Culture Culture on the Run

The American Whiskey Trail

Those who know me well, know that while I may be little in stature, I am large in thought and deed. And upon first glance, while it might seem out of place to find me sipping on a whiskey or bourbon at the bar, that is precisely my tipple of choice. And, being small but hardy, it’s one that suits me quite well.

It wasn’t always like this. Back in my varsity days in laid-back Cape Town, while many friends would be drinking their way through the semesters and learning the lessons that come from that specific rite of passage, I would opt for orange juice, or – gasp – water. Fast-forward to me moving to Joburg and bam, double Jack-on-the-rocks soon became my order. Over the years, I’ve switched to the likes of Maker’s Mark and Woodford, after Jack and I had one too many falling outs. But it’s still been on my bucket-list to visit the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee and, to visit a couple of the other spots in that area too. On top of that, I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville, the heart of Tennessee, and experience the sounds of the capital of country music – not so much for the country, more for the music.

So, this is what I’m doing right now. Travelling from Virginia to Tennessee to Kentucky and back to Tennessee, Nashville to be precise, to take in the whiskeys and bourbons of the area. It’s a trip arranged by the Distilled Spirits Council – people who know this route and its history superbly well.

An evening train from New York’s Penn Station took us to Washington DC on Sunday night, where we hopped a quick ride over to Virginia and made the former abode of George Washington – he who was the United States’ first president – our home for the night. We stayed in the private quarters of Mount Vernon, Washington’s family home where he retired and also where he died at the age of 67. The mansion overlooks the Potomac River and it’s one helluva view – even at night with just the moon and all those stars that you can’t see in New York shining over it. So quiet too.

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Washington, was many things – general, farmer, negotiator – but, as I learned the next day, he was also an entrepreneur. When his Scottish farm manager suggested distilling whiskey as a good use of the wheat and rye crops he had, Washington went along with the idea, and still today, production goes on at his distillery, which was restored from its original 1797 state. We tasted some of the early product, and at 80% proof, I quite liked its clean, if pungent, taste. The first whiskey tasting happened at the very civilized hour of 12:03pm, a good a time as any to begin the great American Whiskey Trail.

Number of whiskeys sampled: 1 – George Washington’s limited edition rye whiskey.

Number of samples of Peach Brandy, akin to the kind Washington and wife Martha would serve to entertain guests: 1

Number of glasses of wine consumed: 2 on the train to DC

Number of miles run: 2.5, surveying Washington’s lawns, forest, gardens and the tombs where he and his wife are laid.

Soundtrack while travelling: The Foo Fighters’ brand new record, Sonic Highways

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