Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Adventures in Beer and Whisky

Ok, spent the weekend in Kentucky with my wife. We needed a bit of vacation post sister-in-laws wedding, tax season, sister-in-law moving out ect. Part of the motivation for the trip was I am a Charter Member Maker's Mark Ambassador. This is the Maker's Mark fan club. I joined way back in college when it was first conceived. Anyways, Maker's Mark decided to place each Ambassadors name on a plaque (30 names on a plaque) on barrels of their whisky. I was in the first batch of Ambassadors to have their name on a barrel. It has been 7 or so years and the batch (19 barrels) of whisky is ready. Maker's has given all the Ambassadors a chance to buy a special bottle from their batch but you have to buy it at the distillery, this is what lead to the road trip.

We stayed in Bardstown, a nice central location for a weekend of Distillery touring. Started at MM Saturday morning. It was a wee bit crowded, I guess memorial day weekend is a big weekend to take in all the distilleries. Did the tour (most interactive distillery tour we took, I've done it 3 time now) and got to buy and dip my bottles. Very cool, I think that MM has the most scenic distillery. They have added a new reception area at the start of the tour, redid the old store to look like the house that the owner lived in as a child, had some cool interactive displays about the family history. The end of the tour wound up in the new store, very nice new area. The tour also now includes a taste testing! Yep, free Bourbon Whisky. So I did my tasting and had Kel's as well! Had lunch at a new cafe that has opened on the grounds, they opened it in the old toll house. Had a great pulled pork sandwich that was doused in a wonderful bourbon bbq sauce.

Our second stop on the tour was going to be Woodford Reserve. Unfortunately when we got there it looked like the entire state of KY was there as well. Discovered that the tours where sold out for the day!?! This sucked because it was 3pm (they closed a 6pm) and the website said nothing of the possibility of the tours selling out. Leaving Woodford a bit bitter we decided to try Four Roses Distillery that was just down the road. Pulled up and found out that there last tour was at 3! Dang it. Went inside anyways and found they where running a nice video about the distillery. There where about 6 of us who missed the last tour but the tour guide stopped in and gave us a brief history of the plant and then gave us a tasting of 3 of Four Roses bourbons! Sweet! We tried the Yellow Label, Small Batch and Single Barrel. Single Barrel was sweet. He also let us try a bit of the High Wine or White Dog, this is the pre-aged bourbon. Not as bad as I would have thought is to be but prett harsh compared to the finished product. If you have not heard of Four Roses there is a reason. From 1962 to 2002 Four Roses was owned by Seagrams and was only sold over seas. That meant that even the folks working at the distillery could not buy the bourbon they where producing. In 2002 the company was sold and started selling bourbon in the US again. They have recently expanded outside of KY and are hoping to go nationwide in the next few years. Another very pretty distillery (it looks like an old spanish mission) and the staff was great. Make this a stop on your list.

Sunday we had two more stops, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam. Heaven Hill is in Bardstown and their tour starts at their Bourbon Heritage Center. Very nice new building with tons of history and displays. Tour starts with a video and then includes a nice walk to a very large barrel house. No distillery on site anymore, the original burned down about 12 years ago and instead of rebuild it was easier for HH to buy another distillery, which they did and it is located in Louisville. Video was very nice, Kel said it was the most informative tour we took. Walk in the barrel house was neat. Tourguide showed us how to read the barrel heads to determine how old some of the whiskey was. Tour ended with another tasting, this time we got to try two different single barrel bourbons (my fav). One was an Evan Williams Vintage Bottled Single Barrel, this example was 12 years old ('96) and was a very nice bourbon. The second was the Elijay Craig 18 year old single barrel, wow. Now that is a heck of a bourbon, smooth, flavorful, all in all almost perfect. We bought some hot sauce and grabbed lunch in town before heading to Jim Beam. Beam was a bit disappointing, it is a self guided tour and there are no tastings on Sunday (county law). Booooo!

So it was a good trip and Kel gladfully tagged along without too much complaining (aside from flat out refusing to try and bourbon). Why I didn't do this as a spring break in college I don't know...

My one quick beer note, I tried a Heller Rauchbier. This is a smokebeer. Read about it in my Beer Advocate Magizine and figured I would give it a shot. Wow, it smells like smoked bacon! Tastes a bit like hickory smoked bacon and bbq sauce. How is this not the most popular beer in the world? I dunno. If you run across a Rauchbier or another smokebeer give it a try, you will be surprised.

2009 Toyota Corolla Review

Another car review!

It has been a bit but on my recent trip to Virginia I rented a new (only 1000 miles on the clock) 2009 Toyota Corolla. Figured I didn't need a big can and I would try to save the company some money on the gas.

First Impressions:
Not a bad looking car, plenty of room in the truck (maybe a 3 golf bag/2 body trunk?), good looking interior. Good lines on the exterior and everything looks to be put together well. Nice to see that the rear seats fold flat if needed and there is a rear seat release in the trunk, a very nice touch.

Car came with a cloth interior, seems to be a very nice and durable fabric. Glad to see no leatherette. Seats are very comfortable, all the controls are well within reach. This was a pretty base model car but it had some nice features that made it seem a bit more upscale. Nice to see an Auxiliary input on the base stereo. Stereo was ok, didn't blow me away but sounded good. Center stack was well designed and all of the AC controls where easy to figure out. Gauges where all very easy to read. Tilt and telescoping steering wheel!!! A huge plus in my book since I don't like to have my arms extended straight when driving. Dead peddle area was a bit close to the seat but there was plenty of room next to the brake peddle to stretch out my leg. Mirrors covered outside well, no huge blind spots, all in all very good visibility. Car was very quite on the inside, could barley hear the engine running while at idle or when driving at 70mph. The one main issue I had with the interior was a metallic rattling that came from the drivers side door, sounded like something was loose. Something that I would have fixed by the dealer if I had owned the car.

This is a base 4 cylinder Corolla with 132hp engine. Wasn't expecting much but the engine did have decent pep. Transmission did a good job of making sure it was in the right gear and changing quickly when needed. Steering was strange. Felt good at some point but vague at others. Noticed the odd steering behavior mainly when driving in windy conditions. Car was blown around quite a bit and it I had to be very active with the steering to keep my line. At highway speeds it was hard to keep the car on center as a very slight move in the steering wheel would move the car a very large amount. This was helpful at slow speeds and in parking lots but extremely annoying when cruising the interstates. I know this isn't a performance car but aside from the wonky steering the car handled quite nicely, it was a welcome surprise.

For my whole trip (1/2 interstate, 1/2 backroads) I returned about 33 mpgs. Not bad at all. I had the AC on for part of the trip and flogged the car a bit on the back roads to see what it could do. For the price point (About 17K from what I can figure) this is a great car. If you are looking for a car that drives pretty well, has a bit of pep, gets great mileage on regular gas, has plenty of room for 4 adults and all their bags and is well priced this is a car to look at. The only other car I could compare it to would be a Ford Focus that I rented about a year ago. The Corolla is way better than the Focus.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Top 5 Concerts I've Seen...

In honor of the amazing Radiohead Concert here in Atlanta last week I figured I would break out my top 5 concerts I've been to....

1. Feb. 13, 1997: Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Acoustic Set, 10th row or so. Overall an amazing show, setlist

2. May 8, 2008: Radiohead, wow is all I can say. I loved this band before the concert and now I have a new found respect for the fact that they can pull all their songs off live and sound perfect.

3. Flogging Molly at the Fox in Detroit sometime in '05 I guess. Get show, high energy, small venue. Opening acts where insane, crowd was....interesting? Love this band.

4. Snow Patrol at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. I think this was in '05 as well. This show was before they hit the radio, not all that crowded but still an amazing concert.

5. Mighty Mighty Bosstones, St. Patrick's Day Concert '04 in Detroit. They where supposed to be the opening band for Flogging Molly but FM pulled out to do the Jimmy Kimmel show that night at the last second. In response they moved the concert to some small place near Greektown. MMB put on one hell of a show for all the folks that decided to show up anyway. Sat in the upper balcony on the side. Most aggressive and high energy show I've seen.

Well, there they be. My top 5 concerts. Any readers want to chime in on their top 5 concerts?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Radiohead Concert

Saw Radiohead at Lakewood last night. One of the more impressive concerts I have ever been to. They played a great setlist and sounded excellent all night. Here is the setlist:

1. All I Need
2. There There
3. Lucky
4. 15 Step
5. Where I End and You Begin
6. Nude
7. Pyramid Song
8. Optimistic
9. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
10. National Anthem
11. Idioteque
12. You And Whose Army?
13. Reckoner
14. Everything In Its Right Place
15. Bangers and Mash
16. Bodysnatchers
17. Videotape
Encore 1
18. The Gloaming
19. Talk Show Host
20. Just
21. Faust Arp
22. How To Disappear Completely
Encore 2
23. Paranoid Android
24. House of Cards

Great songs all around. Didn't get to here my fav (Fake Plastic Trees) but Talk Show Host was a great surprise. Most technically sound band I have ever heard played live. Very impressive considering the amount of effects they use. Also didn't realize how much lead guitar Thome York played. A great concert and a band that I will make sure to go see again in the future.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Back from the Dragon and NC

Returned home in one piece from a work trip, MOTD (MINIs on the Dragon) and a bachelor party in Charlotte. Not too much worse for the wear. Played a great round of golf near Lake Norman, shot a 75. Best part about the course where the $1 beers and food. The dragon was great and relaxing as always, just wish I could have stayed the whole weekend, can't wait for next year. Had to drive the TR to work again yesterday, had another cracked wheel on the MINI. If you are looking for wheels I would stay away from Falken wheels. Two cracked wheels in a week (front left and right rear) is not a good sign. Picked up a new set with a lifetime warranty at Discount tire. Never had a bad experience at a Discount, they went out of there way to get my new wheels on (gave me more expensive wheels at a discount because the ones I wanted where out of stock, and then went around the show room changing out display lugs to make sure the had a complete set to match the wheels). Highly recommended if you are looking for new tires or wheels. TR is still running great, the new MINI wheels have pushed off the brake upgrade until summer. Can't wait to get all the work done this winter. The more I drive the car the more I can't wait to get it all sorted, it is going to be a blast when it is all done.

Not much planned for the next week. Sister-in-law is getting married next weekend, then I head to VA for a week and then Kel and I head to KY for a long weekend towards the end of the month. Going to the Radiohead concert tonight, I'll throw a review up tomorrow.