on my stack of magazines!

Mary, I had to include this pic… that is an impossibly adorable baby bump!

15 minutes:  The recommended limit to sit in the hot tub.  Who sits for only 15 minutes when not sharing the space with any awkward strangers?

Meramec Winery in St. James, MO

14,589 steps:  Approximate number of steps within the Tan-Tar-A Resort.  Actually, it may be more.  It’s a neat place, but has an extraordinarily confusing layout that I think anyone with experience in architecture gave up on long ago.  I can’t even put into words all the diagonal walls, misleading stairways, nooks for nothing… for example, we had to wander up short flights of stairs and then take another stairway down to get to our room’s floor.  Weird.

And let’s not leave out the 34 weeks along that Mary was at the time or the 1 Frank who apparently hates his life, hates his job, and hates “making this trip 500 times.”  Maybe the front desk at the resort isn’t for you?

Oh Frank.


What You Need & What You Don’t January 2, 2012

Filed under: Trips — Jess Z. @ 11:07 am
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Holy cats, how time flies!  At this time last year, Todd & I were packing for our honeymoon in Punta Cana– a gorgeous, relaxing honeymoon during which we discovered that we were expecting a baby (CLICK HERE for that blog post).  Now it’s a year later and Trent is the center of our universe and we can’t imagine life any other way.  After we returned last January, I typed up this blog but chose not to post it.  Then a friend with travel plans to the Caribbean randomly asked me what I wish I’d packed for our honeymoon but didn’t, or things I’d packed and didn’t need.  I vaguely recalled having this post typed up but couldn’t really remember what I’d even written!  So Angie, this is for you.

If I was leaving for the Caribbean again next week, I’d pack a little differently.

Need:  General hygiene products.

Don’t Need:  Hair straightener.  Turns out my bedhead-y hair picks up more volume without a blow dryer and with texturizer from the ocean rather than a bottle. 

Need:  Swimsuit.

Don’t Need:  Variety of bras.  Who needs bras when you have swimsuits?

Need:  Flip-flops.

Don’t Need:  Heels.  No reason to wear heels when you can wear flip-flops instead… or beat them both, and go barefoot.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do!

Need:  Chapstick.

Don’t Need:  Makeup.  If I’m in a swimsuit and flip-flops, with crazy hair… why even bother with makeup?  Chapstick, on the other hand, is a necessity at all times in all places.

Need:  A source for the time.

Don’t Need:  Cell phone.  Strangely enough, we got used to not checking our phones fairly quickly.  But we figured out just as quickly that neither of us wears a watch because we’re so durn used to checking our phones!  Our honeymoon suite didn’t even have a clock.  Luckily, my iPod not only had a clock, but I could specifically add the Dominican Republic current time.  Problem solved!

Todd & I were married in the month of September but chose not to honeymoon because we’d waste the perfect Illinois weather; rather, we honeymooned in January when the weather is generally nasty here in the Midwest.  We felt a sense of success when we read online about the snowstorms while we were gone!  Now this year, I missed out on the perfect September weather being cooped up in the house with a newborn– and we will be here for every wonderful, winter-advisory day of January.  For all of you lucky enough to be heading somewhere, I am with you in spirit.  Send some sunshine my way!

This is the picture we snapped after reading the positive pregnancy test ridiculously early in the morning =)



A Fairy Tale January 14, 2011

Filed under: Trips — Jess Z. @ 3:03 pm
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Once upon a time in the land of everyday fairy tales, a stunning chap named Todd & an average gal named Jessica got married.  Since their fairytale wedding was during a fairytale time of year which they both enjoyed their Midwestern weather, they decided to book their romantic honeymoon for a time of year they both despised–

January.  (cue evil music)

The despised time of year eventually came around; the no-longer-quite-newlyweds hitched a ride to the airport in the middle of the night and off they flew, far far away to a land of sunshine, beaches, and those cute drinks with umbrellas in them that even real men will carry around while in the Caribbean.

After a 3 1/2 hour flight of uncomfortable snoozing, down came the plane in that land far, far away.  And what did Todd & Jess first notice at this airy, foreign airport?

Fire trucks!  Ambulances!

They also noticed a warm breeze, polite “Holas”, and fellow travelers trying to shed as many layers as possible without inducing embarrassment to themselves or discomfort for everyone else.

From the airport, they boarded a beautiful horse-drawn carriage which would carry them to their awaiting resort.

(And by beautiful horse-drawn carriage, I mean a shady van with a questionable aroma, complete with no less than 6 air freshener trees hanging from the rearview mirror, and a driver who drove us to the resort as if he was being clocked for a fantastic cash prize; which resulted in a new aroma coming from our pants and a newfound thanksgiving for being alive.)

Upon careful dismount from the beautiful carriage, the not-so-newlyweds were welcomed into the lobby of their temporary casa at Ocean Blue & Sand in Punta Cana.  There may not be walls, there may be lots of free-fly birds, but there was not bird shit!  Ole!

With a slushy blue drink in their hands, complete with requisite umbrella, the couple was tagged with “Privilege” bracelets to denote their VIP status and began their introductory tours.

The couple was led to their room by a quiet fellow named Luis, and found a 2-story haven with jacuzzi, outdoor shower, 2 televisions, patio, and a never-empty assortment of liquor.

Luckily, you need not be fresh off Wedding Planning Hell to acquire Honeymoon Suite Bliss.

The view from the patio revealed two pools in various shades of royal blue, palm trees blowing in a salty breeze, and a turquoise ocean reaching forever into the horizon.

Todd & Jess, looking down over their VIP-upturned-noses, agreed that this view shall suffice.

On their first romantic evening in fairyland, the not-so-newlywed-couple enjoyed a dinner for two, a leisurely walk on the moon-lit beach, and Dominican Rum from the wet bar.

The sun rose warm on their first morning awaking in Punta Cana.  Reading on the patio was complicated by distractions of inviting pools.

After a breakfast served in the Privilege Lounge, a trip to the resort gym, and relaxing shower, Todd & Jessica wandered down to the oceanfront to dip their toes into the water of the Caribbean.  The shades of aqua and turquoise intermingled in the light of the sun, prompting dozens of repetitious pictures that ended up all looking the same… only different.


The beach stretched infinitely in either direction, connecting resort visitors with the locals and lending itself to the literal “long walks on the beach.”  Many locals set-up kiosk-like shops where they sold cigars, liquor, and corny tourist memories along with offering henna tattoos and hair braiding.

Those used to sheltered lives surrounded by only their own native language, such as the not-so-newlyweds, found it best to avoid eye contact and walk faster when these loud “salesmen” aggressively approached them with hopes of making a deal.


The tall, dark, and handsome groom found his chance to work on the “dark” part of his princely title.


As privileged visitors lounging on the Privileged Only beach, a friendly server came around ensuring that the not-so-newlyweds always had an umbrella-clad drink in at least one, if not both, of their hands.

While resting poolside, unusually tan folks could be observed carefully sunning, applying, turning, and visiting the swim-up bar.  On the other hand, the beach offered views of sailboats, parasailors, and passersby that would sometimes be implementing the topless route of avoiding tan lines.

Both bride & groom had reasons for preferring the ocean view; Jessica prefered the former description, and Todd the latter.

On their second evening in their fairytale, the couple enjoyed a steakhouse dinner at Le Bodegon then visited the lobby bar for cocktails.  Let it be noted that this would be the only night Jessica would methodically straighten her hair and apply make-up and jewelry, as it took only one night of such unnecessaries to break her usual “being seen in public” habits.

Upon seeing straightened hair as opposed to crazy hair affected by sun & salt, Todd remarked “My Jessica is back!” but never opposed breaking the habit anyway.  What a good man.

Tuesday morning began with a sluggish potty break which remained Jessica’s routine, and the morning then continued when it was noted that the sun would soon be rising over the ocean.  Off the not-so-newlywed-couple went towards the beach to hopefully witness the surely-romantic sunrise.

There were clouds…

… there were gusts…

… there was beauty…

…and there was love.

Daily activities were set on Relaxed Repeat, with dips in the pools and ocean, naps on the beach, the obvious routines of breakfast, lunch, & dinner and the guilty-conscious gym visits.

The ocean continued to beg for more pictures that just might turn out better one day than they had the last.

Although each days’ shots never really changed.

People-watching never got old, and filled any lack of conversation caused by unusual amounts of time spent together which the not-so-newlyweds had never really experienced.

The foreign landscape and the bright shining thing in the sky, which Illinois had lost, encouraged picture, after picture, after picture.

The sun never tries too hard to hide from the Dominican Republic.

Walks along the beach coaxed activity otherwise sequestered by sun-bathing and napping.

Case in point: Sunbathing…

… and napping.  Not listed anywhere as calorie-busting activities.

(It was checked.)

As the not-so-newlyweds honeymoon began to wind to a close, they enjoyed a final evening in their fairytale with an elegant dinner on the beach.

During a rainstorm.

Regardless of the harmless drizzle, the couple stayed dry, the wine stayed delicious, and the food found new taste buds.

The couple awoke on the final morning still enjoying their fairytale routine: a warm sun cresting over the ocean, fluffy pillows on a canopy bed, delicious omelets served with uber-fresh orange juice.

Then, their fairytale began to end; packing belongings, returning room keys, swiping one more early morning cocktail, a frightening bus race to the airport.

The not-so-newlywed-couple knew, as they watched their beach fade in the distance, that they were leaving behind that big warm sun, salty breezes, and privilege status.

But really, leaving behind a Caribbean island is not an end to this fairytale. 

Tall, darker, and handsome Todd and still-average Jessica have the fairytale of a life together that has no ending in sight!


Hollywood With A Touch Of Twang September 16, 2010

Filed under: Trips — Jess Z. @ 11:08 pm

Whether you call it Nashvegas, Music City, or Hollywood with a touch a twang, Nashville is a trip worth taking.  Plus it’s only 4 and 1/2 hours from home, which gives me enough time for a nap but not so much time on the road that I get stir-crazy.

Since our honeymoon to Punta Cana isn’t until January (I’ll be packing swimsuits and flip-flops while all of you are digging out your flannel-lined jeans… I know you’ve got a pair too!) Todd & I decided to run off to Nashville the weekend after our wedding to relax and get away.  We conned our good friends/neighbors/travelling buddies into going with us.  Hey, every girl needs a dancing partner and I knew Todd wouldn’t pack his dancing shoes!

After a late Friday night arrival, Saturday morning got started with a handful of flyers from the hotel, fully charged camera batteries, and our friend Mr. Garmin.  When we arrived in downtown Nashville, we realized that the rest of the city must enjoy sleeping in on their Saturdays– which meant plenty of parking spots for us.

Would anybody like to buy me some tickets to the Bridgestone Arena when the CMA Awards come there in November?



Well fine then.  On this particular night, George Strait & Reba would be in concert there.  We kept our eyes and ears open for any last-minute ticket deals, but to no avail.

Our first stop was the Ryman Auditorium, which was built in 1892 as a church.  Under some impressive female management, it held the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974 and hosted all the great artists of the time.  It’s still functioning as a concert hall today.

With its wooden pews and stained glass windows, it’s no secret where this building’s roots are.  Trisha Yearwood taught us in an introductory tour video that the Ryman has the second most perfect acoustics in the world, making its acoustics better than Carnegie Hall.  Only the Mormon Tabernacle Choir can boast to be better.

We had free reign of the place, with the chance to wander wherever and check out the exhibits at our own pace.  Here’s outfits from Johnny & June.

We had the opportunity to get on stage and have our picture taken, but why wait in line and pay for a picture when you’re travelling with your very own photographer?

Or, at least when you’re travelling with me.

The balcony seats are said to be the best in the house.

Joe swears he’ll have these seats for a concert one day.  I hope he gets tickets for me!

You hear that, Joe?

Luckily, Todd loves to read about history and gave the rest of us his Cliff’s Notes… since the rest of us didn’t have the patience to read everything posted on the wall.  The Ryman found these pink tulips painted along the edge of the balcony after they took off layer upon layer of more recent decor.  As the original decoration, they decided to leave it.

There are autographed posters on the wall from the artists who have performed there.

I’ll take a Miranda Lambert, please.

The Ryman then…

… the Ryman now.  The church roots are still there.

Broadway is a very neat street.  There’s the requisite saloon after saloon, but also gift shops slipped in there too.  Which means shopping without the guys getting the hint!  There was a college football game in town that day with LSU against Vanderbilt, and seeing all the LSU-ers wandering the street gave me bad memories of when I was at the Sugar Bowl in N’awlins.  My Illini were playing LSU, and all the LSU-ers screamed bloody murder at us, Tiger Bait!  Tiger Bait! 

I dislike you, Tigers.

This is where I’m headed to first when I make my next trip to Nashville.  This wonderful boot shop has a special “Buy One Pair, Get Two Pairs Free!” deal.

How did we leave without 3 pairs?

Why did we let that happen?

I will have to redeem myself next time!

After reclaiming the car from the ticking parking meter, we started to head to our next destination: the Country Music Hall of Fame.  By the time Todd tapped our destination into Mr. Garmin, we found out we needed to make a big U-turn and go exactly where we left from… but a block over.  The good news is we ended up in a free parking lot right next to the Hall of Fame.  And no one will argue with free.

I love the ole’ “Turn and wave, boys!”

They listen well.

We visited the Hall of Fame on September 11th.  And on display was an enlarged copy of Alan Jackson’s original handwritten lyrics to his song “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning.”  What a great reminder.

Throughout the museum are tall tubes where you can circle around and listen to specific songs for the era on display.  Here’s Todd & I showcasing “Together Again”.

This is a lot of hit records.

And this is many, many more hit records.  About 3 stories more.

After learning about country music through the years, Jason Aldean’s Wrangler jeans, Elvis’ gold Cadillac, and Tammy Wynette’s wig collection, we ended up in the actual Hall of Fame.  Circling around the top near the dome are the words “Will the Circle be Unbroken”, the unofficial anthem of the museum.

We had to break it gently to Joe that Taylor Swift was not yet a member of the Hall of Fame.

Todd & Joe were ready to swipe this Nashville fire engine and take it for their own little tour of Nashville.

Luckily, Mary & I came prepared to intervene such crazy, testosterone-driven ideas.

These two don’t get sick of pictures together.


On our way to the next stop, Belle Meade Plantation, a thunderstorm snuck up on us.  Luckily, it hit while we were in the car and decided to be done by the time we were parked at the plantation.  Also in our favor, the rain scattered the people around who were visiting for a Fall Festival, and we managed to sneak in for free!

Again, free is always good.

Yes please!

The Muscadine variety of grape used in a lot of Tennessee wines is one I’m not too familiar with.

But we’re becoming best of friends.

This is the slave cabin that has been preserved on the grounds.

And here’s the dairy barn.

Now, I’m a big fan of dairy cattle.  Let it be known.  But even I am very aware of the fact that the dairy cattle had better quarters than the slaves, which is a sad reminder of the way things used to be.

The mansion here is supposedly one of “America’s Grandest Mansions.”  Granted, we were unable to tour the inside (even with Todd’s good looks and Joe’s charm), but I still can’t see this house competing with anything like the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, NC.

Just sayin’.

Don’t we make a cute couple?

Clearly the Oakley sunglasses are not meant to be part of the 1800’s reglia.  Just in case you got confused.

Would you believe that even with all we’d seen and done, we were able to sneak in naptime before heading out for dinner and dancing?  Well we did!

And I snuck a shower too.  The surprise rainstorm wreaked havoc with my hair.

Without a clear destination in mind, we ended up at the Wildhorse Saloon.  The $5 cover charge put a bad taste in my mouth, but I managed to swallow it.  Turns out, we hit the jackpot with our random choice.  Not only did we get seated immediately, have a great waitress, and got great food, we also got seats right by the dance floor and stage.  Initially we weren’t sure whether or not there would be live music, but our waitress clued us in that Brother Trouble would be performing that night.

Brother Trouble is a group led by 2 brothers (shocker!) who recently won some contest sponsored by Kenny Chesney.  They also signed a record deal, and told us they’d be on the radio by the end of the month.

You want me to burn you their CD.  Trust me.

They played great original music, performed awesome covers, and were pretty much hilarious on top of it all.

They autographed the CD we bought with “To Todd & Jess.  Y’all rock.”

They called the addition of sombreros their “wardrobe change.”

With Brother Trouble rocking the stage, the dance floor was hopping.  There was a line dance for every song, some of which Mary & I were able to do and others that we had no hope.  This guy was a Line Dance Allstar, and he was the one to watch and learn from.

At 8:30, the band took a break and a couple of Wildhorse Saloon Gals got on stage to teach a line dance.  Finally, something at my pace!  Mary & I took advantage of the lesson, which you can tell by this picture took a lot of concentration.

But don’t go thinkin’ that the guys weren’t having a hip-smacking good time too!  I think they had a blast with their prime people-watching position.

Until I can get back, I guess I’ll just keep wearing out my Brother Trouble CD and my new dance steps.

But with all the ruckus of a live band, flooded dance floor, and 3 stories of an ex-warehouse full of people, there was still love in the air.

Their slow dance was sweet until Mary made mention of a certain fella with a mullet and New Balance tennis shoes.

Then Joe looked down at his own New Balance tennis shoes, and evacuated the dance floor.

It’s okay Joe.  At least you don’t have a mullet… yet!

We decided to hit Broadway at about the same time all the football spectators and George Strait fans did, and the street was a tad busy.  Most saloons had lines snaked out onto the sidewalk so we started walking, once again without a clear destination.

We ended up on the street parallel to the Cumberland River, which we expected to be bustling.  Turns out, this street was the backside to all the venues that were hopping on the other side.  Basically, it was a tad shady.

Not the place to hang around without a destination.

Which is how we ended up coming through the back side into the famous Coyote Ugly.  After about 120 seconds, it was clear that Coyote Ugly was not the destination we had in mind and we made our exit through the front side.

Back on Broadway, we had a new realization: that we were all tired and ready to get back to the hotel.  But there is one must before bedtime– ice cream.  We made a stop at an ice cream place conveniently located on Broadway before hitting the proverbial hay.

After a night of blissful sleep, I awoke on Sunday morning and came out of the bedroom to find Mary, Joe, & Todd all lined up on the pull-out sofa.


It was time to say goodbye to Nashville!

But wait!  There’s more!

Before crossing back over the Tennessee state line, we stopped at Beachaven winery in Clarksville.  Unfortunately, they were first going to open at noon which meant we had some time to kill.

So we lined up on a small bench to patiently wait for the lady to unlock the door.


Anyway, the winery was nice and the wine was even nicer.  After the purchase of 3 bottles, we totalled 7 bottles making the trip home with us.  Hey, we’ve got a large wine buffet to fill!

We made one last stop (okay, one last stop not counting pee stops) to eat lunch at the infamous Patti’s in Grand Rivers, Kentucky.  While Joe & Mary enjoyed their multiple inches of pork chop, I had cajun shrimp and Todd stuck with a steak.  There’s just something about consuming a 2 inch tall pork chop that doesn’t sound too appetizing to me.

Travelling with Todd is probably pretty similar to traveling with a child.  And he wonders why I have so many silly pictures of him doing silly things.

So who’s ready to go to Nashville?

‘Cause you better be taking me with you!  I could use a little more twang!


Destination: State Fair August 24, 2010

Filed under: Trips — Jess Z. @ 7:00 am

Once upon a time, Springfield was a far, far-away city full of animals in barns, people selling interesting junk, freebies, and any food item offered both fried and on a stick.

Destination: Illinois State Fair.

The whole family would pile in the minivan at the crack of dawn and head north for a day of fun at the fair.  Back then at least one of us girls (if not all of us) had a 4-H project we were expected to display at the Illinois State Fair, and the rest of the day was spent people-watching (we were sheltered from the crazies back then) and seeing how much free crap we could stuff in our plastic bags that were handed out in the Geriatric Building.

Back then, I also thought Springfield was an 8 hour trip requiring bathroom breaks and on-the-road snacks.  I never forgot my pillow and DiscMan.

During college, the Illinois State Fair was my place of residence for roughly 10 days during August.  As part of the Illini Dairy Club, I’d help take care of the showstring, run the Milk-A-Cow Booth, and sleep in the barns.  The fairgrounds went from being a nearly-imagined place from my youth to a place where I knew the location of every clean bathroom and which stand had the best breakfast.

Now adays, I’m back to making an annual Illinois State Fair trip with the Young Farmer group, a committee within the Madison County Farm Bureau.  We comprise a couple 4-man teams to compete in the Agri-Quiz Bowl and then run a pedal tractor pull competition for kids.  In between, I get the chance to stuff plastic bags full of free stuff and eat some junk.

This year, we were a question or two away from making it into the final round.  Dagnabbit.

Here’s the whole group posing with some of our pedal tractors.  Yes yes yes, I’m on a John Deere.  Shut up about it already!  It didn’t contaminate my blood!

Hands off ladies, he’s mine!  Poor guy volunteered to round out the quiz bowl team and help out at the pedal pull, then spent the 2 days prior in the sun working on our roof.  If I’d given him the option to back out, he might have… but I won him over with the promise of a nice meal at Hooters before springing Springfield.

The pedal pull is quite the event.  This pavilion was empty when we came in to start setting up, and people just flock to us.  And these people are crazy over supporting their kids’ pedal-pull careers.  Since the rule is anyone can pull under 80 pounds, there’s parents who won’t let their kids eat lunch on the day of the pull just to keep them at that precious 79 pound range– big enough to be the biggest in the class, not so big that we have to turn them down.  And that’s just one example of the craziness.  But we have fun, and we still haven’t followed through on the idea to keep parents under control with electric fencing.

It’s definitely been discussed.  Multiple times.

A trip to the Illinois State Fair wouldn’t be complete without taking the time to respect the butter cow.  Pounds and pounds of butter sculpted into a masterpiece– a state fair tradition.

Let’s backtrack to the childhood years, when we would beg and plead our parents to let us ride the Sky Tram.  It didn’t happen every year, but every now and then our desperate prayers would be answered.  And then I’d spend the next 10 minutes on the ride with my eyes squeezed shut, frantic to not lose a flip-flop, and measuring every inch of sway the car made.  Fast foward to today: there ain’t no way I’m paying that much money for a stupid, slow-paced ride that will still scare me to death.  But to my parents, thanks for the memories!

While Todd actually worked for an Army t-shirt (and they tried to talk him into being added to the Army mailing list), we came home with a decent amount of other grub.  A jar opener, bag clip, bandaid holder, honey candy for Jenny, and the precious test results that my cholesterol is still sky-high and Todd’s body fat is 8%.

Well, it was before a day of fair food, ice cream, and Hooters!


Kentucky Bourbon Trail July 8, 2010

Filed under: Trips — Jess Z. @ 7:00 am

Around here, wine trails are pretty popular.  There’s areas where you can spend a day or a weekend hopping from winery to winery, touring the vineyards and tasting wine.  And in Kentucky, you can do the same thing… with bourbon.

Believe me, I enjoy wine.  But I’m also a big fan of whiskey and bourbon, so this “trail” idea sure sounded good!

As Todd & I travelled towards West Virginia with the Jacksons for our white water rafting trip, we made a stop in Lexington to visit Buffalo Trace Distillery.

We caught up with the last tour of the day to watch a video and meet our tour guide.  The video talked about the process of distilling bourbon and our guide stressed the differences between whiskey and bourbon.  All bourbon is a whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.  In order to be bourbon, the whiskey must be distilled from grain mash containing 51% corn and aged at least two years in a new, oak barrel.  After these brand new barrels have been used once to make bourbon, they cannot be used to make bourbon again.  Instead these barrels go towards other industries, and can be used for wine, pickles, and so on.  Or whiskey!

This is one of the warehouses where the bourbon is stored in barrels.  Depending on the specific bourbon, they are aged for anywhere from 8 years to no longer than 23 years.  If they make a small batch of something new and taste testers love it, it takes a full decade to make more of that product.

These warehouses are pivotal in the bourbon process.  Built in 1881, the windows are opened during the summer and closed during the winter.  The 4 distinct seasons that Kentucky experiences are Mother Nature’s gift to bourbon– they perfectly pull the bourbon in and out of the charred white oak barrels, giving it color and taste.

As the barrels pull the bourbon in and out, some evaporation naturally occurs.  They call this the “Angel’s Share”, and everywhere on this property has the sweet smell of bourbon from the share that seeps out of the barrels.  It really did smell like heaven!  Todd remembers them saying that they have 300,000 barrels in this warehouse alone.

Each barrel is marked with a specific label and the Buffalo Trace logo.  Smile, Jacksons!

Look!  An angel coming for his share!

The grounds were really neat and well taken care of.  Apparently Buffalo Trace was one of 4 distilleries that remained operative during prohibition.  As to why they were allowed to continue, I’m not sure… maybe the politicians still needed their booze.

A beautiful bourbon display!

After we toured the bottling building, we ended the tour in the tasting room.  First we tasted Moon Dog, which is more or less moonshine; the first ingredient in bourbon.  When you drink it, it heats everything up as it goes.  My belly was warm, then my hands, then my feet!  It doesn’t taste like anything but BURN.  After that, I know we tried about 4 other things… but what they were, I can’t even tell you. 

The benefit of bourbon tasting with someone who doesn’t care for it?  You get your taste, and theirs! 

The downfall of bourbon tasting with someone who doesn’t care for it?  Things get a little giggly and blurry.  I do remember the bourbon balls being quite delicious, so I bought a box.

Todd & I with the Buffalo Trace mascot.

As we headed homeward from West Virginia, we crisscrossed through Kentucky to hit up some more bourbon distilleries.  Apparently I haven’t done much wandering around Kentucky before– I couldn’t believe all the fence these crazy horse people put up!  And did you know, they mow their pastures?  I think the acres of pasture are more for show than a feedstuff.  It was many, many miles before we even saw a horse.  I guess it was too hot to bring the fancy horses out of their air conditioned stables.

Outside of Versailles, KY is the Woodford Reserve Distillery.  We weren’t able to catch a tour, but we browsed the gift shop and visited the tasting bar.  This stuff is pretty pricey, but pretty tasty!

Next up was Four Roses Distillery, where I bought myself a bottle of Small Batch Bourbon.  Again we completely missed any tour, so we browsed the gift shop and got back on the road.

Our last stop before finishing the trip towards home was Wild Turkey, near Lawrenceburg KY.  Did you know that Kentucky is the only state that passed legislature allowing bourbon manufacturers to list “Kentucky” on their labels?

Wild Todd on a Wild Turkey!

There are 3 other distilleries officially on the “Bourbon Trail” and probably some other worthy stops in the area, so we’ll have to make a weekend trip back to Kentucky to finish everywhere we missed.  The history these distilleries have is really interesting, and the landscape is obviously beautiful.  I guess I can be forced to go and finish the trail!