Bourbon Trail Birthday

My love for whiskey/bourbon didn’t start developing until three or four years ago when I started visiting Louisville more often. It took some time for me to graduate from whiskey with a mixer to appreciating it neat or with one ice cube. It’s since become one of my staple drink orders, and like wine or craft beer, I’ve really enjoyed figuring out which styles I like and pushing my palate.

This past weekend, I got to experience bourbon heaven when my friend and I hosted a joint birthday trip to the bourbon trail. Overall it was an awesome experience but I’ll share some tips at the end based on our experience.

The Farm
The bourbon trail is pretty spread out so figuring out where to stay can be tough. We ended up finding a B&B somewhat in the middle (Danville) and rented out the entire place for our large group. The Farm was perfect and Jacob and his staff took care of everything for us. They cooked all our meals (including a bomb ass breakfast buffet), had vans to drive us everywhere, and coordinated the tours and tastings. The property is really relaxing too with beautiful country sunsets and stargazing.

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The distilleries
Heading into this trip, I was picturing the distillery visits to be like wineries where you’d get to taste from 4 or 5 bottles, including a mix of flagship pours and some more rare or special ones. It was a bit of a let down that some places didn’t even offer tastings at all, just a cocktail bar. Most of them did offer tours but, like wineries, those get repetitive fast so we planned for just one or two a day. Here’s a run down of our itinerary:

Friday

  • Four Roses: We were going to do a tour but they had some construction going on so we just did a tasting. We got to try three varieties and kept the glass as a souvenir.
  • Wild Turkey: They had a beautiful patio view where we ate lunch with drinks from the cocktail bar. I learned that Matthew McConaughey is the creative director and took home a bottle of Longbranch.
  • Buffalo Trace: Their property had the look and feel of a European town. We just did a tasting here that included four pours and a bourbon ball.
  • Woodford Reserve: We arrived a little late for our tour but they helped us catch up to the group. They did the tasting inside the barrelhouse, which was unique, but it was only two pours and a bourbon ball. I bought a bottle of a newly released straight malt whiskey.
  • Beer Engine Brewery: Quick pit stop here rounded out a great first day.

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Saturday

  • Jim Beam: I am not a fan of Jim Beam at all but was keeping an open mind heading here. (Side note: I discovered they produce Basil Hayden, which I like a lot and the cognitive dissonance was almost too much for me). Unfortunately we found out upon arrival they don’t do tastings and their cocktail bar wasn’t open at 10:30 a.m. Our next stop was going to be Heaven Hill but our driver called ahead and found out their cocktail bar wouldn’t open until 2 p.m. Disappointing start to the day but we trekked onward.
  • Willett: This wasn’t in our original plan but our driver called and they said they could fit us in right away for a tasting. By the time we showed up, the slots were somehow filled so the hits kept coming. The property was beautiful though so we ended up eating lunch here. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out they produce my current absolutely favorite Noah’s Mill. I got a bottle of that and a bottle of Willett’s standard bourbon since the bottle shape is so unique.
  • Bardstown Bourbon Company: At this point, the only booze we had was the bottle of Jim Beam Honey we passed around their parking lot and the beers we packed for the van. We were itching to get some actual drinks and luckily we found this oasis. It ended up being one of our favorite stops of the weekend! The space is absolutely gorgeous and I believe has only been open two weeks. They collaborated with Louisville-based Coppers & Kings to produce two variations of the same bourbon whiskey. I ordered a glass of the Mistelle finish and later bought a bottle to bring back.
  • Maker’s Mark: This was the tasting experience I had been waiting for! We did the full tour, which was blazing hot but I really appreciated that they weaved in more of their unique story instead of just focusing on the same tidbits you’d hear at any distillery. Learning about Margie Samuels’ role of creating the name, label, and signature dip was so cool. The tasting at the end had five pours, including a private selection that you can’t get anywhere else. They even had a custom Chihuly installation you walked under before exiting through the gift shop. I bought a bottle of one of the private selections as well as a book documenting the stories of women in whiskey. I’d be very interested in a similar book about the untold stories of slaves, like Nearest Green.
  • Jesters Winery: We popped in here for a bit of palate change up and were able to catch a small bit of the Nigeria-Crotia World Cup match. The AC and cool wine was a welcome break!
  • Limestone Branch: Our final stop was a craft distillery. Their tasting leaned on the smokier side, which I’m not as into. But I did like the cocktail from the bar and the patio outside was a chill spot.

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Bourbon trail tips
Long post is getting long so I’ll keep this brief and you can comment if you have any other questions:

  • Leave plenty of time to get between distilleries. Even the ones that are close can have a long travel time due to the winding country roads.
  • It got close to 100 degrees Saturday, which made parts of the tour very miserable. Fall is probably a more manageable time of year to come down, plus the grounds might be even more beautiful.
  • Smaller groups will be much easier and more flexible to fit into tastings and tours.
  • Focus your purchases on bottles you can’t easily get back home. Here’s my haul:

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Pushing through to a PR

For the fourth and final year (for awhile at least), I participated in the Kentucky Derby Festival half marathon. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs at this race over the years, including powering through pouring rain, dodging frat guys with footballs, and battling bronchitis. This year proved to be no different, but ended on the uppest of ups with a new PR of 2:08:49 (9:50 average)!

My training season got off to a slow start with a major work project consuming my life in January and February. I finally hit a groove in March only to start developing plantar fasciitis in my right foot. It was fine during some runs but very painful during others. I set weekly appointments with Carolyn at Myo-Fit Therapy to stay on top of it. She is the real MVP! There’s no way I would have felt as good as I did on race day without her help and expertise.

Because of all that, I had very low expectations. I didn’t set any pace goals but instead wanted to enjoy every inch of the course. I’ve gotten to know this race almost as well as the Monumental and I got a little nostalgic. The city of Louisville has showed up every year, rain or shine, to cheer us on. The churches, senior homes, girls academy, drum band, U of L students…and this year two of my good friends who saw me at mile 6 and 10. All of their support is incredible.

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Mile 6. Photo cred: Solomon Parker (http://solomonjparker.blogspot.com/)

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Mile 8 inside Churchill Downs. Photo cred: MarathonFoto

My first mile was slow but that was fine; my heel didn’t hurt and that was all that mattered. I kept getting faster with each mile split though. I was excited to be running better than expected but also worried I would crash and burn later. There was so much race left, especially on this course which doesn’t feel like it really starts until you leave Churchill Downs in mile 8.

At mile 10, my heel was still pain-free (though my right hip was hurting) and my pace continued to pick up. I realized I had a chance to come close to my PR, which was so insane. My competitive side kicked in and I decided to risk it and go all in. I remembering saying to my friends “I’m feeling really good. I have no idea what’s happening right now!”

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Mile 10. Photo cred: Solomon Parker (http://solomonjparker.blogspot.com/)

The last three miles were miserable and the hardest I have ever worked in any race, especially the last mile when I wanted to quit so badly. No one can make you go faster or push harder. It’s all on you. You have to want it. You have to fight for it. You have to shut down all doubt in your mind and just grind.

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Final stretch. Photo cred: MarathonFoto

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Final stretch. Photo cred: MarathonFoto

I crossed the finish line, checked my watch, and immediately broke down crying. Going into the race, I was just trying to get through 13.1 miles and not be slower than my slowest time. I didn’t think a PR was even remotely possible. But I fought for it with every ounce of physical and mental energy I had left. So many emotions came pouring out: Surprise, relief, shock, pain, and immense pride.  

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Just after the finish line. Photo cred: MarathonFoto

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This was half marathon #10 for me and I still have a bad habit of saying “I’m a runner, but I know it doesn’t look like it” or “I run, but I know you can’t tell.” Here’s the thing about running though: It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your pace is, or how far you go. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you are a runner.

Being part of history in Boston

Last weekend my love for running and traveling to new places came together with a trip to Boston to cheer on my badass, speedy friend who ran the marathon. It was an experience I’ll never forget!

The 5k
I never realized how much else goes on during the Boston Marathon weekend, including a 5k run that close to 9,000 people participated in. Luckily the weather was great that morning, the spectators were out in full, and I got to experience running across the marathon finish line. There really is something special about running in Boston and I’m so glad I got a chance to do it (and make Massachusetts state #23 I’ve ran in!).

 

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The marathon
I was so excited to witness this historic race in person. Much has been written about the conditions so I won’t waste space here, but I can tell you it didn’t stop spectators from showing up. I can’t imagine what it would look like on a nice day based on how packed the course was in the shittiest of conditions. This city truly embraces this race!

I did a ton of spectator research before the trip. The logistics are a little insane for this point-to-point course, but we had a solid plan and it ended up working out well. I referenced the 2018 spectator guide and MBTA course viewing map a lot and could probably write a whole separate post on spectating tips. Feel free to reach out if you want more details.

My crew took the Green Line B branch to Chestnut Hill around mile 22. Our home base was Mary Ann’s, a cash-only bar we could easily dip in and out of. On a better weather day, I would have stayed outside the whole time. But with the crazy conditions, I popped out to watch the elites, my friends in Wave 1, and the main runner we traveled with who was in Wave 3. The app came in handy here since I could go out right before they hit our section of the course.

 

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We were inside Mary Ann’s when Des crossed the finish line and everyone went wild. Again, this city is all in on the marathon and it was so awesome to be part of it.

 

 

Everything else
I didn’t fit in as much sightseeing as I normally would have, but I had a great time eating and bar hopping my way through Boston. Some of the highlights:

We did have a brief cultural respite at the Museum of Fine Art. Unfortunately the lines were crazy long for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum next door so we skipped it. I also have to give a shout out to the totally clutch, locally owned store Trend on Newbury. I bought rain boots that were so necessary on marathon day and the owner was super nice and helpful.

 

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Flying high in Colorado Springs

It’s been almost six years since I visited Colorado for a destination wedding in Breckenridge. My brother and his girlfriend moved to Colorado Springs in January so I was excited to check out a different part of the state and his new (for the indefinite future) home.

I had some time to explore my first two days while Greg worked. On the first day, I met up with a former coworker in Manitou Springs for a delicious breakfast at Good Karma Cafe before setting off for Garden of the Gods. The rock formations were stunning, but the trails were super packed (even midday on a Thursday…) making it hard to fully appreciate the views. After walking almost every trail in the park — which doesn’t take long — I popped into Colorado Mountain Brewery for some refreshing local beer.

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Normally the next day I would have sought out some more hiking, but my trip happened to fall during the Crossfit Open and I didn’t want to tax my body too much before tackling 18.3. Instead I borrowed Greg’s bike and rode downtown to check out some local shops and breweries. I’ve had Oskar Blues before but never visited one of their tasting rooms so that was fun. Phantom Canyon had a selection that catered to my tastes better though and I really enjoyed my flight there.

At this point, you may be wondering why I felt okay drinking a bunch of beer before 18.3 but not hiking. Or more realistically you’re wondering why I would even bother doing crossfit while on vacation (that’s a post for another day). This workout happened to include pull ups, which I’ve never been able to do, despite crossfitting for over five years. A little liquid courage couldn’t hurt while flailing my body at a rig for 12 minutes and hoping for the best.

Before my trip, I contacted Crossfit SoCo about dropping in. I hopped in the first heat of their Friday Night Lights style event and asked for a patient judge who would hold me strict to the standards. I really appreciated that they paired me with one of their coaches. I got through the first three movements then stared at the rig. After several failed attempts where I didn’t even get close, I told my judge Rob I should probably just give up. He took me to a lower rig and had me do some drills to work on my swing and build some confidence.

I stepped back up to the main rig, gave it all I had, and dropped down feeling defeated. But then he told me it was a good rep and I immediately started crying, having just got my first pull up ever. I ended up getting two more before the time cap. It was an incredible feeling and I will forever be grateful for the hospitality Crossfit SoCo showed me (and the awkward photos Greg captured). We celebrated after with a tasty meal at Front Range BBQ.

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On Saturday, we considered taking on the Manitou Incline (next time!) but opted for driving up Pikes Peak instead. The steep, curvy, narrow drive was more nerve-wracking than I expected but the views from the top were totally worth it. And there are donuts. Which was so random but perfect.

We capped off the day with a ridiculous meal at The Rabbit Hole. Honestly they could have served me carrots and I would have been happy (but not really because carrots are the worst). We sat in a section under the stairs surrounded by books and string lights. Is there anything more Melanie in this world??

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The elephant-shaped edible in the room
My personal experience with marijuana has been very, very limited. I hate smoking and I’m not good at it. I’ve had one brownie and didn’t know what I was doing. In short, I’m a total noob.

I was very interested to learn more about the dispensaries in Colorado and the laws are a little more nuanced than I realized. At the shop we visited, you essentially get a concierge service with a guy behind the counter explaining one on one what everything is, how much is in each product, the intended effect, etc. He wasn’t judging or condescending, just super knowledgeable and friendly. I purchased some peanut butter cups which were delicious and effective.

Overall it was a super positive experience and I appreciated knowing more about what I was putting into my body going into it. Also, they had some sleep aid products that I would have loved to try since I’m a super insomniac. Indiana just got Sunday alcohol sales though so we’re a long way off from ever seeing marijuana legalized here at home.

I’m sure I’ll get back to CO Springs at some point (#siblingsgiving) so let me know what else I missed!

A snowy solo getaway

My recent solo vacation was unlike any I’ve done before. I typically pack a lot into every trip, but this time around I was looking for something low key that didn’t require a lot of planning or research. I landed on Primland Resort, located in the hills of Southern Virginia. It turned out to be exactly what I wanted and more.

The digs
The resort encompasses 12,000 acres with a variety of lodging options. I stayed in the Pinnacle Cottages, a short walk from the main lodge. They also had valets who would come pick you up, which proved to be so necessary once the snow started.

My room was amazing. I had mountain views from almost every spot, including the bathroom. I went next level #treatyoself and had a bottle of wine waiting for me when I got there. It was so completely relaxing to curl up and watch the snow while enjoying a Malbec.

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The activities
The resort has a long list of activities that take full advantage of the natural landscape. After I got settled in, I immediately headed out for a run on the deserted golf cart path. The forecast called for colder weather in the following days but failed to predict the crazy amount of snow we ended up getting. I was glad to get it out of the way and make Virginia the 22nd state I’ve ran in.

My plans to hike on the final morning were derailed by the snow, with the trails completely buried and indistinguishable. Instead, I got a hot chocolate and wandered along the golf cart path with no one in sight and no sounds to be heard but stillness and snow falling. I hate winter but it was one of the most serene moments of my life, second only to when I found myself alone on the South Kaibab Trail at the Grand Canyon.

I did have a respite from the cold during my spa day. Being a #treatyoself trip, I signed up for a full body exfoliating scrub, massage, and facial. Between services, they had a relaxation room with floor to ceiling windows. I sat under a blanket and read while the snow continued to fall.

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The food
My first meal was so delicious it just about knocked me out for the rest of the weekend. Also, because I was dining alone, they offered me a complimentary Kindle. I declined but commented about what a great idea that was and how I should have brought my book. They offered to send a valet to retrieve it from my room. I declined again, but knew I was in for a special weekend after that.

The second night they had wine tasting with Blue Ridge Vineyards, based out of Winston-Salem. The red blend was so good that I’m probably ordering some to be shipped to me. After that, I dined at the pub, which was more casual but super tasty food.

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Charlotte pit stop
I could have stayed at Primland forever, but I had a chance to check out Charlotte (where I flew in/out of) so I headed south for my final night. My host managed to pack in some of my favorite things: local beer, string lights, rooftop views, and bourbon. We stopped in Sycamore Brewing, went to a Hornets game, and then took in the rooftop vibes of Fahrenheit.

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Photo by Corey Gensler (aka my host)

Overall, it was a pretty amazing weekend and one that took me by surprise in a lot of ways. It’s good to know I can let myself slow down and truly relax.

 

What I read in 2017

Hit my goal early again this year! Here’s the list for 2017:

All Is Not Forgotten
Difficult Women
Bittersweet
Luckiest Girl Alive
Hillbilly Elegy
Hunger
Emma in the Night
Cork Dork
Origins
The Expats
Alias Grace
Invisible Man

A peek at Pittsburgh

A work conference took me to Pittsburgh for the first time last week. I made the most of the free time I had to explore the city and the highlights ended up focusing on food and art (shocking!).

The food

  • Altius – walked across the bridge and took the Duquesne Incline up for an awesome view of the city paired with a delicious meal
  • Meat & Potatoes – one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had with short rib, pork shoulder, and pancetta. It was moan-out-loud-with-every-bite good!
  • Bar Marco – they have arancini on the menu. Do I need to say more??
  • The Foundry Table & Tap – long tap list and pierogies
  • Southern Tier Brewing – the beer I had was okay but I didn’t realize until after I paid my tab that they are also a distillery. Would have liked to try their bourbon/whiskey.

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The art

  • Warhol Museum – appreciated the chance to see more of his work beyond the pop art, so much so that I bought two prints!
  • Randyland – one of the most unique places I’ve ever been, an artist’s junkyard of sorts that cannot be missed if you’re in town
  • Mattress Factory – contemporary museum with three buildings worth of interesting exhibits

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I also ran along the Three Rivers Trail to make Pennsylvania the 21st state I’ve ran in.

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