I Found Santa

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For many years, it was a goofy tradition but one that we lost possibly due to disinterest, being busy, or… heck?  Where’s Santa?

Rescued from maw of the unyielding “junk drawer of all idle things,” he deserved a more comfortable rest.

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And, so it begins, where I place Santa someplace for my wife to find him, then it’s her turn, etc. 

Well, here he is in action. Hanging out in the jewelry cabinet, likely to be opened soon for a planning evening out.

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Hard to miss this one.

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Or this one.

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Sometimes, he has a challenge of finding his balance, but he manages.

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Knowing your spouse’s tendencies can help.

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Or staying current with illness symptoms.

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Sometimes, there’s humor, such as a Santa holding a bell pointing to a bigger one.

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Here, Santa is about to be squashed under a recently arrived package from the Big River that 1) has supplanted his sleigh and 2) will need to be opened as it contains a present.  Poor Santa.  He looks a little concerned, frankly.  As he should, after having spent two days in the fridge.

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After such a crushing experience… things don’t get better.

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He’s very pliable in doing what we want him to do, at least.

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Christmas comes and goes, and so Santa is once again placed in the maw, although one not quite so deep.

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There is a Mrs. Claus as well, whereabouts unknown.

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Yazoo Brewing – Nashville, TN

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Finding myself in Nashville on a Wednesday night without work related obligations, I sorted through my brewery options.  There’s quite a number, and many look interesting.

However, the one that was open on a Wednesday was Yazoo Brewing, a mainstay of the area.

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The Taproom is open 4 hours and advertised a tour.  I arrived to find only about 10 people, but the crowd grew in size later while I was on the tour.

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While waiting for the tour to begin, I first sampled for a full pint of their Hop Project, aptly titled as they change the hop variety with each batch.  This was an adequate IPA and one that left me wondering if they just tweak the formula or if earlier generations were significantly better.  A drinkable beer but a disappointment to begin the tasting.

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I can’t think of another brewery where pints are served per drink and they charge for a tour.  In my experience, tours are either free or there is a charge which includes a pint glass and tickets or other allotment to a certain volume of beer.

In any case, $8 bought the tour, which included a small snifter, an unusual choice for a brewery that doesn’t delve deeply into Belgians or advanced hops.

During the tour, three beers were provided, poured from  growlers that the guide brought with him.  Below is their Pale Ale, aptly named and a decent beer for the style.  The “founding” was told, from home brew, to hard work, to good timing, to decent market share in Nashville, with a distribution into MS.  Still, it seems like Yazoo Brewing belongs in Mississippi… It annoys me in the way that Jekyll Brewing in suburban Atlanta should be located on Jekyll Island in southeast Georgia.  Still, if it means something to the owner… then there it is.

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Samples also included the Dos Perros, with Mexican influences including maize.  No thank you.  Also provided was their Hefeweizen, a style that I avoid but was actually very drinkable for the style.

As usual, there’s not much to see in the brewery.  Stainless steel tanks, with the basic gist of what happens in each.

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A little detour from the usual was one of the patrons who observed that the bottles were exiting the bottling machine without their caps on.  This is a problem.  The idea is that you want to pour the beer and immediately cap the bottle to prevent contamination.  So, for whatever reason, a dozen or so bottles emerged before they could halt the line.

What that means for a tour group is the result:  More free beer!  This was their Winter Scottish Ale, which was a fine mild beer but nothing remarkable.

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Here’s what happens to those bottles that don’t get capped properly.  Out they go into the drain.  (So they may as well be handed out, eh?)

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Somewhat perturbed not to find a remarkable beer, I asked one of the bar tenders what she felt was their best… and received their Sly Rye Porter.  This was slightly more spicy than I had expected and lacked the richness I had hoped for.  Again, not a miss, but not a hit, either. 

That’s the fun about all these craft beers.  Everyone is entitled to their opinions.  Yazoo, named for a river in Mississippi where the owner had lived, obviously has their following.  For me, it was just a miss of my favored styles and a sameness that either doesn’t differentiate from other breweries or, when it does, doesn’t help.  The Hefe, though, was good.

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My Car Hood Needed Repainting

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So, I’m driving along on a Saturday night, on a divided highway with three lanes going each way.  There’s plenty of cars.  In fact, I’m in the middle lane, and having just left a stop light, the car to my left is slightly ahead, and the car to my right is slightly behind.  We’re up to about 40 mph, which is legal.

WHAM!

There was the briefest observation of a deer head illuminated by my front left headlight, followed by a loud noise and a pretty hefty bump as the left side of my car lifted but didn’t quite get airborne.  Oh, and there’s that airbag in my chest along with the wonderful odor of the gases and particulates that inflated it.  For a system that triggers and activates in 1/25th of a second, I guess I shouldn’t complain. 

I’ve long prepared myself mentally that should “something” happen while driving, my first priority, assuming I’m alive, is to maintain my lane and not make matters worse by overreacting.  Health systems seemed fine; in fact, if the collision caused my body to move forward, as physics suggest that I should, I wasn’t aware of it.  Maybe the airbag did the trick, but there was nothing in the event that spoke of a real disruption to my control over the vehicle or risk of harm.  From the vehicle standpoint, the immediate good news was that everything seemed to be working – steering and brakes, particularly.

The car to my left speeds on, having just missed the deer (or vice versa) and is the lottery winner for this night.  The car to my right zoomed on, but the one behind it had seen what had happened and slowed a bit.  So I slow and wait for the cars behind us all to sort themselves out in the disturbance in the Force of Traffic, and finally manage to find a safe place to pull over about a quarter of a mile later.

It’s a dark lot, and with the assistance of my phone’s flash… the damage doesn’t seem too bad. Replace the bumper assembly, repaint the left front fender, and fix whatever is leaking.  And there’s a fair amount of short single strands of deer hair.  Weird.  You’d think they’d blow off rather than stick like fiberglass strands. The police respond and confirm that I’ve killed a buck but, alas, of undeterminable points.

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Returning the next morning, after having called the insurance company, I return for further assessment.  The car continued to leak a bit, but all in all, the Murano held up pretty well.  I’m 1) alive 2) unbruised, uncut, and unburnt from the airbag deployment and 3) likely to be inconvenienced for a week to 10 days for what seems to be minor repair needs (figuring a week plus a 3 day annoyance factor). 

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Well, how about that, there’s also this crack in the plastic grille on the left side of the car.  And a slight indentation on the hood.  Oh, and my seat belt doesn’t work well. Whatever.  In any case, I’m fortunate that the rascal went under the car rather than over the hood.

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Three weeks later…

PART COST
Front Bumper cover $330
Front Bumper Chrome strip $49
Front Bumper Lamp Cover $96
Front Bumper Underbody $63
Front Bumper Energy Absorber $62
Front Grille $195
Front Lamp Assembly Left $260
Front Lamp Assembly Right $260
A/C Condenser $94
Steering Column Switch Housing $180
Restraint System Retractor $191
Driver Air Bag $740
Restraint System Diagnostic Unit $876
Restraint System Impact Sensor $290
Restraint System Belt $191
Radiator Support $616
Radiator Assembly Reset System $75
Misc Paint and Materials $230
Radiator $330

Parts: $5,128.  Total after labor, fees, and taxes, $6,600, for a deer that seemingly caused minor damage.

But!!!  For a $250 deductible, not only are all the bug guts and blemishes gone, but also the rock dings and dents of 8 years of travel.  Spiffy! 

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The Rollin’ Golden Pub

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It began innocently enough.  Someone goes to California on business with a side mission: “If at all possible, bring back this specific beer.”  She looked.  And had someone else help her.  And via faithful sleuthing and persistence, she found it.  She packed it in her suitcase.  It survived the flight.  It was delivered as requested. And then…  Glory be!

The recipient shared.

“You.  You. and You.  Parking lot. After work.”  And this is how it came to pass that a beer made in Sonoma County, California found its way east, to Georgia, well beyond its normal distribution boundaries.  The beer was Russian River’s Pliny the Elder:

So what? you say.  It looks pretty plain? Let me offer this description from a “beer muse” out in interweb:

The best way I can describe the drinking experience of Pliny the Elder is saying that there is a taste wave the drinker experiences.  First, of course, is a hop insurgence that gives a full-bodied citrus wallop to the tongue, but not an obnoxious wallop.  There’s a moment in Pliny’s taste wave, like when a surfer first hits a big wave, where everything feels like it might go wrong.  I’ve had plenty of imperial IPA’s that start off magical only to land hard on a sour taste note.  Not Pliny.

The next part of the taste wave is a fresh bittering flavor that lingers on the back of the tongue with a clean pine taste.  It’s different than that first citrus hop hit.  What you’re left with is wonderfully different than the taste you started with.

The citrus-to-pine taste wave makes you want to go back for another flavor ride.

As everyone has opinions, websites are created to capture enthusiast feedback.  Hence, the Ratebeer score is 100.  Beeradvocate also rates it 100.  Pick a list for Imperial/Double IPAs, and it’s at or near the top.  World Class.

…but.  Some math.  12 ÷ 4 = 3.  I know. I’m not being considerate of those who learn their math via Common Core.  Trust me.  The math is right, if a bit of a let down.  What it means is that 12 fluid ounces split 4 ways results in a meager sample per eager participant. 

The obvious solution, of course, is to supplement the offering.  Hello Dreadnaught IPA from Three Floyds Brewing in Indiana.  This scores a respectable 100 and 98, respectively, from cited sources.  Not too shabby.

Indeed.  Better than that!  Two stellar beers in a tasting is inspirational.  What if four like minded people assembled each month to enjoy well-reputed beers from far and wide?  And met at the (seasonably opportune heated or air-conditioned) Rollin’ Golden Pub?   Thus the RGP experience was born.

We don’t argue about the beer.  We’re respectful of each other’s opinions, even if the others are wrong.  But they’re not, because we’ve never had a bad less than really good beer.  Still, we took note of a serious challenger only three months later. Heady Topper, the sole offering from Vermont’s The Alchemist Brewing:

Now, we return to that apt critic’s comments:

What hits your tongue first is a hop wall.  Like the brewer decided to bring in all of the artillery in the first lines.  As the flavor spreads across the tongue the finish is clean.  The hop feel at the back of the tongue lasts long, but isn’t offensive like some over-the-hop West Coast IPA’s.  Every moment of this drinking experiencing is world class.  Comparisons with other IPA’s is challenging, because this beer truly deserves the nods it’s getting for originality.

I poured my second Heady Topper into a glass.  It has a yellowish color and is filled with sediment.  I wonder if they want you to keep it in the can not to maintain the “essential hop aromas that [they] have worked so hard to retain,” as the can suggests, but, rather, to keep the feint of heart from seeing the unruly brew they’re imbibing.

After the shock wore off, because we never expected a competitor to The Champ, all four of us agreed that 1) This is better than Sr. Pliny and 2) we need more.  We’re still needing more.

But we did score, as unlikely as it was, a second Pliny the Elder the following month, and we agreed it definitely finished second.   Does it matter?  Not really.  We want more of both.

You can’t always get what you want, says The Glimmer Twins, but you get what you need. 

Over the course of the year, including 34 beers, our average Ratebeer score was 98.5 if we discount the inconsiderate rating provided for Mother Earth’s Endless River. 

If the raters at Beeradvocate are more discriminating, that would be evidenced by an average rating of 94.  That’s quite the collection of beer, and the list can be viewed by clicking on our spiffy, but not yet trademarked, logo:

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We finished the year with a remarkable month.  One of us played Santa and converted Dollars to Euros, importing two (2) bottles of Westvleteren XII.  Click the link; it’s quite the story.  And, fortunately for all of us, it’s just as tasty as it is rare.  And we have pictures to tell the story, less the flavor:

It came well ensconced with international iterations of “Don’t break the beer!”

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Customs inspection, eh?  These are not the droids you’re looking for.  Just a sample bottle of soda. Yeah, that’s it.

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The unadorned bottle seems appropriate for its origin, not to mention the inferred legal smuggling.  And, yes, that is the Rollin’ Golden Pub in which it resides. 

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December’s line-up, including the reflections of four happy patrons of the RGP:

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Disclaimer: No rollin’ is conducted during said sampling.  The RGP serves as a bar counter.  We sometimes bring chairs. And avoid eye contact with others lest they feel invited.

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Sonny Landreth Live @ Eddie’s Attic

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Not every concert I go to is an “automatic” ticket buy.  This one was not, but it lay just outside the bull's-eye of “purchased,” attempting to climb over a dreaded wall of weeknight timing, finding appropriate company, and, always, price.  The wall got a little lower as travel expectations became clearer for a Tuesday night.  My concert buddy… on kid duty.  My son… doing his kid duty by studying for a college exam.  My wife… “At Eddie’s Attic?.  Hmm.  Let me hear a sample.”  Twenty seconds into a bluesy YouTube video, “Okay.”  And pricing, well, you pay what you must, but it’s not like it’s a big arena deal.  There is the x 2 factor, but the wall was low enough to step over.

Sonny Landreth is a slide guitar player who plays variations of the blues, but with a sound that is distinct and not, in an Eric Clapton comparison, commercially accessible.   He’s quite the technician, though, and one that I’ve been wanting to see for the last six years, which was when I first heard of him.

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Excuse the reflective window in the poster, but Eddie’s places their current concert in an enclosed glass cabinet.  As the poster says, the show also included Cindy Cashdollar, a steel guitar and Dobro player.  The concert included just the two of them, which turned out quite well.  Eddie’s is a small, long term Atlanta venue where people gather to listen to the music, and a limited number of musicians on stage doesn’t risk muddling the sound.

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Landreth began the show solo, playing about 5 songs.  One of these was, I believe, “Next of Kindred Spirit,” an instrumental piece that showed off his playing style perfectly (video at end).  Landreth plays with a very intent expression, appropriate for an exacting sound with a clumsy device (slide).  He plays with the slide on his pinky finger, and his other fingers keep a minimalist motion for making chords.

His right hand, in my wife’s word, is “elegant.”  He uses all five fingers, picking with his thumb, and spends a notable amount of time watching that hand, a place where most guitarists rarely look.   There’s a natural rhythm, pacing, and fluidity that he maintains that makes it look much easier than it is.

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He also will play all over the neck of the guitar, sometimes ahead of his slide in an awkward crossed arm posture, and very often he will brush the strings with his palm while adjusting a foot pedal to create something like a crying sound.  And other times, he’s hammering or slapping the strings.  It’s obvious he mastered how to use the slide then spent a lot of time trying to coax different sounds out of what is a fairly uniform style when heard.

Cindy Cashdollar joined in with “Blues Attack,” and the rest of the evening held the pattern of Landreth singing and alternating guitar solos.  Both her style and sound leaned towards Country Blues, but it played well with Landreth whose vocal delivery almost leans that way.  The pair sounded best when they played together rather than one soloing such as in their encore, “Seashells,” which may be a converted Hawaiian slack key guitar song.

Otherwise, the set included Skip James’ “Cherry Ball Blues,” Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues,” Rolling Stones’ “Prodigal Son,” Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too,” Big Bill Broonzy’s often covered “Key to the Highway,” and Landreth’s “South of I-10,” “Hell at Home,” “Zydeco Shuffle” and “Blues Attack.”  There were others as well.

Landreth is entertaining in his commentary to a point.  Although relaxed and friendly, he sees reluctant to “own” the stage, speaking off to the side while looking at no one in particular, not that he isn’t listening to the audience.  It’s also likely he’s used to playing rowdier places than Eddie’s.  It’s a hard place to get people to dance.  

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Cashdollar was a quiet presence, going about her business, occasionally giving Landreth a happy look, which he probably never saw being focused on his guitar.

I’d like to see Landreth again, but with a full band and with the amplifier turned up.  Someday.

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3 of 5 STARS

 

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John Wesley – Disconnect – CD Review

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This is a CD that I went out and found.  After re-watching Porcupine Tree’s Anesthetize DVD, I got curious about their touring guitarist.  Voilà, John Wesley and his latest CD.

For everything very technical or progressive rock found in Porcupine Tree, this CD is not.  But it’s also not .38 Special in its paint by the numbers song structure, raised fist anthems, or radio ready guitar solos.  Instead, this a a fairly contemplative set of songs that allows a guitarisJohn-Wesleyt to have his way.   And, if the guitarist’s name is the titular artist, then his vocals are (usually) obliged to be included.  In any case, this is a rocking CD that is built for repeated listening.

There are lyrics that could be prime Porcupine Tree material, and the first two songs would be prime candidates.   Wesley’s vocals are by no means the strength of this album.  They’re honest, he voices his lyrics well, and he ventures into some unusual phrasings on the refrains that work.  But it’s a worn voice and not one that a casual listener would expect to be in a lead singer role.   Then the guitar solo kicks in, and you don’t care anymore. 

The first two songs, “Disconnect” and “Any Old Saint” are fine examples.  Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson would deliver these with a precise sterility, which isn’t a bad thing.  There’s just no point in others doing that.  Here, Wesley sounds like a grizzled veteran, wearied from past decisions that cause him to be less than he should be and not particularly optimistic of doing much better.  So, that doesn’t sound like a very listenable album, right?  The lyrics can be obtuse, but they remain worth a read.  Here’s the lyric for “Satellite”:

When I wake to the darkened skies
I tell myself all the little lies

Lies that make us whole again
The ones that help us carryon and just pretend

When I stare into the night
I see you there as a satellite

Out of reach up in the sky
Never touching down and you’ll never try

Better just a dream you are
A satellite lost among the stars
Better just a dream you stay
Better if we just, if we just look away

Better just a dream you stay
Better if we just, if we just look away

If the cover photo suggests a questioning of the nature of morality found in war, Wesley’s lyrics often suggest the search for a corresponding faith. 

So, if judging the measure of an album is to be found in its themes, there’s some satisfaction here.  However, the guitar is why people choose to listen, and Wesley doesn’t disappoint, especially on the songs listed below.  Surprisingly, “Take What You Need” reveals an inner Billy Squier.  I’m surprised he doesn’t use that more often or feature his female supporting singer higher in the mix (or on lead vocals).

Overall, a very satisfying CD. 

Recommended Songs: “Disconnect,” “Any Old Saint,” “Once a Warrior,” “Take What You Need”

3 of 5 STARS

 

 

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George Dickel Distillery Tour

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The lesser known of Tennessee’s distilleries, George Dickel is somewhat more convenient for those passing by on the interstate.  And, if it’s not exactly convenient, then it’s certainly a scenic drive... one that ends up in a scenic “hollow.”

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Cascade Hollow, that is.  Here it is back around 1964, when the present site was built for... (wait for it)... 1 million dollars!

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It’s not much different today.

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Here’s the other side of the plant.  No, not very interesting, other than a hydrant system made it all this way.

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The original distillery began making whisky back in 1870 just down the road.

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Dickel was a merchant and would buy the distillery in 1884.  At the time, the brand was Cascade Whisky, “mellow as moonlight.”  There is no “e” before the “y” as he is attributed with saying that as “his whisky was as smooth as the finest Scotch” he would spell it in the Scottish tradition.   Here’s George in front of his visitor’s center.

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So, the process begins with maple logs, which are cut into 2” square lengths and stacked in “ricks.”  About 9 times per year, they burn these behind the shed seen in the left of the photo below.   A whole bunch of them.  These burn to the desired ash consistency to be considered maple charcoal.  These are hand shoveled and trucked across the street to the plant.  Old fashioned, it is.

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Ingredients include 84% corn and 8% each of rye and barley.  These are milled and brought to a broil with local water forming the “mash.” Imagine big steel tanks.  Afterwards, yeast is added in open steel vats (~19,000 gallons each) where fermenting takes place, forming alcohol and carbon dioxide.  These can be seen in the tour at various stages of bubbling based on how many days they’ve been in the vats, and there is a slight odor of alcohol (~10%).  You will note explosion proof electrical fixtures in the facility, one reason, at least, why pictures are not allowed within.

Distillation involves separating the alcohol from the wort (or used mash).  Dickel has a rather striking 3 story distillation column, which has baffles throughout, in which this is done.  Essentially, boilers heat the liquid so that the alcohol boils into a vapor and is collected, while the water and solids pass through. The used mash is high in proteins and sold as livestock feed.

As the flavor of their whisky was observed to be better in winter months, they chill the whisky to 40 degrees before it enters the mellowing vats.  These vats are 13’ tall, filled with the maple charcoal but further filtered by a layer of virgin wool cloth at both the top and bottom of the tank.  As opposed to dripping the alcohol through in a regular process by their larger nearby competitor, Dickel fills the vats to smooth, mellow or otherwise make the stuff easier to drink. 

After mellowing sufficiently, the alcohol is moved to holding tanks, after which it is filled into 53 gallon oak barrels (made by others in Kentucky).  These are aged from, I gather, 5-12 years in 9 warehouses that are all nearby (~200,000 bbls).  A small warehouse is located on site.  Interestingly, these are all single story warehouses (6 rows of barrels), which provides a very uniform flavoring.  Multistory warehouses have different flavor profiles which must either be utilized or shifted during the aging years.

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They show a short video to show how this is done.  Afterwards, the (now) whisky is diluted with water to achieve the desired alcoholic content, and... shipped to Illinois in unmarked tankers for bottling.  That’s kind of anti-climactic.  If, however, someone were to purchase a single barrel, as sometimes happens, then those barrels are bottled on site.

The fact is that Dickel is owned by Diageo, a British multinational alcoholic beverage company that is quite a bit larger than the company which owns their nearby competitor.   But this is a small operation, with the distillery being operated by 29 employees and no automated controls.  There’s plenty of history to be found on the web – the Prohibition years and the like, if you look for it.

Depending on the tour you take, you may get a tasting as well.  Here’s what that looks like:

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The White Corn Whisky is said by some to have a flavor of corn.  I’m not one of those people.  It’s not aged in barrels and tastes like (watered down) alcohol.  No one apparently knows why they refer to their main brands as Old No. 8 and Superior No. 12.  The No. 8 is aged from 5-7 years and is considered a mixing whisky where you’re not fully concentrating on the flavor.  The No. 12 is definitely suitable for sipping, the extra years (7-=9 total) having mellowed the flavor despite 5% more alcohol in the mix.  And the Dickel Barrel Select...  better still.  Barrels are sampled for flavor and 10 are mixed to form this “small-batch” release each year.  These are matured in barrels slightly  They’re also aged between 10-12 years.  My opinion?  I’m not an expert in these things.  But the Select I would consider more complex in its flavor, and, in my limited recollection, preferable over any of the Jack Daniels products I’ve had. 

Below is their Visitor center, where you can purchase their product and the usual assortment of logo novelties and clothing.

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An old advertisement posted for bathroom humor:

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A light so you can read the above sign in the bathroom:

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And, the afterthought comment of the tour.  The tree is outside the fermenter, where air is vented.  As a result, a blackish fungus grows on the tree (which remains perfectly healthy), but black trees were apparently tip-offs to revenuers when searching for illegal stills in them thar hills.  Or hollows.

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