gettin’ lucky in kentucky

We’ve just returned from a fantastic week in Kentucky.  Not only is this state famous for its fried chicken, bourbon and racehorses but there’s also a gem of a climbing area, the Red River Gorge, tucked away in a rural area not too far from the bourbon trail.

The Red River Gorge is a sport and trad climbing area so we had to dig the rope out and say goodbye to our bouldering pad.  We soon discovered how much endurance we’d lost during our months of climbing small unimpressive blocks, but with such amazing lines through overhanging caves, rippled bulges and impossible wave features (our pictures don’t come close to doing it justice), it was hard not to get totally psyched and pumped out of our minds!  Despite being rained on almost every day (sometimes with incredible force), we were able to climb without too much interruption protected by steep overhangs and heavy foliage.

Angie feeling the steepness at the Playground

Steve milking a knee bar rest at the Shady Grove

One of the coolest features of the Red is the friendly climbing scene centered around Miguel’s Pizza, a local pizza place turned climbing store, campsite, internet cafe and chess dojo.  We were lucky enough to meet a great group of climbers there (most of whom met each other there too), who formed a colorful collection of individuals (but in a good way!) and were extremely welcoming.  They also helped us find the crags and local swim spots (the guide book is decidedly lacking in this area).

Here are a few pictures of the famous Miguel’s Pizza

The flora and fauna of the area were also really cool with huge tropical leaves and weird colorful bugs at every turn

Some care is required in walking the trails (this copperhead fell from a tree, landing just two feet from me!)

On a rest day, we took a trip to one of the first bourbon distilleries in the country, Woodford Reserve.  It was cool to see the process start to finish.  It’s really not a very complicated process with the only ingredients being corn, malted barley, rye, some of the last batch of fermented corn to provide consistency and of course Kentucky water.  No sugar is added at any stage.  Like wine, the primary flavour and colour come from the barrel where the whiskey is aged for up to 9 years.

These are the sour-mash tanks where the corn and barley are first brewed to create “whiskey beer.”

The alcohol is then evaporated off the beer in three stages (triple-distilled) to create a potent clear liquid around 90% alcohol.  The remaining sour-mash dregs are then fed to cows in the area (which seem very contented!)

Here’s one of the distillation tanks.

The barrels of initially clear alcohol are then led to the store rooms on these funky tracks.

The barrels are then stored for eight to nine years in charred white oak barrels to provide the whiskey with its distinctive color and taste.

To be called a bourbon, only new barrels may be used, the percentage corn must be over 51 percent and the percentage alcohol must be between 40 and 80 percent.  Although bourbons can be produced anywhere in the U.S., over 95% of the stuff comes from Kentucky.  The main reason for this is the limestone-filtered iron-free groundwater native to Kentucky which aids in the distillation process and allows the liquid to take on its distinctive amber colour (versus a much darker hue).  Interestingly, this same water which is extremely rich in calcium helped provide Kentucky with its racehorse-breeding roots.

Once the whiskey meets certain taste requirements, the barrels are tapped and the bottling line is fired up.

And there ends today’s lesson.  Happy drinking!

You can view all of our Kentucky pics here

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