Saturday, July 31, 2010

This Is A League Game, Smokey. (Part 1)

Day 1 - The Garden Party & Movie Screening

I know, I know. You really want to know how Lebowski Fest was. Well, if it's any indication, the recovery period is just about over. Only took a week and a half!

It was nothing less than perfect that the hotel we were residing in was literally next door to Executive Lanes, the home to the 9th Annual Lebowski Fest.

Staying at the hotel was a treat in itself.

It was impossible to avoid the large number of Achievers swarming the hotel. Between the Caucasians, Lebowski-related shirts, or flat out costumes, it certainly wasn't hard to recognize who was around specifically for the festival.
Quotes from the movie could be heard at nearly any moment, whether it be in the pool, in the elevator, in the cocktail lounge, in the cocktail lounge, or even in the cocktail lounge.

For those of you who just plain aren't familiar with the Big Lebowski, what are you doing? Go rent / buy / netflix / pirate it immediately. It's important. Consider it essential knowledge for the growing mind.

For those of you who just aren't familiar with Lebowski Fest, allow me to break it down. It's made up of two main ideas.

Idea #1 is typical festival activities. Games, Live Music, Contests, Drinking, Eating, Dancing.

Idea #2 is all things Lebowski. Costumes, Trivia, Bowling, Caucasians, Abiding.

It's a simple concept, and a great time.

Friday evening we arrived just in time to catch the Felice Brothers begin there set. Obviously very influenced by bourbon and Bob Dylan, they danced around the stage and serenaded the crowd with great songs about folk tales and whiskey drinkin'.

Following the concert, Jim Hoosier, (also known as Liam, Jesus' bowling teammate from the movie) came out to introduce the movie and thank everyone for coming. If I recall correctly, which I doubt, he mentioned it was his 6th Lebowski Fest. That's a lot of Caucasian's, Jackie.
Scott and Will, the founders of Lebowski fest, came out and presented Jim with what could possibly be the most important film award ever created. 'Best Supporting Actor In A Non Speaking Role'. Naturally, in the form of a replica Oscar.

Than the main event of Friday's activities.

A giant projection screen was rolled out, the tension built, and beers were hastily refilled as 20 minutes of technical difficulties stood between the lawn full of drunken Achievers and Sam Elliot's strict southern voice telling us about a man they call The Dude. Finally, the Universal Pictures Intro music began and the lawn erupted in raised glasses and deafening applause.

Sam Elliot (The Stranger) began his narrative, and a buzz rode through the crowd as a few hundred people helped him tell the story. And I can't imagine Bob Dylan wouldn't have smiled and raised his chin to the boisterous rendition of "The Man in Me" that was sung collectively by a lawn full of traveled Achievers.

It's definitely an interesting experience watching a movie with a large crowd of people that a high percentage of actually do know every line. I can't possibly imagine that watching that movie in any other way will ever compare to collective fun that the Garden Party brought with it. But than again, we'll just see what happens next year.

Day 2 recap is coming shortly....I just have to find some Kahlua.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Journey to Bourbon Country Day 4

Day 4 was a day to explore Louisville's more non-whiskey related side. "WHY?!?" you may ask. Well it turns out there is some very cool stuff to see here.

The day started in the Highlands area of Louisville. An area of the city that is not unlike the Willy St. neighborhood. Lots of quirky independently owned shops and a lot of hip young people walking around. Lots of fun and life here which made it a truly enjoyable place to explore. Our first scheduled stop of the day was to be at Lynn's Paradise Cafe. Lynn's had been featured on the Food Network on "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" when Lynn's French Toast beat Bobby's. The picture should show you why. Lynn's had been described as "Pee Wee's Playhouse with pancakes and it truly did not take us long to figure out why. Colorful would be a bit of an understatement. Sometimes when places are this famous and quirky the food suffers. Lynn's does not have this problem.

After breakfast and a bit of shopping in the Highlands we were off to Churchill Downs to check out the Kentucky Derby museum and take a behind the scenes van tour. Even if you have no interest in horse racing it is hard not to be swept up by the over all pagentry and majesty of this place. Despite the near heat stroke from the weather it was a really neat tour. The horses are really beautiful and they are treated like the world class athletes they are.

After a period of rehydration and rest it was finally time for Lebowski Fest. We made our way over after the sun had gone down. It was still really, really hot but sometimes you just have to sweat to have a good time. We made it in time to see the Felice Brothers who rocked it hard and to sit and watch the movie with about 500 people out on the lawn.

Big FUN!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Journey to Bourbon Country Day 3

Day 3 in Kentucky and it is hot. Really hot. It is really easy to see why these distilleries close down for a couple months each summer. It would not just be uncomfortable it would be dangerous to work under these conditions. We asked Jimmy Russell on Day 2 if the closure was more about the ability to make quality bourbon or more about the discomfort of the warmth in the distillery? He said it was some of both.

Despite the fact that these places are not up and running at the moment there is still a lot to see. We had on Day 3 a bit of a wide open schedule which allowed us the opportunity to check out a whole bunch of places in very short visits.

The day started in Frankfort with breakfast at the White Light Diner. This place came up in every search of the internet of places to eat in Frankfort. We later discovered that it is going to be featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on the Food Network on July 26th. It is not hard to see why. This place has a lot of character and everyone who works here is a character. Rick the owner greeted us and found out where we were from and then told us good luck with the food because he was not cooking today. HA! He headed out and we were left in the capable hands of his wife. Now I wouldn't exactly call the service friendly, it was more like they were tolerating us being there but that is kind of the charm of this place. You can get a PBR for breakfast and there is an airhorn on the back counter I am assuming in case anyone gets out of line. We may need to get one of those at Star.
After breakfast we headed off to the Buffalo Trace distillery. We did not have a meeting set up here but we figured we should see as many places as we can on this trip. The thing that is stunning about Buffalo Trace is how BIG it is. There are rickhouses upon rickhouses (all made of brick by the way) just full of barrels of whiskey waiting to be ready for you and me.

Then it was back on the road for a trip to Woodford Reserve. If Buffalo Trace is big and industrial then Woodford is laid back and bucolic. There is just absolutely no way you can visit without taking some time to sit on the deck and look down the hill at this picturesque distillery So that is just what we did. Even in the heat a nice cold Ale 8 1 (A late one), the soda of Kentucky, was a great way to spend a little time.

Next on the distillery visit list was Heaven Hill and their Bourbon Heritage Center. This might be the best museum dedicated to an alcoholic spirit ever. The place offers all kinds tours and exhibits about whiskey and in some cases the history of Kentucky and America. Truly worth the visit if you ever find yourself in this part of the world.

Now we are in Louisville and dinner tonight is at Jack Frye's a favorite from our visit 5 years back. Then tomorrow and Saturday are all about LebowskiFest. A little reward for all the hard work we have been doing. Big fun will be had by all. If there are any pictures that are family friendly enough we will post them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Journey to Bourbon Country Day 2

Day 2 was scheduled to be the grind on this trip. Two distilleries in one day. I know, I know rough life we lead.

We woke up early, had a little cereal and got on the road. The first visit of the day was with Mr. Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey. We arrived and Jimmy was sitting in the gift shop signing bottles for people waiting to take tours. When we arrived Jimmy shook our hands with a big smile and our tour was on. It did not take long to discover that Jimmy is a heck of a storyteller, and with so many years in the business he has a lot of stories to tell. The Wild Turkey distillery sits on the edge of a huge cliff over looking the Kentucky River. We spent our time seeing the still and the fermenting tanks (all shut down for the summer months), and hearing stories about the way the business has changed in all of Jimmy's years. Stories about old distilleries that are long gong, stories about how modernization has changed the day to day operations, and best of all stories about how Jimmy has had fun with his fellow distillers over the years.

One of the favorite moments we had was when the regular tour came walking by us and saw us getting a small private tour and seeing the envy in their eyes as their tour guide said "and there is our head distiller taking a small group around." How special did we feel?

We then walked down to the rickhouses and saw just how many barrels they have stored. We did the math later and figured out that each building contains roughly 1,060,ooo gallons of whiskey. So dear reader, how long would it take us to dent that?

Then it was off to the old bottling facility, which they no longer use, to visit Jimmy's son Eddie who came up to Madison a couple years ago for the first "Celebration of American Distilling". Eddie was doing budget work and seemed happy to have a break. The highlight of the visit was Jimmy coaxing Eddie to tell a story about when he and Booker Noe and Elmer T. Lee all went fishing together in Canada. Good Stuff.

Then Jimmy took us to lunch at Tony's Barn. Bar-b-que that is "Lip Smackin, Tounge Lickin Good!" Walking in with Jimmy, they greeted us like old friends when we arrived and even brought out some "Cowboy Jelly" which they apparently just keep around for Jimmy. It seemed to be a jelly made of horseradish which tasted really great on a cornbread cake. Let's just say dear friends, that we stuffed ourselves silly.

After lunch Jimmy gave us a tour of Lawrenceburg where Wild Turkey and Four Roses reside. It was a tour given with the pride of someone showing off his hometown. Jimmy Russell has lived there all his life and it was easy to see he was proud of his hometown. We arrived back at the gift shop to say goodbye as we had to head to Four Roses, and Jimmy was off to meet the owner of the largest restaurant in Osaka, Japan. Mr. Russell is one of a kind and we hope to get to spend time with him again one day.

Next we hopped in the car, and headed over to meet Jim Rutledge, the Master Distiller at Four Roses and another visitor to the first "Celebration of American Distilling". The first thing we did was head up to the tasting lab to sample some of the barrel samples taken to decide which would be the next Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon. Talking with Jim, you get a full sense of someone who loves bourbon. Someone who loves making bourbon and has a passion in his gut to make the best bourbon possible.
We then moved into a room where we discussed a lot of the nuances of whiskey. The difference between aging bourbon and aging scotch. The importance of the overall quality of a load of corn. Lots of neat stuff. Jim Rutledge is one man who understands the science of making great whiskey and he did a wonderful job of sharing it with us.

Then it was off for a tour of the distillery itself. One of the most interesting things at Four Roses is the fact that they use some fermenting tanks made of Cypress wood. The wood for these tanks was actually salvaged from the bottom of the Suwannee River in Norther Florida. A similar method is being used on Lake Superior to salvage wood from old sunken ships.

Overall today was a very successful day. We got to meet with two of the biggest names in the bourbon business, and we really enjoyed the time we spent together. Jerry summed it up best when he said, "It is just so special that guys from little old Star Liquor can get treated like kings by guys who are legends in the bourbon business." You said it Jerry!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Journey to Bourbon Country Day 1

In the darkness of the wee hours of Tuesday July 13th a group of intrepid travelers made their way to the Dane County Regional Airport to begin a journey that might just change the entire course of their lives. It might in fact change the entire course of human history. Probably not though. Most likely it will just allow them the opportunity to visit some good friends in the bourbon business, and have some good fun along the way.

Jerry, Adam, Josh, and Kali landed in Louisville at around 10am. We arrived during a drenching downpour. When we left Madison the sun was just coming up and the storms that were hitting Louisville made for something of bumpy ride coming in. We made it though. Baggage was collected, and rental car was aquired. Props to the Alamo Car Rental guy for being very helpful and nice.

Upon leaving the airport we hopped on the highway and headed for the heart of bourbon country...Bardstown! Jerry and Adam had made this trip about 5 years ago and things were starting to look familiar. The first stop upon arriving in Bardstown was a quick stop at the Heaven Hill Visitor Center to check times for a tour that we are planning on taking on Thursday.

Now it is time for lunch. Our lunch choice today is Mammy's right near the center of Bardstown. Our waitress at Mammy's was wearing a tshirt that said "Country Cookin' Makes You Good Lookin'". The atmosphere was very friendly and the food was very good. Jerry had the Baby Hot Brown. A lunch sized version of a Kentucky classic. The Hot Brown contains: Texas Toast smothered with roasted turkey, country ham, parmesan cream sauce, cheddar cheese, baked in the oven until bubbly then topped with a slice of tomato and BACON! How dear friends can this be bad???

After lunch it was time for our first distillery visit. Today we were visiting our friend Hunter Chavanne at Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. We met Hunter when he came to Madison for " A Celebration of American Distilling" in February 2010. Hunter gave us a private tour of the family owned distillery. This distillery was built by the Willet family in 1935 at the end of Prohibition. You can still feel the rich history of this place as you look around. This small family run distillery produces knock out bourbons and has an exciting future. The bourbons that come out this distillery include Rowen's Creek, Noah's Mill, Pure Kentucky, Kentucky Vintage, Vintage Rye and Bourbon and Willet Small Batch.

After the tour we sat in a relaxed setting and shared a glass of Willet Family Reserve. We discussed the joys of our business and the joys of having customers who appreciate whiskey this good. Hunter remarked that his night at "A Celebration of American Distilling" at the Edgewater Hotel was so wonderful because those in attendance were so saavy about their whiskey.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Friends Don't Let Friends Drink And Blog.

So here we go!

Welcome to Star Liquor's brand-spankin'-new-don't-leave-home-without-it-state-of-the-art Blog. Perhaps the only blog you'll ever need to read. Perhaps not. Either way, should be fun.

For those new to blogs, the concept is simple.

According to Wikipedia : "Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog."

Well that's cool, but I would word that differently.

According to Star Liquor : "Blogs are maintained by super cool folks with regular entries of booze-related news, awesome employee-made videos, or amazing adventure stories of which the like you've never read before. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to connect with our customers and fans in yet another way."

There. Much better.

To be honest, we're not really sure what the main focus of the blog will be. Which naturally means it will probably never have a main focus. This is a good thing.

Towards the bottom of the page you'll see there is a link to subscribe to the Atom feed of our blog. Make sure you subscribe. With all the super time sensitive information that will be posted here, it's only natural you would want to be informed of new posts as soon as possible.

If you aren't familiar with feeds and RSS, check out this super helpful link.

In the coming week to start things off, Adam, Jerry and Myself (Josh) will be blogging our trip to Kentucky starting on Tuesday, July 13th. Looking forward to some exciting distillery visits, delicious food, and topping off the whole thing with Lebowski Fest 2010 in Louisville!

So there we have it. Exciting things are on the way, and we're glad we have the customers we do. Not many liquor stores get to continue their relationship with the customer beyond the front door. We're proud to say we can.