A Spicy, Wintry Trip to a Cooperage (and a distillery, of course)

Limestone Branch and Kentucky Cooperage

One of my best memories of recent years was traveling to Lebanon, Kentucky on a snowy day to visit a cooperage, a place where they make barrels. It was all in the name of research for one of my books (Toast and Char), where the hero owns a cooperage.

The main independent cooperage in Kentucky is Kentucky Cooperage, operated by Independent Stave Company in Lebanon, Kentucky. I had heard about the cooperage from visits to Bourbon Trail distilleries and had checked out their website. But since I was writing about a guy who was part owner of a cooperage, I knew I needed to go and see the place for myself.

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From the Independent Stave website

I watched a few videos online, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy my nerdly brain. So one snowy winter day I headed south—and, not coincidentally, directly through the area where Bourbon Springs would be if it really existed. I do take a few geographic liberties in describing a few things—Bourbon Springs is fictional, after all—but I saw the sights I anticipated—rolling hills of the outer Bluegrass region mixed with the pointed Knobs to the south and west.

The tour at Kentucky Cooperage started in an employee breakroom—really. Part of the room had a little sitting area where the visitors were shown the same video that’s available online. After watching that, we got a headset with speaker in it; we were going into very loud places. We started in the area where the barrels were assembled or raised, and saw a cooper do this. We then went to the area where the barrels were charred, five at a time. That day they were making barrels for Maker’s Mark. The guide told us that they run one brand every day and that’s all they’ll run. After that, we were taken to inspection, where a field of new barrels, stacked two-high spread out through the warehouse. A cooper came and gave a demonstration of how to remove a defective stave (quite the mysterious puzzle to me). They seal any extra cracks or gaps with dried cattails! At the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown in September 2015, I saw coopers from Kentucky Cooperage repairing barrels with cedar plugs in addition to cattails.

Then it was over. The tour was only about fifteen minutes long but interesting.

And what was the best part?

The smell!

All that wood—they steam it and, of course, set it on fire to char it (and, yes those barrels really burn). The scent was wonderful, like the most perfect fire you could possibly build in your own hearth. It was a deep, spicy, even food-like aroma that clung to me, through my hair and my clothes. It wasn’t the same kind of scent one gets after being around a campfire. It was more akin to the kind of smell one has after cooking a really big dinner, like Thanksgiving, after roasting a very large piece of meat. It was that good.

Having time on my hands and knowing that a distillery was nearby, I hastened to Limestone Branch Distillery across town—the tour, like at the cooperage, was free. The distillery was new and small, but a veritable temple to bourbon. The place is owned by a couple of Beams and, as they are very proud to say, they are the only distiller-owner Beams at present. Limestone Branch was only opened in 2012.

Not only are the owners direct Beam descendants, they are direct Dant descendants, another legendary bourbon making family. The tour took as long to talk about history (there were two glass cases crammed with the coolest memorabilia—lovely old bottles! A copper yeast jug!) as it did to show us the operational distillery itself. These people revere their past, and it shows. As a history nerd, I was in heaven.

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The distillery makes a lot of flavored products (they’ve partnered with Moon Pie to market flavored moonshines), which isn’t my thing. So when it came to tasting, there was a bunch of flavored stuff. I was the only woman in the small group; several of the men along were in the area for a national farm equipment show in Louisville.

So what did these burly fellows drink as their free sample shots?

Yeah, the “girly” stuff: the flavored moonshines—banana, caramel, chocolate, apple, whatever. I got nothing against that stuff, but I wanted some straight corn. No straight bourbon was offered.

Who was the first to ask for the straight ‘shine?

Yeah, ME.

Only after that did the guys ask for the ‘shine. Insert eye-roll here.

The guide said the ‘shine should go down smooth and then I should feel a warmth in my chest. Well, I felt the burn on my lips and in my mouth—not as smooth as claimed, but still pretty darned smooth for ‘shine.

Before I left, one of the Beams came and talked to the group. I went out back and took a few pictures of the Knobs to the south. Very pretty country.

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Looking south from Limestone Branch Distillery, winter 2015

Limestone Branch Distillery is on the Craft Trail Tour, so I got a passport and got my first stamp. On my way to getting my Julep Cup—someday (the prize for completing the Craft Trail Tour).

I really want to get back to Kentucky Cooperage for another tour very soon. The problem is the heat. Summertime is not the ideal season to visit. Add the steamy environs of a cooperage to that kind of weather, and I’m not sure I can handle a tour. Maybe I can sneak down there on some rainy day.

Note:  This piece originally appeared (without images) in the back matter of Secret Sauce, the short story immediately following Secret Blend (Bourbon Springs Book 1).

***

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A Springtime Trip on the Bluegrass Railroad

In western Woodford County is a wonderful attraction: the Bluegrass Railroad Museum. Not only is this a “static” museum with the typical displays, it is a living, working, moving museum.

In short, you can take a train ride!

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A “quilt piece” sign on the side of the museum; reflects the classic railroad crossing road sign

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I’d been on the train ride a few years ago in the fall, but wanted another family outing, this time to see the spring colors. The weather did not disappoint, and after lunch in Versailles at Ricardo’s, we headed to the museum. Lunch at Ricardo’s was particularly appropriate because it used to be the Versailles train station.

The museum is located on the western end of town, near the baseball fields and a large recreation center. There’s plenty of free parking.

This time, I opted to get first-class tickets rather than coach. On our previous excursion, I tried to save a little bit of money by buying the cheaper tickets. That really was a mistake. The seats as I recall in coach were quite hard and there’s no heating or air conditioning in that part of the train. I can attest, therefore, that the first-class tickets (five dollars more per ticket), were worth it. We had comfortable seating throughout the trip.

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Draped on the back of every seat in first classs

The engineer explained how the whistle would blow to signal our departure from the small station, and off we went, headed west towards the Kentucky River. The river was approximately 7 miles away.

We trundled along through the Bluegrass, spotting several thoroughbred horse farms. We even made a stop in tiny Milner, where we picked up some passengers who had missed the train (and therefore about a quarter of the whole journey).

Our trip on the tracks had us running parallel to US 62; it was easy to see the cars on the road from the train (the tracks are so close to the road in places that it’s hard to see the tracks on the above map). We passed through fairly deep limestone cuts, which became more common as we approached the steep and hilly ground around the river. During this portion of the excursion, I spotted a deer running through the woods.

You actually do not cross the river. Although there is a bridge, it was condemned for passenger trains in 1937; it was condemned for freight in 1985. The bridge, which dates from approximately the 1890s, was never renovated. According to one of the guides, in the 1980s when the bridge was towards the end of its working life, the railroad workers approaching the bridge feared it. They could feel the bridge swaying under them as they passed over the river, which is over 200 feet below. The guide told a story of how railroad workers would get off the train and cross it on a hand car, leaving one poor worker (who had no doubt lost a bet) to drive the train across the river and the deep gorge.

Once at the river, you can see four distinct things.

First and straight in front of you is the bridge, looking every bit as rickety as you can imagine.

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You can only go out on the bridge if you belong to a bungee-jumping club.

Second and below you is US 62, the road which runs parallel to the train tracks and crosses the river.

Third, to the right and slightly north across the river is Wild Turkey Distillery, its rickhouses, visitors’ center, and  distillery plant all within clear view. As one drives west on US 62 across the river,  on the other bank just above the road is a billboard (only a shadow in the picture below). The billboard says: “See the house that Jimmy built.” Jimmy Russell is the Wild Turkey master distiller and has been for sixty years.

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Does it look a little familiar? This is the opposite view of the header on my website at the top of this page. I took that picture in September 2014 at the Wild Turkey visitors’ center, visible in this shot on the far right in the middle of the photo between land and sky; the visitors’ center looks like a black barn with a pitched roof. That water tower in the distance has the Wild Turkey logo on it with the phrase “Welcome Home”

Lastly, to the south and low along the river is a massive quarry (look at the picture of the bridge and the lower left).

Just out of sight to the north is a large electrical plant. A lot of the land to the north on our side of the river (Woodford County; Anderson County is on the western side of the river) is owned by the electrical company, Kentucky Utilities.

We could not actually see the river; we were too far up and there was already too much vegetation.

On the ride back, we were sleepy, some of us dozing, as the train trundled back to the station, almost rocking us to sleep as it swayed side to side on the tracks.

The entire excursion took approximately 2 1/2 hours, a wonderful family outing on a lovely Kentucky spring day.

The Bluegrass Railroad Museum is a non-profit organization and celebrated its 40th year in 2016.

***

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May the Fourth Be With You…Always

I originally published this blog post in 2016 and thought it worth recycling today (May 4th).

I am a huge Star Wars fan.  And, as you’l read below, I love the music. I have a copy of the album from the most recent movie, The Last Jedi, and already have my favorites from that work (Acho-To Island; Lesson One). The discussion below reviews one of the most important musical motifs in the series.

 

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Think of Star Wars. The movie that came out in 1977, the original film that started it all.

Now think of that movie without the music.

Can you do that?

For me, it is impossible. Star Wars as a movie and as a movie franchise is forever entwined with its music. The 1977 score is so iconic that it has been heralded as the best movie score of all time. I can’t argue with that.

I love that score. I listen to it all the time. I know the little motifs, I can see in my mind the action on the screen as it is wedded to the music.

Music also ties the movies together, despite changes in time and characters. We can hear the Force theme in the Original Trilogy and the Prequels and now in The Force Awakens.

In early 2016,  bought a copy of the score from The Force Awakens. There was a particular musical moment I really wanted on that album. But it wasn’t there.

And it’s probably the most important musical moment in the entire film because it reflects another crucial moment. I suppose they kept this musical tidbit off the album to prevent spoilers, but I’m really angry not to have it.

And spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen The Force Awakens.

One of the most important scenes in Star Wars (1977) (and not just that movie but the entire series of films) is when Luke rushes back to his home to discover it smoldering and his aunt and uncle murdered. Until that point, he is interested in Obi Wan’s tales but not interested in going on “some damn fool idealistic crusade.” He knows his place and that place is with his family on Tatooine, helping on the farm. But when he sees his world is destroyed, he knows what he must do and makes a choice to go with Obi Wan and be trained as a Jedi.

In this video we first hear the Force Theme as he comes upon the disaster then, at approximately nineteen seconds in, we hear the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath). On the original Star Wars soundtrack, this track is “Burning Homestead.”

This motif (Dies Irae) is from a Requiem Mass. It is a motif of death, rebirth, tragedy, new beginnings. And guess where it shows up in The Force Awakens?

When Rey calls the Skywalker lightsaber to her. The Force Theme leads into the Dies Irae.

It is the same piece of music. I later read that although the original score was what is on the soundtrack, they took the 1977 score and simply added it later.

And here is that wonderful scene. The Dies Irae is at 28 seconds into this clip (sorry about the ads), about a second before Rey ignites the lightsaber.

There has not been a death (although Finn has been gravely wounded), but it is the point where Rey makes her choice to embrace her identity as a Jedi. Remember she ran–literally–when offered the Skywalker lightsaber. She had her vision upon touching it, was terrified, was given the choice, and fled.  But there in the snow, alone with Kylo Ren, she calls the weapon to her whereas her opponent cannot.

That is the most important scene in the movie in my opinion. Not when she defeats Kylo Ren, but when she makes her choice. Her old self dies away, leading to her triumph.

May the Fourth Be With You.

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Bourbonland Glass

In September and December 2017, I went to a fabulous exhibit (twice) at Maker’s Mark in Loretto, Kentucky. The exhibit was to close in October but it was extended due to interest.

No, it wasn’t about bourbon.

It was about beautiful blown glass pieces, with the distillery as the backdrop.

It was mesmerizing.

The works were by Dale Chihuly. A piece of his has been in one of the ceilings of a rickhouse at Maker’s for years (really; a piece of art like that in the ceiling of a rickhouse).

It had been a while since I had been to Maker’s; there has been substantial development, including a new visitors’ center and a storage facility built into the side of a hill. The former visitors’ center is now a place to get a bite to eat; it was the inspiration for the Old House at Old Garnet.

Here are a few of my pictures. I am planning a return trip before the exhibit closes. And where did we eat dinner?

The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown.

If you ever go to Maker’s note that it is the most remote of the major bourbon distilleries.

 

The sign greeting us just outside the visitors’ center; note the lovely view in the background

 

It was an absolutely gorgeous evening

 

Kentucky Basketball commemorative bottles just casually placed on a windowsill…

 

One of the pieces–which looked like a boat–above a small creek that runs through the distillery grounds

 

Summer Sun (2010)… at dusk at Maker’s

 

Detail of Summer Sun

 

 

The rickhouse ceiling

I can’t remember the name of this piece, but I think it was something like Sapphire and Platinum; that new in-the-side-of-a-hill storage facility is behind the piece

 

A boat full of beauty

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Perryville Revisited

If you’re not a Civil War buff or live in central Kentucky, you probably haven’t heard of Perryville.

Nonetheless, Perryville is important.

This is a long post. Hang in there with me. Learn why Perryville is so special.

This quiet corner of northwestern Boyle County is the site of Kentucky’s largest and most important Civil War battle. I love this place, and it appears in my works (and will continue to do so). I have even taken a day off work to go there by myself and write outside. It was a beautiful June day.

I first went to Perryville when I was in high school, on a field trip with my history class one wonderful April day. It was glorious: rolling fields of Bluegrass tinged with broadening patches of green. Flowering trees. The large Knobs looming in the distance to the south beyond the town. And history all around us as the park guide and my teacher took us on a small hike, pointing out important spots. (Here’s the link to the state park website.)

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Perryville Battlefield State Park; from high point of the picnic area, looking south toward the Knobs; picture taken by me July 2015

I was charmed and surprised that I lived so close to such an important historic site. I’m still surprised that more people aren’t aware of the site–of its beauty and importance.

I went to college just down the road from Perryville, at Centre College in Danville, about ten miles east. During my freshman year, I started driving out to Perryville on my own just for a break, for an escape. I remember the first time I did it. I had no map, only my memory of that field trip from my senior year of high school.

Something must have stuck in my brain because I didn’t get lost, despite the battlefield site being a few miles out of town and in the middle of the country. It was like something was guiding me.

I drove my car along exactly the same route my class had take around a year before, retracing that path precisely. I can still recall my pleasure in rediscovering the area, down to the large grey horse I encountered looking over a fence very close to the road on the right as I came up a hill. To this day I see that horse in my mind’s eye when I drive around the perimeter of the state park on that same road. I still remember the song I had on when I saw that horse (“Tombstone,” by Crowded House; weirdly appropriate considering where I was but not deliberately chosen on my playlist).

These days, Perryville is a favorite picnic spot for my family in warm weather. We live not quite an hour away.  In addition to a museum on the park grounds, there is a large picnic area with a playground. There used to be another playground site, but that equipment was removed within the past two or so years; it was quite old (but was so retro fun; my family misses it). One February, the weather turned so fine that we got a trip in to Perryville one Saturday (and you can see a few photos from that trip below). We flew kites and had a great time in spring-like conditions.

But when we picnic and play at Perryville, I do so with the knowledge of what happened on the land underneath and around us. The main picnic area was where the Confederates began to push back the Union left. The picnic grounds were the site of a very bloody battle.

A few years ago, I went on a reading binge about Perryville. I read Stuart Sanders’ Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky’s Largest Civil War Battle (The History Press) (KY) as well as  Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, by Kenneth Noe, a professor at Auburn University. Noe’s book is a door-stopper of a tome; but I’m a history nerd and read the whole thing (a good winter read). My only criticism is that it needed better maps (I love maps, so I might be a bit too harsh here).

I learned quite a bit from my reading, including that one commander thought the battle would take place in Versailles, Kentucky (where I live) and of the amazing incompetence of both Union and Confederate commanders.

But the main thing I discovered–or, really, was reminded of–was Perryville’s importance in the Civil War. It doesn’t get a lot of love when it comes to popular historical knowledge (if I mention Bull Run, Appomattox, or Vicksburg, you’ve likely heard of at least one if not all of those places).

Yet Perryville (also called the Battle of Chaplin Hills) was a crucial battle from a military point of view as well as a political one.

For those with knowledge of the battle, please forgive me for summarizing and glossing over important points (and I hope I got things right); for those who don’t want too much detail, sorry for the history nerdiness that is about to ensue).

First, as a tactical engagement, the Confederates basically fought the Union to a draw.

The Rebels were actually outnumbered but the Union commander didn’t send reinforcements until very late in the day (after a horrific, bloody battle). The reason the battle stopped was because of the arrival of the reinforcements (at the moment the Union was close to being outflanked), coupled with the encroaching darkness. The road down which the Union reinforcements came is still there, known as the “Dixville Crossroads,” the spot of the climax of the battle; today, it’s just two roads meeting but I know my history and what happened in that lonely little spot on a fall evening in 1862; the crossroads are at Hays-Mays Road and Whites Road; see map below.

But in the long term, the battle was a loss for the Confederates because they retreated and left Kentucky. The whole point of their campaign was for the Confederacy to take the Commonwealth. That didn’t happen and the Rebels retreated to Tennessee. Kentucky remained securely within the Union (at least from a military and economic point of view; sentiment was a different matter, especially after the war).

There is a physical place where forces met and one force failed to overcome the other at a turning point in the battle. The place, along a rock fence and treeline in a lonely field in northwestern Boyle County, Kentucky, is called the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy in the Western Theatre.”

The Union had been pushed back to this hill all through the day, losing men and equipment (including cannon). The Rebels’ push started against the Union left, as I mentioned above, at the general area of the now-picnic grounds at the state park. If you expand the above map to show the park area (in green), the picnic area is along the upper park road that ends with the tiny loop and closer to the main road, Route 1920.

All that fighting. All day long. Over rolling territory. It ain’t flat (see below). It was a nasty, grinding battle.

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Not flat. The view the Confederates had of the Union left early in the battle (on the ridge in distance; note the cannon on top of the ridge); the Confederates pushed the Union from this vicinity toward the left of this shot; the “High Water Mark” is to the south of this area, over several more hills/rises/ridges; I took this picture in late May 2015

 

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Hill in the distance is the same with the cannon from above, but opposite view; Confederates pushed Union troops to this hill during the battle. This view, at about 900 feet above sea level, shows how unchanged the landscape is from the time of the battle; road in the middle is same road/route that existed at the time of the battle in 1862. Picture taken by me 2/20/2016

 

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Another view; taken 2/20/2016

 

High water mark

The ridge  which marks the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy in the West.” This view is 180 degrees from the sweeping views in the last two photos above. I believe the ridge containing a rock wall which marks the point where the Union held its ground is to the middle right as indicated by the arrow; difficult to see through the trees in the foreground.  If you look closely, you can see the land sloping away to the right. Arrow points to area I believe to be the “High Water Mark.” Picture taken 2/20/2016. Below is a 360-degree video I took from this same spot.

 

Secondly, the “success” at Perryville was crucial to Union propaganda and helped with the popular and political perception that the Union could prevail.

1862 saw several demoralzing Union defeats. What was supposed to be a simple little war was turning out to be ugly and brutal.

So, oddly, Perryville was a bright spot in a season of darkness for the Union.

Tactically and politically important. So why don’t more folks know about Perryville?

I’m not sure, but I do have some thoughts.

  • The battle was in the Western Theatre, not in the East. More ink and pixels have been spilled over action in the East. In other words, not as sexy (from the history-popular culture point of view, mind you).
  • Grant wasn’t involved. No big-name, successful generals have their names attached to the Battle of Perryville.
  • It is in Kentucky. Remote, sparsely populated Kentucky. Flyover country.

Yet this lack of knowledge–and thus interest–is perhaps what has saved Perryville.

There are no encroaching developments (subdivisions or resorts, for example) in this tiny corner of western Boyle County. Likewise, perhaps due to lack of knowledge and interest, tourists–while they do come for a reenactment or picnics–aren’t exactly burning up the roads to get to Perryville.

So Perryville has been left to its sleepy self without threat of overburdened roads, resources, or other encroachments.

There has been some talk to make  Perryville a national park (there is only a state park there now). I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of a national park. National status would properly recognize Perryville’s importance–but would it also put it under threat of being overburdened, as I mentioned above? Would it fundamentally and forever alter what Perryville is?

Over the past several years, the Civil War Trust has been buying land around Perryville to preserve the site. It has been instrumental in garnering private dollars to save important historic land. The Trust has already saved several hundred acres and helped restore land to original conditions. Original structures have been torn down, including the small barns (red sides) you can see in the video above, and the house and structures on the High Water Mark farm (at the end of the video, the house to the upper left of the pond is now gone).

The Trust raised enough money to buy the farm where the High Water Mark is located (and yes, I donated).

I think this is the same farm where I saw the horse on my first drive out to Perryville my freshman year of college.

Perryville makes an important appearance in the Bourbon Springs Series. Crucial scenes take place at the park in Book 8, Toast and Char. The heroine of that book is originally from Perryville, although in the book she is working and living in Bourbon Springs. I also have Perryville in mind for a setting in another book in a future series (and already know the couple that would be in that book). Also, in Angels’ Share (Book 3), when Lila takes Bo to the springs on her land she explains that one of the reasons the springs are historic is that there was a skirmish at the site in the days before the Battle of Perryville between troops looking for water. In fact, that is how the Battle of Perryville started: soldiers encountering each other along the nearly-depleted Doctor’s Creek, increasingly desperate for water.

Then I wrote a whole book with Perryville as the main backdrop: Where the Fire Is Hottest (Bourbonland Book 3).

Whatever happens at Perryville, I hope it remains much as it is today.  A place one can go and sit quietly to wonder and recoil at what happened there.

A place preserved to honor memory and sacrifice.

As it should be.

 

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A Familiar Sight in Bourbonland: Distillery Cats

Distilleries are large, rambling places full of grain. With all that corn, barley, and wheat around, they are nice targets for mice.

Enter the distillery cat.

Many distilleries have their own cat. In September 2015 when I was at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, I took the tour at Willett. They had at least three distillery cats. I can only recall the names of two: Noah and Rowan (named for various Willett expressions).

Noah is seen here in the distillery building itself, on an old church pew. His water and food bowls were underneath a reception desk opposite the pew. He was very friendly and enjoyed watching the tourists and being petted.

Noah, a distillery cat at Willett in Bardstown, Kentucky

Woodford Reserve had a revered distillery cat, Elijah, who passed away a few years ago. He had his own special spot at the distillery, outside a building between the Dryer House and the old warehouse. I took these pictures in September when I was on a tour.

 

Why was the cat named Elijah? He was named for Elijah Pepper, the man who came to Glenns Creek in 1812 to farm and distill.

When I was at the gift shop at the distillery in the visitors’ center one day, I got to meet Elijah’s successor, Oscar. He was in a shopping basket underneath a wall of bourbon on top of a used bourbon barrel. He meowed once and was happy to be petted, but wasn’t interested in raising his head beyond the edge of the basket. I didn’t notice him at first. When I was checking out, the clerk kept turning around and looking at the wall. She finally said something about how the noise “doesn’t bother him,” and I finally spotted the cat.

Oscar wasn’t interested in raising his head up for a picture; he was only nine months old in these pictures

 

According to the clerk, Oscar stays at the administrator’s house on the grounds. When he wants to leave the visitors’ center, he goes to the backdoor (leads out onto the side porch) and waits to be let out.  He was a rescue cat.

And how did Oscar get his name?

Because Elijah Pepper’s son was named Oscar. Oscar Pepper took over the distilling business after his father’s death and built part of the original distillery building, which dates to the 1840s. The distillery was once known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.

So does Old Garnet have a distillery cat?

Yes. In the Epilogue of Cedar and Cinnamon, the existence of the Old Garnet distillery cat is revealed, as well as the reason why there hasn’t been a distillery cat in the series to date. The cat’s name is revealed in Distilled Heat, and he makes one brief appearance in the book.

Sadly, one of us in the house is allergic to cats, so we can’t have one. I’ll just have to make do by visiting a few distilleries from time to time.

 

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SHARP PRACTICE–a milestone and some thoughts

I just realized that when Sharp Practice releases on March 28, 2017, that will be the tenth book I’ve published!

There’s lots more Bourbonland on the way–Single Barrel and Sharp Practice are just the beginning. I’ve been writing a lot this winter–books as well as short stories and novellas. This series is tied together just like Bourbon Springs–and you’ll get to see Bourbon Springs characters from time to time.

Welcome back to the Land of Bourbon and Bluegrass… welcome to Bourbonland.

All About SINGLE BARREL

In a newsletter I sent out in November 2016, I wrote about the transition from the Bourbon Springs Series  to Bourbonland and the characters in the novella Single Barrel. For those that did not see that newsletter, here’s more information about that story. Most of this was taken from the newsletter, but I have updated it for this post.

Although the cover doesn’t show it, the story does take place during the holidays (from approximately mid-November through early January).

First, don’t read Single Barrel before you read Water of Life. Spoilers!

Now, a bit of background for you about the novella.

There are two couples featured, one you’ve seen, one you haven’t. Timewise, this novella overlaps with the last third or so of Water of Life (and, again, the novella does contain spoilers for that book).

The new couple (and they are front and center here, in the first scene, and have the most page time) will appear in the new series I am writing for release beginning next year.

That new series will be called Bourbonland.

Even though Water of Life is the last Bourbon Springs book, I didn’t want to stop writing about Kentucky.  I wanted to expand beyond the confines of Craig County while connecting the worlds.

That’s what Bourbonland does—in name and in the stories themselves.

Characters in the new series will not be located in Bourbon Springs, but in other towns in Kentucky—although there will be trips back there. And characters and couples from the previous books will make appearances in the new series.

The Epilogue of Water of Life features the first couple from Book 1 in the Bourbonland series. That book will be entitled Sharp Practice (this phrase pops up in Water of Life).

The new couple in this novella, Coraleigh Boyle and Clay London, will eventually get their own book in the Bourbonland series (they are not the couple in Book 1 of the Bourbonland series).

Why did I write about Coraleigh and Clay now? They showed up. Again.

Let me explain.

A few weeks after Angels’ Share released in July 2015, I was on a plane home from a legal conference. By that point, I had actually written all nine Bourbon Springs books (they were not edited or formatted; that took lots more time), and I was already thinking about the next series.

On the plane, Coraleigh and Clay appeared in my head as characters. They were just there, in the opening scene of their book, and I wrote a substantial part of the first chapter of their book. They popped up a few months later; I wrote a bit more about them, but not much, and saved that bit of writing as well.

They showed up again in October 2016, demanding more. Sometimes characters do this to me. They show up and want attention (Rachel and Brady did this to me to start the whole Bourbon Springs series). I have learned to respect this phenomenon as a writer and just go with it. In fact, I stopped writing one of the Bourbonland books to write this novella (because Corrie and Clay would not leave me in peace—but I didn’t mind).

And, minor spoiler or warning: Coraleigh and Clay’s overall experience in this story is angsty, but they will eventually get their happily ever after. What they go through in this story will hopefully make their journey even more satisfying.

The couple you already know does have a happy story; if you read Water of Life (which you should read prior to reading Single Barrel to avoid spoilers), there is no big reveal here about them, only some more (and fun) detail about certain events in their lives.

And of course the end matter contains information about bourbon and Kentucky.

 

May the Fourth Be With You: The Post Where I Talk About Star Wars

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Think of Star Wars. The movie came out in 1977, the original film that started it all.

Now think of that movie without the music.

Can you do that?

For me, it is impossible. Star Wars as a movie and as a movie franchise is forever entwined with its music. The 1977 score is so iconic that it has been heralded as the best movie score of all time. I can’t argue with that.

I love that score. I listen to it all the time. I know the little motifs, I can see in my mind the action on the screen as it is wedded to the music.

Music also ties the movies together, despite changes in time and characters. We can hear the Force theme in the Original Trilogy and the Prequels and now in The Force Awakens.

I only recently bought a copy of the score from The Force Awakens. There was a particular musical moment I really wanted on that album. But it wasn’t there.

And it’s probably the most important musical moment in the entire film because it reflects another crucial moment. I suppose they kept this musical tidbit off the album to prevent spoilers, but I’m really angry not to have it.

And spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen The Force Awakens.

One of the most important scenes in Star Wars (1977) (and not just that movie but the entire series of films) is when Luke rushes back to his home to discover it smoldering and his aunt and uncle murdered. Until that point, he is interested in Obi Wan’s tales but not interested in going on “some damn fool idealistic crusade.” He knows his place and that place is with his family on Tatooine, helping on the farm. But when he sees his world is destroyed, he knows what he must do and makes a choice to go with Obi Wan and be trained as a Jedi.

In this video we first hear the Force Theme as he comes upon the disaster then, at approximately nineteen seconds in, we hear the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath). On the original Star Wars soundtrack, this track is “Burning Homestead.”

This motif (Dies Irae) is from a Requiem Mass. It is a motif of death, rebirth, tragedy, new beginnings. And guess where it shows up in The Force Awakens?

When Rey calls the Skywalker lightsaber to her. The Force Theme leads into the Dies Irae.

It is the same piece of music.

There has not been a death (although Finn has been gravely wounded), but it is the point where Rey makes her choice to embrace her identity as a Jedi. Remember she ran–literally–when offered the Skywalker lightsaber. She had her vision upon touching it, was terrified, was given the choice, and fled.  But there in the snow, alone with Kylo Ren, she calls the weapon to her whereas her opponent cannot.

That is the most important scene in the movie in my opinion. Not when she defeats Kylo Ren, but when she makes her choice. Her old self dies away, leading to her triumph.

And that musical moment is NOT on the soundtrack that has been released.

So, yeah, I’m a little ranty about not having that piece of music.

May the Fourth Be With You.

 

The first book in the Bourbon Springs Series, Secret Blend, finally has a book trailer.

With the exceptions of the cover, the glass of bourbon, and the shadow of the kissing couple, I took all the pictures in the video.

 

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