Bourbon and Zombies

Last Friday night, I sent my husband a text at 12 am that read “I fucking tired.” He replied, “I come home.” He’d been in Chicago since Monday. At four am, he stumbled into our bedroom, which was almost 80 degrees even though I’d attempted to reprogram the thermostat four times that night. I forgot to press “hold.” In the morning, I woke him up to do what we do on Saturday mornings and per typical we didn’t much talk for the rest of the day. We did our separate chores. Mostly he writes and edits his homily and does hours of churchy-priestly duties. I clean, shop, prep food, garden, write.

So, after a week of stressful parenting, working, training, sleeping separately and hardly talking, we earned our date last Sunday.

Meet at the Winchester**undefined

This week, the Winchester was Old 55 Distillery. It’s a drive into the corn fields, deep in. As we turned onto the old country by-way, dark clouds rolled up. The chlorophyll in the green things took on the florescence of storms, as if it were thundering and lightning. It wasn’t yet. We passed the radio station I disc-jockeyed weekend dead hours and the texts buzzing “A Severe Thunderstorm Warning has been issue for your region” started coming through our cell numbers and google numbers and emails. We were too far into the boonies for my “Yes” to reply and shut down the sixteen texts we would receive.

I love the taste of a good bourbon on the front center of my tongue. It’s like caramel with a zing. Old 55 Distillery makes one from sweet corn that’s clear like vodka, sweetish but not silly or sticky. All their bourbon comes from the family farm. Farm to still? To flagon or highball? What would you say? We’d just visited St. Augustine Distillery the month before, so on the first visit out, we still had the taste of sugar cane whisky on our palate. We joked as we drove through Wingate, where my husband had taken me to an old USPS Christmas party early in our vegetarian years. We’d choked down white biscuits, reconstituted mashed potatoes and buttered canned corn. How good can Indiana whisky be? (Honestly, I wasn’t wowed at Hotel Tango, an early arrival on the Hoosier scene.)

We arrived with plenty of time to sip and mellow before driving home but the owner Jason Fruits offered us a tour and tasting for ten bucks a piece. His wife was bartending behind a sleek glass tower of beautiful white labeled whiskey bottles. A cadre of locals and a gorgeous Berniedoodle meandered around the lobby’s sofas and handmade tables. It’s aesthetic- gray-blue walls, natural wood tables, steel trim catered to the tastes of urban chic. It clashed with down-home locals flannel shirts and crisp jeans.

Jason took us back to show us the corn his father and brothers grew. His hands air caressed the handcrafted, one of a kind stills that gleam. He explained the triple distillation, the milling, mashing, the exclusive “hearts only” to the bottled whisky. We dipped our fingers into heads he wouldn’t use and licked. We sniffed tails. I commented on the vintage Chevy his father had left. He showed us where the family labeled and crated the bottles.

Back in the lobby, we had thirty minutes to sip four different whiskys, including his most exclusive, then we split a handcrafted Old-fashion. We bought a couple of bottles for my birthday party and left too soon to make friends with the regulars.

Sunday, after a week of zombie non-talking, we decided on Old 55 again. This time, we needed to debrief about the troubles of the week. I’m not much more than a taster when it comes to bourbon, scotch and whisky. I go downhill fast if I have more than a thimbleful. But we needed to get out of town. A good drive and a spot of liquor will loosen stiff tongues.

We never saw the rain or thunder but the electricity was out when we stopped for crackers in Wingate and it was dark at the distillery.

Still, Jason hailed us inside. Still the room was full of farmers, laughing together. I ordered bourbon on ice. Husband ordered his old fashioned. Jason asked about us, remembering us from six months before with the startling clarity of a studied man, a good businessman.

Always carry cash. And a journal. And your husband’s CDs.

We had the journals, but not the first or last on the list. The last might have been a nice way to make up for being four bucks short of paying our full bill, since we couldn’t use plastic. Oh well. We would have to come back for a bottle before we leave for Maryland and my father’s birthday. My dad likes a good Scotch, expensive and clean. He swears he hates bourbon but we are convinced if we take him some Old 55, it’s smooth taste will delight him. We’ll just need to sharpie off “bourbon” on the bottle. If he ever met Jason and nerded over the chemistry, he’d love it like a regular. He just needs to go knee high into the corn with us a bit.

**undefinedThe Winchester is the a registered trademark of Shaun of the Dead and the inspiration of my reviews of local places.

The Winchester I: Inspiring Brewmasters

This new series on my blog will be reviews of local dives, joints, restaurants that I frequent with my partner, my friends, or are owned by friends. I pitched a column about reviewing beer joints to some Indianapolis publications, but never heard back. Too bad for them. Here’s my pitch to kick this off.


     My husband thinks he can inspire our friend Chris McGarvey, the latest brewmaster at Front Street Brewery in North Carolina, to brew a new hefe by a snappy name. He’s convinced “Cof-hefe” dictates the flavor of the Hefeweizen he’s imagining, a traditional hefe with a hint of coffee. Like Covfefe, only beerish. (Like bearish or bullish terms for the markets, only a beer pun.) 

     He makes this pitch to Chris gesticulating at a line of empty snifters in front of him. We’ve been here a minute. Busy with a brewing issue, then running to pick up his wife, Chris just sat down across from us. He’s as eager for us to meet the love of his life as he is to share his recent success, becoming the brewmaster at Front Street Brewery after winning a contest. He introduces her as a literature professor, know that I share her love of writing and literature. Chris and my husband soon start talking of seminary and beer. They wear the goofy grins of nerdy bros just reunited after a few years. My husband is all beard and pony-tail, something of a hipster looking minister. Chris is barely younger looks like a teenager, short curly hair, a big grin, part math geek, part bookish.

     In minutes, Chris too hitches an elbow on the tabletop and rests his chin in it.  He’s already quizzed us about which of the eight brews on tap we’ve tasted. We tried all but his raspberry wheat. What we wanted to try , the Tomb Rocker, one of McGarvey’s first home-brews from his years in Chicago, is tapped out. We tasted it over eight years before, when craft-brewing was a science for a few. Nowadays, craft breweries are reviving small towns, like our home-base of 15,000 people back in Indiana.  Chris is helping Front Street make a name for itself and helping the quaint East Coast downtown feel like a destination. We know that our favorite, Tomb Rocker, will someday rock him some awards.  He tells us about the recipe’s evolution from the 2006 Glenfiddich Tomb Rocker  to the sold vintage of this year, when his priest came to bless the batch. Front Street tapped it on Eastern Orthodox Easter and ran out before the religious holiday of Pentecost, forty days later. When my husband says he wished he could have been in the South to taste it, Chris grins. He may be able to scare up a bottle for old friends. Then he offers to take us on the secret tour.

      On our way out the front door, he hands us each a snifter then snakes us outside and down the alley next door. Wasps buzz around our ankles as we wait for him to unlock a battered door in the back of the brewery restaurant.

     “Few of the waitstaff know this is here,” he says as he leads us into a small, cold room with six bourbon barrels aging his test batches. He pulls a nail from a barrel and lets a dark golden stream pour into each of our glasses. This batch is 43% rye, a rarity, he explains. It requires him to strain it several times because at 20% or higher, rye gums up the machinery. We swirl it and sniff. It smells of its two other key ingredients, molasses and caraway. In my mouth it’s chewy, like a Russian bread he’s describing. The bread inspired him to put together the ingredients. It’s rich and caramel thick. It’s one of the best brews I’ve had in a while.

     “I call it “Napoleon Ryenamite,” he chuckles. 

    “You know,” my husband says. “You should name one Soren Beerkagaard.” The two former seminarians laugh at the shared joke. Then they start discussing that it’ll be an existential beer. Whatever that tastes like.