Four Roses Barrel Pick Part 2 – “Drinks in a Stranger’s Basement”

Part 2 of the journey to Bardstown to pick a barrel of Four Roses.

The car was cruising along, south of Louisville, past the airport, past the tips of the spires at Churchill Downs. I was on my way to meet an epic rabble of bourbophytes.  “Step on it!” I said, only half joking. I was disappointed to find that the house at the exit off the interstate had taken down its banner that said “Bourbon ruins lives and property.”  The sign was long gone, as were the rusting, gutted wrecks of Detroit steel that had served as lawn decorations.  The man who made the sign obviously did not live at that property anymore, so maybe what he said was prophetic.

As the car blasted through the angels share of billowy steam rising from the hills and valleys around the gargantuan Beam facilities in Clermont, I realized I would have a little time to kill.  I suggested a stop at Heaven Hill, and with some minutes to spare and I ambled into the Bourbon Heritage Center.  I was still wearing the beat up Old Grand-Dad shirt that I planned on changing before dinner, but I figured what the hell, there is time.  I walked in the door, still smelling like 100 proof butterscotch.  The lady working the front desk could see me coming from a mile away, and probably smelled me too, most likely assuming it was my breath rather than my garments.  She greeted me in a nice enough fashion, showcasing the manners she was undoubtedly raised with.  But then her face went somewhat cold, one eye did full a slow blink as her lips pursed and she stated flatly, but with a slight chuckle, “We don’t have anything you are looking for, sir.”  An awkward moment of silence ensued, leaving me to reply with a silent nod of consideration.

At that moment my phone buzzed.  It was Travis.

On the other end of the line I heard a voice, “Dude, where are you?! We are in Bardstown.  We have a pour of Willett 826 waiting on you!”  I broke into my best impression of a clumsy Usain Bolt and sprinted for the car.  I goaded myself, “Run faster, you fool! That bottle won’t last long with their kind!”  He said they were all at a friend’s place nearby, a bourbon safe house, and I should come too.  They had just popped a bottle of Willett barrel 826 (aka God’s Special Reserve) and were watching the Masters.  Before departure, I popped the trunk lid and dug another sample out of my bag.  Being in this proximity to Heaven Hill dictated that I drink a little WHH 144; Oh Lord! 144 proof syrup that Zeus puts on his pancakes! I didn’t spill a drop.  Only minutes away, I said to the driver “Gun it”.  He looked at me quizzically in the mirror.  I backed it up with, “I said to.”

A text pinged in, saying “Come in through the back gate, we are downstairs.” The car pulled into the driveway, the driver noticed he was blocking some cars and backed out, stopping along the street.  I decided to change my shirt.  I whipped out a nicer looking polo, and just as I was in that vulnerable position of having my arms over my head, doing that belly jiggle shimmy to tug the new shirt on, a lady walking a dog passed by, peering in at me.  I couldn’t tell if she was interested or scared.  I noticed I had a rather large lint ball hanging precariously from the rim of my belly button, and out of habit nipped it out as she was watching.  Deep breath, sigh.  Regroup dude.  I sauntered across the driveway humming Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”.

As I opened the gate and walked into the backyard, I had a moment of panic hoping that I’d gotten the address right, or that Travis hadn’t given me the wrong one, or pulled a prank on me.  He wouldn’t do that, or would he?  I kept listening for sirens and played out 1000 scenarios in my head of what to say to the Bardstown PD while cuffed in the back of their squad car for breaking and entering.  “I swear to God officer, this is not my fault.  It must be a prank.  I was just here to kill a little time, watch golf and get drunk as shit before going on a distillery tour.  That’s it.”  I stepped towards the door, away from the door, towards the door, away from the door.  I was kind of a buzzed ballet.  I’m sure the neighbors, if they didn’t think I looked creepy and suspicious before, were in full on panic now.  A sheepish knock.  The door cracked open, there was Travis, that glorious bastard.

A glass of WFE 826 was already poured and airing out.  He handed it to me, gladly.  I sipped, smiled.  Sweetest thing ever.  Fucking peanut butter cups.  Walking through the basement, my eyes had to adjust to the darkness, and there I met some of my partners in this adventure.   Sean was at least three times my height and was pure Kentucky.  He got up and gave me a mountain bear hug, which to him probably seemed like a handshake though I felt my ribs pop and strain under the pressure.   He sat back down, literally across two recliners.  Greg looked like an elder statesman, swirling his glass, though the beads of sweat forming on his head and the half empty bowl of pimento cheese in his lap belied his hangover.  They had already been at the drink for days and I was late to the party.  Travis was in the corner shot-gunning a plastic bottle of Pedialyte, and I swear for a moment I thought I spied him nosing its aroma……


After consuming more of the 826 and a few crackers loaded with good southern pimento cheese, Travis who at this point was actually laying in the floor in front of the screen, rallied a little bit and in a brief moment of clear-headedness suggested we’d waited long enough and should try to get to Willett, as we had reserved the last tour of the day.  Though he was operating within the cranial fog of a man who had been consuming bourbon since the sun came up, he made a convincing argument.  We all got up, made a game plan and started walking towards the door.  I stuffed a handful of crackers in my pocket.  Greg said something  that I absolutely didn’t understand.”  Sean translated “He needs to go to the hotel.”  I opened the door which happened to be right next to the basement bar that was stocked with all manner of bourbon.   Ten minutes later we were still standing at the bar drinking a new release OBSV from Four Roses, talking shop.  I smacked myself in the face and did that Scooby Doo head waggle from side to side when he sees a 6 foot tall sandwich, ah diddy yah diddy yah diddy yah..  We had to get serious; I had made a pact with myself that we could not be late for the tour.  I pulled on my jacket.  We said some obligatory “see you in a few”, and shook hands.  Then Sean brought out some Four Roses from the 1950’s.  I pulled off my jacket, had to have it.  Everyone had a pour and unfortunately we were all underwhelmed, which was the impetus for getting us out of the neighborhood.  It was like a 60 year old liquid abort button.  (Note: I was informed my scribblings were wrong. The bottle was Brown and Foreman!) The fellas were taking Greg back to his hotel.  I was on my own, but I said I’d delay the tour guide.  It was 3:26.  The tour was at 3:30.  Willett was 10 minutes away; Once again I tell the driver to step it up.

Getting to Willett is nothing short of a scene from the Dukes of Hazzard.  I’ve made this drive a few times.  You blast through the round-about that rings the Bardstown courthouse, down a road that goes from nicely paved to chock hole central before petering out in a creek bottom.  You have to smash the gas going up the next hill, and as you reach the plateau you will be stunned to find yourself actually at the top of Heaven Hill, surrounded by cavernous white aging warehouses, coated with an ever growing 5’oclock shadow of mold, a byproduct of the aging process.  Down the other side of Heaven Hill is the entrance to Willett, though it’s easily missed.  Its gravel, all the way up another long grade, a hard left hander past ancient sheds and spring houses.  I got a good look at Warehouse C, the place where drams of dreams live.  The car made a hard hand brake turn into the parking spot, gravel dust flying into the air and rocks peppering the corrugated tin of an derelict shed trumpeting our arrival.  Throwing the door open and jumping out the hatch I quickly realize my seat belt is still buckled and the force pulling me back down into the seat.  I was too pissed on aged corn mash to worry or be embarrassed.

I needed to regroup, again.  I grabbed the samples and dug through them.  I needed some Willett, pulled out a couple of solid samples of B49C and C4D, and hammered them.  Man, I love Willett.  I hopped out of the car and headed towards the gift shop.

Next up: “A Gaggle of Whiskey Pigs Drinking at Harrison Smith House”

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