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A Familiar Sight in Bourbonland: Distillery Cats

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.


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


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.


Celebrating January’s Birthstone: Garnet

As mentioned in the backmatter of Secret Blend, the name for Old Garnet came to me because it simply sounded like a bourbon. I also happen to like garnets, with their deep, almost bluish red color they possess. I do have several pieces of garnet jewelry, all of them acquired before I even thought of the Bourbon Springs Series.

The word’s origin derives from granatum, latin for seed, and further derived specifically from  the appearance of pomegranate pips or seeds.


Antique pomegranate print

Antique pomegranate print; note the seeds in the cross-section image in the lower left corner

Strangely enough, when I was in Louisville in November 2015 to see the Prohibition Exhibition at the Frazier Museum, just across and down the street a little I saw an entire limo dedicated to the glory of the pomegranate. This was parked in front of 21C, a hotel. Affixed to the surface of the vehicle were small red jewel-like red discs; I wish I could’ve caught a picture of this thing in the full sun.

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Yep, that’s a pomegranate

As a birthstone, the garnet can symbolize many things. For me, the most important concept the stone represents is a crucial theme throughout the Bourbon Springs Series.


When I think of that trait, I think of the Bourbon Springs characters, and how they are loyal to each other and their home. Home, and a sense of community and purpose found in a place and with particular people,  is a recurring idea in the books.

A Trip to Weisenberger Mill

Weisenberger Mill outside Midway, Kentucky, is Kentucky’s oldest operating mill. It sits on the banks of Elkhorn Creek, on the Scott County side (Woodford County is across the creek). The mill has been in business since 1865 and is still owned by the Weisenbergers.

Although I could buy all the basic mixes in my local grocery store, a ten-minute (one-way) trip to the mill not only gets me access to their flour (made from Kentucky grain and only available at the mill), but a great drive through the Land of Bourbon and Bluegrass. On the way to the mill is Lane’s End Farm (birthplace of Charismatic, 1996 Derby Winner), as well as WinStar and Three Chimneys Farms. A little further up the road is Old Friends in Georgetown, the thoroughbred retirement facility. Needless to say, the views along the drive are lovely.

The “shop” at the mill is tiny. And I mean tiny. There is a desk, this shelving unit with the bag/envelope mixes, and a tiny office to the right. They don’t even keep the five-pound bags of flour out; I had to ask for them (self-rising and all-purpose). I forgot to ask for grits, but was able to buy them at the local grocery later the same day.


This shelf is basically the shop



Old framed sign to the right as you enter the mill


You can park at the mill just outside the office, right beyond the one-lane bridge that spans Elkhorn Creek. The bridge and creek are my mental image of Old Crow Creek, from the scene early in Filtered Through Blue where Kyle finds Hannah alone at the bridge on a cold February afternoon.



View of the creek opposite the falls and across the narrow road from the mill (taken 11/2014)



Elkhorn Creek (taken 11/2014)



Looking south from the mill side of Elkhorn Creek in Scott County toward the opposite bank to Woodford County



Looking north back across Elkhorn Creek; the falls are out of shot to the right; mill is that red-roofed building to the right (taken 11/2014)

The current mill building was constructed in 1913. The concrete was created by grinding up parts of the previous mill.

And here’s my haul from the mill. A bunch of mixes and a total of ten pounds of flour. I already had envelopes of cornbread mix and seasoned flour in my pantry.




If you go to the Weisenberger Mill website and click at the top on “Videos” you can find videos of Sally Weisenberger making biscuits from scratch as well as grits and (my favorite) cheese grits. You can also see her son, Phil, make cheese drop biscuits. I’ve watched the videos several times and just thinking about them makes me hungry. 🙂

We’ve already polished off that blueberry muffin mix and made a batch of chocolate chip cookies with the all-purpose flour. And the cornbread mix that I had in the pantry is now history as well. It was a cold Sunday and I did a lot of baking. I also made grits for lunch.

Here’s the bag I got at my local grocery store, Kroger. The label on the lower right of the bag not only says where in Kentucky (Hardin County, about 80 miles from me) the corn came from to make the grits, it also mentions the farm (the Rogers Farm).



If you’re out and about in the middle of Kentucky, a quick trip to Weisenberger Mill would be well worth your time.

And don’t forget to ask for grits.



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A Year in Pictures in the Land of Bourbon and Bluegrass

I’ve posted many pictures to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter over the past year, but here’s a year-long compilation of 2015–which actually begins at the very end of 2014. This will be a looooong post, chock-full of pictures of the Land of Bourbon and Bluegrass. I love where I live, and I hope it shows. If you have seen the Pinterest boards for the books, some of these pictures will look familiar. If you haven’t checked out the Pinterest boards, links to the boards are on the book pages here on my site.

One note: I’ve been to all the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail now except for one, Bulleit (it actually wasn’t on the Trail when I started; I’m supposed to be able to still get my shirt despite not having gone there, but I want to get there soon). Anyway, I have a lot of shots of other distilleries beyond those you’ll see below, including Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey. It’s just that those trips were earlier in 2014 and thus not appropriate time-wise for what I consider a year-end round up.

Also, you won’t find a lot of references to the books below. You’ll find some, but my goal with this post is to show you the wonderful places I’ve been this year and the place I call home: Kentucky.

Note: this post is best viewed on a desktop. On mobile, I’ve noticed the pictures get rather confused and don’t match captions.


December 2014


Town Branch Distillery



During the week between Christmas and New Year’s last year, I took the tour at Town Branch in Lexington and checked that stop off on my Bourbon Trail Passport. Located within spitting distance of Rupp Arena, the spot is Lexington’s only distillery. Town Branch is named after the stream running through that area of Lexington and through the local old distillery district. It is owned by Alltech.



Tasting at the end of the tour at Town Branch

At the end of any distillery tour, you’re going to get the chance to taste the wares. Town Branch was no exception. Look at that awesome still in the back!


The devil's cut

The devil’s cut

Town Branch had this lovely on display: a used barrel stave showing how far the bourbon had soaked into that oak. Trapped bourbon is called the devil’s cut.



The mash tubs at Town Branch

The mash tubs at Town Branch



The bourbon flavor wheel at Town Branch

Note that cedar and cinnamon are opposites on this wheel; also note that stone–that’s limestone, a very deliberate construction choice. Town Branch has been around less than ten years and the distillery building itself is very new.




Honoring the past

This was on a decorated barrel–“Old Tarr” is actually an old bourbon brand, made in Lexington’s distillery district (not anymore). In fact, across High Street and very close to Town Branch in the distillery district is a dead-end street called “Tarr Trace.”



January 2015

A trip to Jim Beam in Clermont, Kentucky: heart of a bourbon empire nestled in the Knobs, about fifteen minutes west of Bardstown.


This barn greets guests after turning off the main road and going toward the distillery and visitors’ center



The American Stillhouse at Jim Beam



The grains and their flavors…


…and the grains themselves; the panels rotated to reveal the actual grains (think how they do it on Wheel of Fortune and you’ll get the idea)



Gotta protect your water source–a sign in the distillery



The Jim Beam yeast jug, containing their proprietary and historic strain



The barreling porch with milestones noted



Devil’s cut at Jim Beam

Jim Beam makes a brand called “Devil’s Cut”–they extract that bourbon from the wood! More on that below in another picture.



Alligator char: the inside of a barrel



Filling a barrel; it’s a lot like pumping gas



Steam in the sky

The distillery in the bright winter sun; it was a beautiful day.



White dog!



Time to release the bourbon!



Used and split bungs



Barrel dump

Dumping the bourbon; this was Knob Creek; note the incredible color and the discarded char.



Jim Beam bottling line; since they were dumping Knob Creek that day, that’s what they were bottling.



Little bench made of old staves



Really big bottles

If these look big, that’s because they are. The biggest bottles of Jim Beam I’ve ever seen. Not available in the U.S. Apparently they sell this stuff to cruise ships and overseas.



Look familiar? That’s Jeannie’s bottle from the TV show. It was a painted Jim Beam decanter.



Booker sees you!

A mosaic of bottles used to create the image of the late, great Booker Noe, Jim Beam’s grandson and the man who created the small batch revolution.



Gorgeous views of the Knobs were all around



A rickhouse at Jim Beam; we went inside this one



My taste (one of three)



Four centuries of a bourbon dynasty

The Beam Bourbon Dynasty, from 1795 to the present,  inside the American Stillhouse just above the front entrance.


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The ticket for the tour has the same images



Old Crow is a Beam brand and they still make it to this day; wish I’d bought this sign



The tasting bar–so many choices!



Take your pick

The dispenser for your taste–insert a card they give you, make your selection. Note the Devil’s Cut. One selection was experimental (second from right).


I am lucky enough to live minutes away from Woodford Reserve and some of the prettiest horse country around. Sometimes I go out to the distillery just because I can.



Winter scenes at Woodford

Distillery to the left; old rickhouse to the right; old Pepper farmstead on the hill across Glenns Creek; note the large new rickhouses in the distance. The visitors’ center (first picture above in the snow) is out of shot to the left.


Movin’ on

Roll out the barrel! A newly-filled barrel on the barrel run moving from the distillery to the old warehouse; shot taken from the porch on the visitors’ center.



Looking from just outside the visitors’ center down toward the terra cotta brick warehouses



A chunk of snow suspended in a tree



Yes, it’s huge

Shot of a huge horse barn taken along New Cut Road, the road I took to and from the distillery; looking south.


Another horse barn; you can see a few thoroughbreds to the left




Yeah, the shot isn’t centered. I had to climb a little hill off the road to get this picture. I can proudly say I didn’t fall.



Pond fronting US 60 at Ashford Stud–now the home of Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah



A creek on Stonestreet Farm, just south of Ashford Stud


February 2015

In February, I took a trip to Lebanon, Kentucky (fictionalized in the Bourbon Springs Series as “Littleham”), home to Limestone Branch Distillery and Independent Stave Company.

At Limestone Branch, which is owned by a couple of Beams, they had a great display of bourbon memorabilia.










The Beam owners were also related to the Dants, another legendary bourbon-making family




I love this bottle–look at the sunbursts on the glass!



The still at Limestone Branch


Mash at Limestone Branch



Bourbon Springs?

Looking south from Limestone Branch; the Knobs are in the distance at the left. This is my mental image of the land around Bourbon Springs and Craig County, Kentucky.


March 2015


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Bluegrass sunset on Selection Sunday 2015


April 2015

Got out to Woodford Reserve twice.


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Door to the tasting room


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Looking from the distillery toward the visitors’ center; those panes are the back of the tasting room

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Split bungs among the char after a barrel dump

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The tasting room


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Along a country road in the Bluegrass in springtime


May 2015

Warmer weather means picnics for me. And that means a trip to Perryville, Kentucky, the site of Kentucky’s largest and most important Civil War Battle.



To the left of the cannon is a historical marker on the spot where a Union general was killed



Clover on the battlefield

A trip to Kentucky’s capital city, Frankfort!

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Home of the original bourbon balls–Rebecca Ruth Candies in Frankfort, Kentucky


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The real deal


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Sign at Rebecca Ruth 🙂

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A planter on St. Clair Mall in downtown Frankfort


June 2015


A trip to Four Roses, south of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and along the Salt River.

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Single barrel is my favorite Four Roses expression


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Mash tub


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Four Roses tasting bar; you get to keep the glass

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Can you see the legs?


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One of the pillars at the distillery entrance

July 2015

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A view of the Ohio River from an overlook at General Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton, Kentucky. Carrollton is the site of the confluence of the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers. In this picture, if you look closely, you can see a blue bridge to the center-left of the picture. That bridge spans the Kentucky River, and the confluence is slightly north of it at a local city park.


A small-town Fourth of July in Versailles, Kentucky!

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Got the honey from a street vendor, Kentucky Honey Farms, at the Fourth of July celebration in Versailles. When I asked which bourbon was in the honey, he replied, “Well, we are in Woodford County.” 🙂


Another picnic trip to Perryville…

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This is a wall of huge hibiscus outside the museum at the park.


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I experimented with bourbon vanilla ice cream and created this concotion using Woodford Reserve. The recipe is in the back matter of Cedar and Cinnamon.


A short trip to Wild Turkey. Just because. This is the visitors’ center, opened in June 2014, made to resemble a rickhouse. You can see this building from across the Kentucky River as you approach the bridge.

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Not sure whether this is a distillery cat, but I discovered him on the prowl outside the visitors’ center.


A quick day trip to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, in Mercer County.

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We went to  Kentucky Fudge Company, in an old drug store. This is an Ale81 float. Don’t know what Ale81 is? Think of a spicy, caffeinated ginger ale and you’ll get the idea. It is a Kentucky soft drink, a Bluegrass tradition. This float was sooooo good on a hot July day.


August 2015

A trip to Lake Barkley State Resort Park in far western Kentucky, at Land Between the Lakes.

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The lodge. The outdoor swimming pool is on that concrete terrace, providing awesome lake views.


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The butterfly garden below the pool and lodge was full of large butterflies.


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Views from along the path skirting the lake below the lodge.



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Taken at my house. This large butterfly or moth seemed to be posing for me. I had to wait for this shot a few minutes; it finally decided to land and be still.


A daytrip to Danville, Kentucky, in Boyle County, home of Centre College, my alma mater.

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The Boyle County Courthouse, dating from 1862. The building was used as a hospital after the Battle of Perryville after Union troops retreated from Perryville, about ten miles or so to the west.


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Taken near Parksville, Kentucky in southern Boyle County, where the Knobs meet the Bluegrass.


August means a trip to the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville.

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Yes, there was a bourbon tent! Jim Beam was the brand represented.


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The painted horse has an image of Louisville’ Whiskey Row in downtown Louisville, along with old labels and a map of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.


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A coloring wall at the Fair. See that building colored yellow? That’s a distillery. Those columns to the right? Silos for grain.


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Fair delicacies. I did not partake, although the hot brown on a stick did intrigue me.


September 2015

Trips to Shakertown and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown.

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The Centre Family Dwelling, at one time one of the largest stone structures in the state. Two entrances for the two genders.


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Candle made on-site at Shakertown on sale in the gift shop.


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The side of the Trustees’ House. We sat here on this perfect late summer day. The sky was amazing.


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The top of the Centre Family Dwelling (it was SO HOT UP THERE!).  One of the highest views in Mercer County, Kentucky.


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The old lock on the above window. Talk about sturdy. This thing was the very definition of the word.


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The window opposite the one above; another gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside.


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Lots of feline friends at Shakertown. This guy was in the window at the gift shop.


The major event in September was at the Bourbon Capital of the World ™, Bardstown. The Kentucky Bourbon Festival.



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The great lawn outside Spalding Hall in downtown Bardstown saw every major distillery represented.


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Spalding Hall is home to the Getz Musuem of Whiskey History, which really deserves a long blog post of its very own.


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I attended a luncheon and history lecture at Wickland, home of three governors (two Kentucky, one Louisiana). This rambling Georgian mansion is almost two hundred years old and owned by the city of Bardstown. I have a book in mind where one of the characters lives in a place inspired by this mansion.


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Looking out the front door. The window over the entrance was a symbolic sun–supposedly it never set on the good fortunes of the house’s inhabitants.


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Looking down the main staircase into the wide hall. That sofa to the right is a piece original to the house (that white sheet of paper is telling visitors not to sit).


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Looking out a second floor window to the fields beyond.


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Took a trip to Willett Distillery, a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.


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Looking from the hillside at Willett to the rickhouses over at Heaven Hill, site of the devastating 1996 fire. Note the Knobs in the distance.


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Front doors of the distillery at Willett, with the stylized door handles crafted to represent the Willett pot still.


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And here is the very same pot still!

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A barrel stencil at Willett on the floor of the barrel filling area.


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The Old Talbott Tavern, where we had a lovely lunch.


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The old Nelson County Courthouse in the middle of Bardstown, now a tourist information center.


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On the Great Lawn again–coopers from Independent Stave Company demonstrating how to fix barrels.


October 2015

Another outing to Shakertown, but this time we ate at the Trustees’ House.

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The quintessential Kentucky Hot Brown. Of course it was good!


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One of the wonderful staircases in the Trustees’ House.


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Front door of the Trustees’ House.

In addition to walking around the village, we took a riverboat ride on the Dixie Belle.

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On the Kentucky River looking at High Bridge, a wonder of the age. People from Cincinnati used to take the train for the day just to see the bridge.


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Beneath High Bridge with an October sun behind the clouds.


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October saw the Bluegrass host the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. The winners’ garlands were crafted at my local grocery, Kroger. The incomplete garland in the foreground eventually graced the form of Grand Slam Champion American Pharoah, who won the Classic.


November 2015

A trip to Old Friends Farm, the retirement facility for thoroughbred horses, outside Georgetown, Kentucky. The farm inspired my vision of GarnetBrooke, which plays a major role in Distilled Heat (Bourbon Springs Book 6, to be released in early 2016).


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Exceller and Ferdinand (1986 Kentucky Derby Winner) both died overseas in slaughterhouses. Their memory is honored at Old Friends in this logo over the main entrance of the visitors’ center.


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Sarava, 2002 Belmont Stakes Winner. Ornery and actually rather small.


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Silver Charm, the 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Winner. Sweet horse, loves people. He came back to Kentucky and Old Friends in December 2014. He was the first Derby Winner at the farm. It also now houses War Emblem, the 2002 Kentucky Derby Winner. He was in quarantine when we visited.


December 2015

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The Kentucky State Capitol at dawn on a December morning.



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And of course I went back out to Woodford Reserve in December. In fact, I went twice. This shot is from the first visit.


If you scrolled all the way through this post, thank you! I hope you enjoyed a virtual trip to my little corner of the world.

Happy New Year!

Land of Bourbon, Bluegrass…and Basketball

In the books, I make reference to the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team from time to time. Because while Kentucky is know as the Land of Bourbon and Bluegrass, there really needs to be another “B” in that title.


Cheering a basketball team in Kentucky is not merely a pastime in this state. And while I will admit to being a University of Kentucky fan, the depth of support for various teams in this state goes beyond what one might call mere fandom. I do not say this to be dramatic; it is a cultural fact.

Basketball is a part of Kentucky culture just as much as bourbon and thoroughbred horses. It is a form of identity.

For a small and often economically challenged state like mine, basketball is a great source of pride. It is a cultural and political equalizer. It is a language, a history, a shared love and story that we all understand.

I am particularly talking about the UK program. UK’s in-state arch rival, Louisville, has a rabid following as well. But U of L does not have the long history like UK. It also seems the teams’ followers are somewhat geographically divided. UK followers come from all over, but generally the central and eastern part of the state; Louisville fans tend to be more from the western part of the state and, of course, Louisville itself (although when the teams meet in the Yum! Center for the annual game, there does tend to be more blue there than red at Rupp Arena when the teams play in Lexington on odd-numbered years; there are a lot of UK fans in Louisville).

While many today take shots at UK’s program for what essentially seems too much success, I read an article last spring (I can’t find the link) which argued that Kentucky–culturally and economically speaking–is an underdog. And for the state to have something as notably and consistently excellent as its basketball program is something to celebrate.

And being a basketball fan of any stripe in this state means one’s emotions run the gamut–from the highs of that last-second winning shot to the heartbreak of a tough loss in the NCAA tournament in March (or April 🙂 ).

Spring can be so cruel in the Bluegrass State.

As for me, my loyalty is forever blue, to the University of Kentucky. I went to law school at UK and my family all went there as undergrads or for grad school. I get choked up at the games when they play the 90 second video with the clips of the past several years. I get choked up when I hear “Call to Post” played at the game (yes, they really do that). I stay when the band plays “My Old Kentucky Home” and sing along. Yes, I know all the words. And when the band plays the song, a short video rolls in Rupp Arena with video clips from all over Kentucky; I’ve been to many of the spots shown and, if I haven’t, I know exactly where they are.

See what I did there?

I just moved beyond basketball–the game.

I just showed you how important the cultural experience is to me. How it is part of my identity.

So, yes, there are references in the books to UK Men’s basketball.

Because not to mention it would be leaving out part of Kentucky itself. I wouldn’t be painting the picture of my state that I want my readers to see.

Because you can’t talk–or write–about Kentucky without mentioning basketball. It is part of our soul.

PS: I’m writing this as I wear my new Kentucky hoodie with stitched-on lettering. It was a Christmas gift from my family. I mentioned I wanted one–as we ate dinner before going to a UK game.



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

Noah, a distillery cat at Willett in Bardstown


Woodford Reserve had a revered distillery cat, Elijah, who passed away this past year. 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.


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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 today, 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.


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Oscar wasn’t interested in raising his head up for a picture


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Only nine months old, he’s a big boy



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’s nine months old and 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.




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