Travel

A visit to Woodford Reserve Distillery

Woodford Reserve Distillery

My camera’s battery died just a few photographs into our tour of the Woodford Reserve Distillery, between Frankfort and Versailles in central Kentucky. It’s a shame, because the place is so picturesque. I would have liked to photograph it extensively.

The distillery is also historic, one of the oldest in Kentucky. Known previously as the Labrot and Graham Distillery and before that the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, whiskey has been made here since 1812. Woodford Reserve is a Johnny-come-lately on the scene, having been distilled only since 1996.

Thanks to my iPhone for making it possible to document this visit at all. Here are Woodford Reserve’s famous copper pot stills, and also my wife Margaret from behind.

Woodford Reserve Distillery

Those pot stills make up only part of Woodford Reserve bourbon. The rest of it comes from the column stills of the Brown-Forman distillery in suburban Louisville, an hour to the west.

Woodford Reserve Distillery

Its rickhouse, where the bourbon barrels are left to age, is unusual in that it’s made of stone. So many are made of wood.

Woodford Reserve Distillery

One odd thing I noticed is that barrels in the rickhouse, the ones I could see anyway, carried distillery number DSP-KY-52. But newer barrels, including ones recently filled, bore the number DSP-KY-15018. This must be something quite new, as an Internet search on DSP-KY-15018 turns up nothing. A search on DSP-KY-52 returns all sorts of references to the Woodford Reserve Distillery. I wish I’d asked the tour guide about it.

Woodford Reserve Distillery

As a fellow who is seriously into bourbon, I appreciate a bar with a wide selection that includes some esoteric whiskies. But Woodford Reserve is a very nice bourbon, and most every bar carries it. Anywhere I go, I’m perfectly happy with a pour of Woodford Reserve. Neat, of course.

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Travel

A visit to Old Forester Distillery

Old Forester Distillery Tour

Margaret and I have been to enough bourbon distilleries now to know the drill: first the vats of sour mash, then the still(s), then the rickhouses where the bourbon ages in barrels, then the tasting. Up to now, it’s always all been in a pastoral setting among Kentucky’s gently rolling hills. But the Old Forester Distillery is different: it’s in downtown Louisville.

You’ll find a few other distilleries up and down Main Street and on adjacent blocks, making downtown Louisville a burgeoning whiskey center. It was one before Prohibition, but that misstep in American history decimated Kentucky’s whiskey industry and sent many distillers into bankruptcy.

For a long time Old Forester was distilled and bottled at a facility just outside Louisville proper. But there’s gold in them thar whikey-tourism hills and Old Forester led the way in returning to Louisville’s famous Whiskey Row. Stepping onto this street feels very much like returning to 1870.

Old Forester Distillery Tour

Little of the original building remains behind its facade. This is a modern facility through and through. Every bit of it is tourist-friendly.

Old Forester Distillery Tour

Here we are peering into one of the vats of fermenting sour mash. It looks like a giant corn muffin.

Old Forester Distillery Tour

Here’s one of the vats, empty, ready for a new batch.

Old Forester Distillery Tour

Old Forester’s parent company, Brown-Forman, is the last independently-owned distiller in the nation. They own a whole bunch of liquor brands, including Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve. Brown-Forman is further unique in that they own their own cooperage — they make their own barrels. The main cooperage is elsewhere in Kentucky, but for us tourists a cooper makes a few barrels at the Old Forester site.

Old Forester Distillery Tour

To be considered a bourbon, a whiskey must be made of at least 51% corn and must be aged in new barrels made of oak and charred inside. Here’s a barrel getting its char.

Old Forester Distillery Tour

After the whiskey has been distilled, it’s clear, essentially moonshine. They pour it into a barrel, seal it with a bung, and let it age in a warehouse. To be a bourbon, it must age for at least two years. Here a barrel is being emptied, on its way to being bottled.

Old Forester Distillery Tour

Here’s the Old Forester bottling machine, doing its stuff.

Old Forester Distillery Tour

Every bourbon distillery tour ends with tasting some of the product. Old Forester uses the same sour mash mixture to make a number of bourbons, including their original 86-proof bourbon (left). They age their distillate in different ways and for different lengths of time to get their other bourbons, including Old Forester 1897 (center) and Old Forester 1920 (right).

Old Forester Distillery Tour

The folks at Old Forester kept the tour fun and quick, and at $18 per adult it’s not terribly expensive. If ever you’re on Whiskey Row, do step inside.

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Faith, History, Travel

A model for living the faith: Father McDyer and alleviating poverty in Glencolmcille

Christians get a bum rap these days as being bigoted and small minded. Perhaps it’s because some high-profile people who claim to follow Christ behave that way. Perhaps it’s because many people experienced a rule-based, condemning Christianity as children.

glencolmcilleirelandmap
Glencolmcille. Imagery © 2016 Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO Landsat. Map data © 2016 Google.

But most Christians I know go quietly about their faith. The ones who live it out are involved in the lives of others, especially others in need. That’s what our faith is supposed to be: simply but actively passing along to others the love God has for them.

When Father James McDyer was assigned in 1951 to the remote Irish parish at Glencolmcille (Glen-column-keel) in western County Donegal, he found a people isolated and in poverty. Little paid employment was available. There was no industry, no electricity, no running water, and hardly a paved road. The rural people of Glencolmcille scratched out whatever bleak livings they could.

McDyer, born 1910, grew up in County Donegal. He knew this life. He saw many of his neighbors emigrate out of Ireland looking for better lives. It was part of a great outmigration; scores left Ireland in the early and middle 20th century.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

The folk village at Glencolmcille shows the conditions the people lived in when McDyer arrived. These thatched-roof huts, some original and some replicas, contain furniture and home goods typical of 1950s rural Ireland.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

To an American, “1950s” calls up images of suburban ranch houses and station wagons, televisions and refrigerators, freeways and skyscrapers.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

These simple dwellings and plain possessions are more in line with an American concept of the frontier eighteen fifties.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

McDyer set to work improving the peoples’ condition.

Irish farm life was largely confined to the family. McDyer saw that bringing people together, under common causes and in support of each other, was the key first step. He led them in building a community center, which volunteer labor completed in 1953.

He then worked to electrify Glencolmcille. He spent many of his days traveling, speaking to government officials to move his goal forward. Here he met stiff challenges, as the Irish government was heavily focused on attracting multinational corporations as the way to bring Ireland out of economic depression. This left no resources for rural areas. He was not above manipulating the system to meet his ends, and meet them he did, as electricity came to Glencolmcille in 1954.

McDyer also worked to create a municipal water supply and to pave the roads leading to Glencolmcille. In the early 1960s he spurred the creation of local industry in the form of industrial and agricultural cooperatives that processed vegetables and fish and created knitted goods. Finally in 1967, recognizing that tourism should be a vital part of Glencolmcille’s diverse economic portfolio, he led the creation of the Glencolmcille Folk Village.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

The Folk Village continues today as a tourist attraction. For a few euros, you can tour the impeccably maintained huts.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

One hut is a school. Pupils here wrote on slates until the early 1960s, when inkwells finally arrived. By this time, of course, American schoolchildren were moving away from fountain pens to ball-point pens.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

One hut is a typical home, another is set up as Father McDyer’s home and contains his personal possessions, and yet another is a general store and tiny pub. Together, they are a microcosm of centuries of rural Irish life.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

Before and after McDyer brought such life-changing improvements to Glencolmcille, the people certainly enjoyed a beautiful place to live.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

Hills and cliffs overlook the coast with its beaches. A horseshoe-shaped lagoon empties into the Atlantic Ocean. But surrounding natural beauty doesn’t feed families. McDyer’s efforts lifted Glencolmcille’s families out of abject poverty.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

James McDyer died in his sleep in 1987, leaving behind a region much improved, a people in much better condition.

This, then, is what a Christian, what Christianity, is supposed to do: seek the marginalized and help them improve their condition — and through this, help them meet and know God. Such gifts are not often given in this world. That these gifts are attached to a person doing God’s work, that they ultimately come from God, is what attracts people to the faith. It is the experience of God’s love and gifts on earth, and it is compelling.

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Photography, Travel

Always meet a fellow blogger when you get the chance

Our day along Northern Ireland’s Atlantic coast brought us near the home of fellow film photography blogger Michael McNeill. He writes the North East Liberties blog, which is named for the area of Northern Ireland that Michael calls home. When he read here that we were coming to Ireland, he wrote to offer a meetup. We made it happen.

jimmichael

Here we are, me with my Nikon N2000 slung over my shoulder and Michael with his pristine Nikon FE2 (I think it was) slung over his.

We met in Portrush, a holiday town just east of The Giant’s Causeway, from where we had just come. We met at the beach and walked to a little shop for tea. I announced my American-ness straightaway by taking mine black. Michael and Margaret poured on the milk.

Tea consumed, the getting-to-know-you conversation was going well so Michael suggested a stroll along the beach and up the little peninsula that comprises most of the town. I photographed this scene which I’m sure Michael has contemplated through his viewfinder many dozens of times.

Portrush

A little harbor rests about halfway up the peninsula and provides obvious photographic opportunity. But I didn’t take very many photos on our walk, actually. I’m sharing everything I shot in this post. The conversation was good and it seemed a shame to pause for too many photographs.

Portrush

We walked a trail up to the peninsula’s tip. Michael says that he often drives up here with his dog for walks.

View at Portrush

“If anyone knew I had friends in and didn’t take them to the Harbour Bar, I’d never hear the end of it,” Michael said, and with that, we popped in. A restaurant takes up the back, but up front is the kind of Irish bar you’d expect to see in a movie: crowded and spare, full of dim nooks and rough wooden tables. It’s an old bar, the oldest in all of Ireland. My stomach was out of sorts, so to my dismay and disappointment I had to decline the half-pint of Guinness Michael offered. But Margaret and Michael both enjoyed one, and our great conversation continued.

The Harbour Bar, Portrush

Margaret and I figured we’d meet Michael for a quick cup of tea and be on our way, but we had such a lovely time that we stayed in Portrush for a good three hours. We parted where we met, at the beach.

The beach at Portrush

Do follow Michael’s blog (here). He is dedicated not only to black-and-white film, but also to the art of darkroom work and printing. I believe most, if not all, of the photos on his blog are scans of his prints.

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Photography, Travel

On the trip of a lifetime, you power through your exhaustion and drink in every experience

Our first day in Ireland began at 10 am on Friday before Labor Day, as we drove north toward Chicago for our flight, and didn’t end until Saturday evening on Irish soil.

We flew from Chicago to Dublin, taking off at about 6:30 pm and touching down at about 8 am Irish time. That’s 3 am Indiana time. I caught a couple hours of solid sleep on the plane. Margaret dozed in and out.

From the Dublin airport we took a bus to a train station, where we boarded a train for Galway. We thought we might catch a nap on the train, but a delightful couple from northern California sat across from us and we spent the hours chatting.

In Galway, we rented a car and drove out of the city to a nearby village, Oughterard, where Margaret had booked us a B&B.

Crossriver B&B

We saw B&Bs all over Ireland, even in the remotest places we visited. It makes us think that tourism must be one of the country’s major industries.

I was already exhausted when we reached Galway, but driving the thirty minutes or so to Oughterard pushed me past my limits. In retrospect, it was a frightfully bad idea on that little sleep to do some mighty stressful driving. It was my first time driving on the left side of the road, on the right side of the car, and shifting gears (stickshift!) with my left hand. And we were following skinty directions on narrow, twisty roads in a surprisingly heavy rain. My internal battery was already dangerously low, and this involved driving drained it past empty. I was starting to lose it toward the end, especially as we discovered that the Irish don’t always sign their streets and we couldn’t find the turnoff to the B&B. We drove back and forth through Oughterard, trying every street until we got the right one. When we finally reached our room, I fell onto the bed in the fetal position and passed out.

I woke up at some point, still not entirely myself. Margaret had come back from a walk and wanted to walk again with me to explore little Oughterard. “Some of the pubs are having traditional music tonight! Are you up for going?”

I was still mighty tired and on edge. But I told myself: don’t squander opportunity. Off we went. Dusk was falling.

Oughterard, Co. Galway

Oughterard, nestled among sheep and cattle farms along the Owenriff River and Lake Corrib, is charming. Though it isn’t far from bustling Galway, it feels remote. In the fading light it looked just like an Irish tourism brochure.

Oughterard, Co. Galway

In the midwestern US, towns as small as Oughterard — pop. 1,300 — are invariably in bad shape, their best days decades in the past. Don’t bother stopping, as there’s nothing to do there. But Oughterard, like small towns all over Ireland, was fresh and vital and thriving. Each town offered something special.

Breathnach's

We chose Breathnach’s Bar, est. 1839, for our dinner and entertainment. The joint was full! But we were allowed to take our dinner at the bar, which we figured out later is generally not done in Ireland. A very kind fellow gave up his seat so we could sit down, and finished his last beer standing nearby. He chatted us up pleasantly and told us of the places he’d been in the United States. The bar’s owner or manager, at any rate a fellow who carried the confidence of being fully in charge, also chatted genially with us and was suitably pleased for us to learn that we were on our honeymoon. After our dinners were finished, he brought us each a digestif of Bailey’s, on the house, to honor our marriage.

Here’s a selfie we took at the bar. Our happiness fully masked our dizzy exhaustion.

Us in Oughterard

The music had begun, so Margaret ordered another Guinness. The tunes were delightful! But our very long day had caught up with us both. After a handful of songs, Margaret’s glass empty, we walked back to our B&B.

Canon PowerShot S95 and iPhone 6S

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Film Photography

What’s the best compact 35mm film camera to take on vacation?

As I get ready to visit Ireland with Margaret later this year, I’ve been trying to decide which film camera to take with me.

I’d love to shoot nothing but film over there, but ay yi yi the cost of processing the film when I get back! So I’ll pack my digital Canon PowerShot S95. This capable camera slips into any pocket and will let me shoot as much as I want. I just have to charge the battery each night at the hotel.

But I still plan to take one 35mm film camera and a few rolls of black-and-white film. The question is, which one? Frankly, I’d be happiest shooting one of my SLRs, but I want to travel light. This calls for one of my compact cameras. I have a bunch to choose from.

Olympus XA
The Olympus XA: a very nice compact camera

Vacation photography typically involves group family shots and portraits, as well as landscapes and streetscapes. Fortunately, compact 35mm cameras are made for just these kinds of photos. If you know going in that you want to shoot something other than that, such as closeups of local wildflowers or cinematic landscapes, consider taking gear that can do that. Most compact cameras can’t.

Which compact film camera you take on vacation depends on what is important to you.

Size — How small it needs to be depends on how you’ll carry it. Do you want it to slip into your pants pocket? Are you willing to carry it by its strap? Will you carry it in a backpack or purse? I want to slip mine into a jeans pocket, so the smaller the better, and it’s best if its lens is flush with the camera face.

Focus type — Decide whether to bias toward speed and ease, or toward control. If you think you’ll shoot almost exclusively group shots and landscapes, go for speed and choose an autofocus or fixed-focus camera. But if you think you’ll want to tightly control focus, such as for close work, consider a rangefinder camera. You’ll need to focus each shot, which slows you down — but that control will be there when you really need it. A middle-ground choice might be a zone-focusing camera. They generally offer three or four focusing zones. Many of them offer a focus setting that’s good for most shots; just leave it there unless you want to shoot something close up or far away. I shy away from zone-focusing cameras because all too often I forget to set focus at all.

Battery — A camera that doesn’t need a battery is ideal, but fairly rare. Next best: a camera that takes easy-to-buy AA or AAA batteries. But regardless of the battery the camera uses, if you drop in a fresh one before you go, it should easily last the trip.

Lens — Most compact cameras offer either a fixed lens of about 35mm or a zoom lens with about 35mm at its wide end. I think 35mm is just right for vacation photography. Compared to “standard” 50mm, 35mm widens the view up just enough to be useful for landscapes, without being so wide that it’s not useful for closer work. For me, zoom isn’t important; I don’t mind backing up or walking closer to my subject. My experience is that fixed lenses tend to be of better quality.

Annoyances — You want this camera to work fluidly in your hands. Why spend your trip frustrated with your gear? What’s annoying is personal, but here are some things that you might find annoying: a built-in flash that you can’t turn off, a mushy or awkwardly placed shutter button, a tiny viewfinder, no built-in flash, or a protruding lens that makes it hard to pocket the camera.

Cameras have a few other measures I don’t think matter too much in this case, such as range of shutter speeds, or range of film ISOs accepted. Pretty much all compact cameras offer a useful range of shutter speeds and accept the most common film speeds, such as 100, 200 and 400.

I own a number of interesting compact cameras, so the choice has been challenging. I used these criteria to narrow it down. More than anything else, I need a camera I can slip into my jeans pocket, which narrows the field way down. I want the best lens I can get, and I prefer autofocus.

So I went straight to my Olympus Stylus. I dropped some T-Max 400 into it for an audition. And I discovered a fatal flaw: every time you open the lens cover, the flash goes into Auto mode. I almost never want the flash to fire. I will never remember to turn it off every time I open it.

So now I’m auditioning my Olympus XA, even though it is a rangefinder. I don’t mind rangefinder focusing. The XA lacks a built-in flash, but that’s also not a problem for me. I have an external flash for it, but I think I’ll just leave it at home.

What compact film camera do you think you’d take on a long vacation?

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