There’s two ways drinking to stay awake can go. The right way – you simply stay awake. Or the the wrong way. You guess which way I went right?
Deliriously wasted on craft beer (21st Amendment Hell On High Watermelon IPA – this stuff is guuurd), mumbled my way into a drivelling coma and ended up at a White Castle eating quite possibly the worst burger to ever have crawled off a grill, lick itself a sludgy Kagool of sauce and slip between two saggy A-cup buns, giving me and my fellow pilgrimage road-trippers bum smells that make eyebrows melt. Ah well, they’ll get over it, we won’t be returning to Cincinnati again this year.
Onwards, let’s bounce and get this road trip rolling into Kentucky!
Kentucky, AKA the Bluegrass state because of the bluegrass found on its sprawling lush green hills, is famous for bourbon, horse racing, bluegrass music and some Colonel dude who did something with fried chicken – I don’t think it ever caught on though.
It also has a unique approach to barbecue – mutton – and that’s what we’ve come to feast on. But first we needed to build an appetite, and that meant a pit stop at Lawrenceburg, home to Red’s house bourbon, Wild Turkey (and sponsors of this here pilgrimage trip – big up!).
Wild Turkey Distillery
Sitting on the side of the Kentucky river, this distillery has its priorities nailed. It boasts the stat of having more ageing barrels of bourbon than the state has people. In its 27 warehouses, more than half a million casks lay in waiting ready to be bottled, shipped and sipped by those that take a liking to this golden nectar.
Story has it that back in 1940 a distillery executive, Thomas McCarthy, took it upon himself to try and better the liquid by sneaking back into the distillery late at night, tweaking and playing until just right. He then invited himself on the bosses Wild Turkey hunt (you can see where this is going, yeah?) and slipped into the team’s picnic, two bottles of his tweaked version. And the rest, as they say, is history.
And its this history and time honoured tradition that continues to run deep, decades later. Bourbon has to be at least 51% corn to be legally marketed as bourbon. That corn is mixed with malted barley (from North & South Dakota), rye (from Germany), water, yeast and a tonne of magic, mystery, machinery and mastery, to get the spicy bold flavour that Wild Turkey is known for. The company goes to such lengths that we learned it still cultivates its own yeast each week from an original live strain dating back to the 1950s. Deep.
However, it wasn’t long before the educational bit was overtaken by jokes and quotes. Queue Scott riding a wooden rocking turkey like a prize-winning Irish jockey, James trying to get high on yeasty carbon dioxide fumes with some 70 year old from Ohio, and me wearing wooden cask bungs as a pair of glasses for the rest of the tour…
Joking aside, a big thanks to everyone at the distillery for organising and to the Wild Turkey UK team for sponsoring the trip. Here’s our favourite sups from the day:
Suitably hungry, it was time for…
BBQ meal #1
Other than mutton, Kentucky is also famous for fried catfish, hush puppies, fried green tomatoes, cheese grits and a traditional stew called Burgoo.
So spotting an advertising boarding with the slogan ‘Wanted. For Bar-B-Q so good it oughta be good’, Bootleg BAR-B-Q in Louisville was getting a visit.
Authentically basic and adorned with neon signage and religious promises to ‘Have A Blessed Day’, we were greeted by a joyously busty hostess, Pam. The menu wasn’t exhaustive but it definitely shouted promise. Pam set about filling every corner of our table with plates of pulled pork & chopped chicken, sliced brisket, chopped mutton, spare ribs, pork loin, corn bread, Burgoo, mashed potato with white peppered ‘gravy’, potato salad, barbecue beans, green beans, two pots of BBQ sauce and a load of Big Red.
Spare ribs and Pork Loin
Mutton: This was deep and gamey with not much fat which was good, but the sweet sauce let it down. We’re going to work on a different take on this and bring it the The Good Book.
Spare ribs: Although a reheat they had a good smoke ring and decent bark. The sauce was served on the side, and the dry rub dusting gave the ribs a sweet note. We might look at changing up how we do some of our ribs in this way.
Corn bread: We get asked a lot if we’re going to bring this back. This cornbread here was good. It was cooked in a tray bake which meant it retained its moistness, and the taste and eat was much more like a cake. We later found out this was a Sara Lee brand they bought in. Maybe expect a tray bake Red’s version coming soon.
Mash and white peppered gravy: Amazing creamy mash, which when added with the white gravy was a great side.
We didn’t get to try their wings, but they did tell us that at last Super Bowl they served 26,000 chicken wings, all from from their three 1200 Southern Pride smokers, so we reckon they must be good.
The rest of the spread was a bit of a let down, maybe because their smokers were being cleaned so the majority of dishes were re-heats.
Before we left though, we were kindly given a recipe for Turtle burgoo, so not wanting to keep all the good stuff just for ourselves, here for your pleasure….
Burgoo was good, but no reference point – we might give this a go as a side
Recipe for Turtle Burgoo
Take a 6 foot trough, add water, cayenne pepper, some vegetables and a big turtle. Simmer for 8 hours over an open fire and you’re good to go.
Belly’s full, it was time to leave Kentucky and cross into Tennessee; first stop Nashville, home of live music and our chance to put this bourbon to good work…