The Bourbon Brain Trust. From Left to right: Maggie Kimbrl, Michael Veach, Nicolas Laracuente, Alan Bishop. Photo courtesy of Maggie Kimbrl.
I’ve written here on the Alchemist Cabinet about the recreation farm-distillery at beautiful Locust Grove in Louisville KY and have even interviewed distiller Brian Cushing in the past. For those who haven’t been I highly encourage you to go and take a tour and spend some time talking with Bryan and also to be on the lookout for special events at the facility as there is a lot to learn from this living history. This past Thursday was no exception as Locust Grove Hosted Bourbon Archeology by the Kentucky Society of the Archaeological Institute of America.
One of the reasons I so love the Locust Grove farm distillery is because in the timeline it exists in Bourbon has not yet become an actual category and subsequently the distilling focus is more on Bourbon’s predecessors in the form of corn and rye whiskey (and potentially brandy in the future) and while I love Bourbon as much as anyone there are so many other non-bourbon stories out there to tell that deserve just as much attention. Brian and the staff do a fantastic job at putting the emphasis where it historically deserves to be while maintaining a healthy dose of respect for the well-known spirit of the state.
The program Thursday was separated into three unique parts; the first a talk by Nicolas Laracuente of Bourbon Archeology (better known as the Indiana Jones of Bourbon), followed by a night time tour of the farm-distillery, and then a guided tasting (of five bourbons) and talk by historian Michael Veach. I think I have potentially read with great delight everything that Nicolas has written via Bourbon Archeology at this point but had never had the chance to meet him, when I arrived at the venue my good friend (and Alchemist Cabinet writer) Mark Baxter was kind enough to introduce me the three of us hit it off immediately talking about old still sites, his in Kentucky, mine in Hoosier land, and about the various ways of identifying abandoned distillery sites as well as various artifacts and stories we have discovered. I will be interviewing Nicolas in the coming weeks and I am hoping to convince him into a short trip to both the Thomas Greens distillery near Becks Mill and to Cave River Valley this coming fall/winter. We traded some great tips, me as a distiller and he as an archeologist, the two going hand in hand on these old sites. He clued me in to elevation changes between buildings and to LIDAR mapping (I’m still trying to find a good Indiana source) and I clued him into the disappearance of apple/peach orchards after prohibition (good apples for distilling don’t always eat well and often the orchards were chopped down and plowed under) and to hitting up spelunkers for hints as they know where all the good springs and caves are that might have supported distilleries once upon a time.
Nicolas’s presentation was very enlightening regarding his work at Woodford Reserve, the Joulet site, the Epler distillery, Buffalo Trace, and a few Moonshine related sites. Nicolas has a very passionate approach to what he does and a real enthusiasm for presenting his work to others, work I might mention that is super important not only to the past of distilling but to the present and into the future as well. He even mentioned the much dreaded and maligned Canadian Mist Bourbon!
After Nicolas’s presentation we headed down to the farm distillery where Brian Cushing was giving his demonstration and living history lighted by candles and a full moon, the even was a bit surreal for most I imagine, but to say it was the first time I’ve stood under a full moon next to a still would be a lie, although mine never seemed as romantic or fitting as Brian’s. Brian and his team had even grown some period appropriate Texas Gourd seed corn for the farm-distillery demonstration this season which he had on prominent display during his speaking engagement. I filmed about six minutes of Brian’s dialogue to share with readers as a bit of a tease of what is offered by the experience, he has so much more to share than what I will present below but it really is something you need to see and hear in person, so for now it’s just a slight tease.
After this we headed inside and took a seat for our bourbon tasting. I can’t remember what was offered other than Very Old Barton, Old Fitz Prime, and Old Granddad BIB, standard faire blue collar bourbons, stuff I like, working man booze so to speak. Fair priced and easy to find and a good comparison for the crowd many of whom weren’t intimately familiar with Bourbon. The tasting was a lot of fun and myself, Mark, Maggie Kimberl of the Whiskey Wash even got to throw in on the conversation and tasting dialogue and a good geeky exchange was had about proof, rye vs. wheat, yeast and yeast propagation and culturing, and varieties of corn.
After the event Mark and I caught up a bit in the parking lot and shared the ubiquitous Kentucky Ale 8 (humorous because both of us are Hoosiers) and talked Bourbon History and potential writing and history projects for the Alchemist Cabinet. All in all, a great event and well worth the entry fee.
If you haven’t had a chance to hear Nicolas speak about Kentucky Bourbon Archeology I highly recommend looking out for his presentations in the future and as always, any event which Michael Veach speaks at is always a worthwhile endeavor to attend, as well his book, Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage, is a must have for distillers or fans of good spirits the world over.