Category: Education

From Snob to Stave (and Thief)

From Snob to Stave (and Thief)

Well guys, I am officially a bourbon snob! Not really, but that’s everyone probably thinks. Last month with some friends I took the first step in getting my Stave and Thief Certification!  What does this mean? Do I get anything cool? Can anyone do it? I am going to answer all of these questions and tell you about my experience, what it means to me, and what I plan to do from here.

The Stave and Thief Society course was originally set up for hospitality businesses in 2014 to help educate their staff, as bourbon tourism was becoming all the rage.  This way the staff had more than basic knowledge of bourbon and could help guide their customers on what brands, mash bills, etc. would be best for their palette. Now it is offered as a learning course for anyone that is interested. I was able to take the basic certification with the Whisky Chicks which included a 3 hour class, learning the history of bourbon, the difference between all whiskies, how to read a label, the Kentucky heritage, and what goes into building a flight.  I highly suggest taking a class instead of doing the learn from home – it really helped me listen and learn to other bourbon lovers backgrounds, what they like, and how they got into it. The most fun thing about bourbon is who you share it with! In my class, there were all levels, one couple just started drinking bourbon within the past few months, some others were brought up by their dads being into bourbon and knowing the history like the back of their hand, and others (like me) knew a good amount but still could learn a lot more!

After all the learning, then it was time to drink! We were able to try to classics such as Basil Hayden & Larceny and then I was able to try some bourbon from New York and Indiana, which is very different and interesting to try. (Kentucky is still my favorite though!)  From there we learned to make our flights, what goes into the process, and how to line them up. I can’t tell you all the secrets but it is very interesting once you start looking at different restaurant flight offers on their thought process behind it.

Test time! Once you finish the class you have to take an online test of multiple choice questions and create your own flight. Now the waiting game, it took about a week for me to get my test results back and say that I passed!! My next step is to take the executive course, which is an all day training including learning the different smells, taste, and more in depth in the bourbon making process. If you are interested in bourbon and taking your hobby / passion to the next level, I highly recommend this course. Stay tuned for my next step in bourbon love!

FOL visits Four Roses

FOL visits Four Roses

New Year – New Bourbon Tour

Hey there bourbon lovers!! I hope everyone celebrated Valentine’s Day with a little pour of their favorite drink and some roses, four roses perhaps!  Speaking of Four Roses, the Friends of Limestone squad kicked off the new year with a tour down in Lawrenceburg, KY learning all about the 10 different recipes that make up Four Roses. Currently their distillery is being remodeled and hopes to open up later this spring, it was still a good time but I will definitely be making the trip back once it is back in production!

Since the distillery is shut down, we start off the tour with a video on where Four Roses started and what makes it unique compared to all the other bourbons. Four Roses has been around for a long time, 1860 in fact! Paul Jones  who was the original owner bought the current property in 1910 and story has it that he named this wonderful bourbon after a girl who showed up to a dance wearing a corsage with four red roses. Four Roses was also one of six distilleries that were allowed to sell during the prohibition for medical reasons, you can still see some of the medical bottles that were used. Pretty neat!  Four Roses has been through a lot of rise & fall throughout the past century and currently it is rising back to the top!

That’s enough history for now, let’s talk about what goes into the bottle!  Like mentioned earlier there are 10 unique recipes put together by hand from their Master Distiller, Brent Elliott. The yellow label includes all 10 recipes, aged for 6.5 years and finished at 80 proof.  The small batch is pulled from 20 barrels and finished at 90 proof. Then the single barrel has only 1 recipe and 1 barrel finished at 100 proof after aging for 7.5 years.  All barrels are checked at 5.5 years then marked on if they will be a yellow label or move on to a small batch or single barrel.   Here is the breakdown of the 10 recipes .. it starts out with two different mash bills, mash bill E is made up of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley. Mash bill B is 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley.  From there, they pick from 5 different yeast strains V for a light fruity flavor, K for a spice, O for a rich fruit, Q for a floral, and F for herbal notes. Below is a list of the 10 different recipes for you to use when you are buying your next Four Roses bottle to know what you are getting out of that bottle. O stands for that it was made in Lawrenceburg, E or B for the mash bill, S for straight whisky, and V/K/O/Q/F for your yeast strain.

So if you have ever bought a bottle or drink of Four Roses and didn’t know if it was for you, try it out again! Maybe you just weren’t a fan of that yeast. Or you can be a little crazy like me and collect all 10 recipes – did someone say bourbon tasting?!

Environmental Justice: The Story of Martin County, Kentucky

Environmental Justice: The Story of Martin County, Kentucky

Hey, everyone!

How has everyone’s 2018 been so far? Our environment continues to be a pressing importance in my life and hopefully you are making it one in yours!

That being said, let’s keep talking about Environmental Justice in Appalachia!

Last month, I mentioned that this blog would be dedicated to a specific case example. One that is personal to me and has been making some news recently, is Martin County, Kentucky.

The story of Martin County is close to me because I have spent the past year studying the environmental injustices of this county for my dissertation research. What have I been doing and what’s going on with Martin County? First let’s get a baseline of the area.

Martin County is:

  • A Central Appalachian county of Kentucky that borders West Virginia.
  • Contains around 12,000 individuals.
  • Predominantly white (94 percent of the population).
  • The 115th poorest county in Kentucky.
    • The medium household income is around $25,000
    • 35 percent fall below the poverty level.
  • Where the War on Poverty was born.
  • A coal mining community.

Since coal mining is predominant in Martin County, their risk to environmental stressors is increased. Unfortunately this risk increased too far and in the fall of 2000 a disaster struck the county. One of the coal slurry impoundments broke, releasing over 300 million gallons of slurry in two hollows of Martin County: Coldwater and Wolf Creek.

What is “coal slurry?” It is the stuff that comes off coal after it’s washed. “Washed”? Why is coal being washed? Is it dirty? Well…yes! Before it is burned for energy purposes, it must be cleaned to rid various impurities, like soil and rock. The byproduct that comes off during this process is called “slurry” and it is housed in large dams call impoundments, like the one over Martin County.

Appalachian writer, Harry Caudill once said impoundments are “like a pool of gravy in a mound of mashed potato”. I really love that analogy. I feel like it gives a vivid picture of what these things are. It also gives you a good idea of what it looked like seeping into the community. The black gravy mixture contaminated local creeks, water sources, soil and killed aquatic life. For such a small community, tucked in the Appalachian Mountains, you might not think this was a big deal, but it was actually the worst environmental disaster in the southeast, exceeding the amount released from the Exxon Valdeez Oil Spill!

It was my goal to study the recovery of this disaster for my dissertation, so I started interviewing the people impacted. I soon learned that there is another environmental issue plaguing the county.  In a nutshell, their infrastructure is poor.

I found that:

  • Water lines were breaking, allowing contaminants to enter into the water source.
  • There is an average of 60 percent water loss across the county.
  • Their water smells, is discolored, and is reported to burn their skin.
  • No one drinks the water! Their source comes from bottled water.
  • People are organizing and trying to get a new water source for their community.
  • People are concerned over their health and community future.

You will probably hear more about Martin County and their struggles in the coming weeks and months as it is gaining more media attention day after day! I am not going into the details of why individuals believe their water system is inadequate; you will have to read my dissertation for that!

Regardless of the reason, this county experiences environmental stressors. It is truly unjust. The story of Martin County is a reminder that environmental stressors are not equally shared across populations!

Until next time,


Explaining Kentucky’s Three Tier Alcohol System

Explaining Kentucky’s Three Tier Alcohol System

Happy New Year Friends!

This month I am letting you in on a not-so-known secret.

On December 5th, 1933, Kentucky’s liquor laws were written to make it pretty hard to buy any alcohol. The end of Prohibition meant that every state had to develop their own rules on selling liquor, and Kentucky’s are pretty unique.

Let me break it down to each level and how that affects you & I buying bourbon!

The Three Tier System

Tier 1 Suppliers / Producers

This tier includes anyone who makes the alcohol. They include Beam Inc, Brown-Forman, and any other liquor company you’re familiar with.

Tier 2 – Distributors / Wholesalers

This is where the laws written at end of prohibition take over. Legislators ruled that distributors must receive alcohol from the supplier and deliver it to your local liquor store, effectively making them a middle man. In most states, the distributor is a privately owned company separate from the producer or supplier, (one of the biggest distributors in Kentucky is Southern Wine & Spirits) but in some states the actual state itself buys the alcohol.

Tier 3 – Retailers

This includes anywhere you can buy liquor, from your corner store to the big name liquor stores.

Why does this matter?

This system prevents producers from selling directly to retailers which means a producer and/or the retailer can not play favorites, preventing the large producers from buying up liquor stores or bars to only sell their brands. The distributor must act like a independent unbiased middle man. The purpose of this system was to promote fair market practices, for the most part it has worked!

Now what if you try to find your favorite bourbon in another state but that local store doesn’t have it?  This is because of the biggest downside of the system, producers large or small have to make deals with a distributor in each state! If you are not one of those large producers previously mentioned it is very hard to get your brand to all 50 states. That makes it difficult to find your favorite small brand bottle in a faraway place.

How does this affect the way we buy bourbon? At each of these levels the bourbon is taxed. Before the bottle even hits the shelves, it has been taxed for every year in the barrel by the local and state government! After that the distributors are taxed by the state, then as the final sales tax that we pay with each drink at a bar or bottle from Kroger. Last year that was $825 million in taxes per the Kentucky Distillers Association. All in all nearly 60 percent of every bottle of liquor in Kentucky goes to taxes or fees, with seven different taxes on Bourbon – including a tax on barrels each and one for every year it ages.

So next time you go in to buy your bourbon of choice, that bottle went through a lot more than just the normal aging process! If you want to learn more about the three tier system or liquor laws in Kentucky, check out this site!  Cheers!

Environmental Justice 356: Appalachia

Environmental Justice 356: Appalachia

Hello, again!

I hope everyone’s holiday season is going well and everyone is staying warm! As the year comes to end, I want to continue our discussion about Environmental Justice. If you missed last month’s blog, I wrote a very basic introduction to what Environmental Justice is and why it is a national problem; click here to read it, it is important for our “December talk”!

I plan for, at least a couple months, these blogs to build on one another. So, the next installment in Environmental Justice will be focused on Appalachia; think of it as “Environmental Justice 356”. Some of you not from the eastern side of the country may be asking yourself “App-a-what?” whereas others are wondering if I am pronouncing it as “App-ah-LATCH-ah” or “App-ah-LAY-CHA”.

So, what the heck is Appalachia?

  • A predominantly rural region of the U.S. consisting of 420 counties.
  • Stretches 205,000 square miles
  • Spans 13 states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virgnia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.
  • It is broken up into 5 sub-regions: North, North Central, Central, South Central, and Southern.
  • All Kentucky counties are located in the Central sub-region.

So, why am I talking about Appalachia? For one, a part of it is located in the commonwealth. Also, last month, I discussed the role class plays into the location of environmental “bads”; reference the “race vs. class debate”. Appalachia, and particularly Central Appalachia, is extremely poor.

  • Central Appalachia is predominantly white.
  • As of 2017 Central Appalachia has:
    • The lowest mean ($47,152)
    • The lowest median household income ($33,956)
    • The highest percentage of those in poverty.
    • The highest percentage of individuals with less than a high school diploma.
    • The lowest percentage of those with a bachelor’s degree.
    • The highest percentage of those living with a disability.
  • It has the most amount of counties labeled distressed by the federal government; these are counties with the lowest economic stability.
    • There are a total of 49 distressed counties in Central Appalachia
    • 37 of which, are in Kentucky.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with Environmental Justice? EVERYTHING! It is one of the central reasons environmental “bads” concentrate in Appalachia. You may be asking yourself, “I remember last week he mentioned waste facility sites, is that what he means? Is there an over concentration of those?” Well, I am sure Central Appalachia has their fair share of them, but no. Environmental “bads”, for Appalachia, exist primarily because of poor mining methods from the coal industry. Recall a blog I authored a couple months ago about how Limestone extraction needs to be done properly, the same goes for coal mining. This has existed in the sub-region for roughly 150 years (Do I hear an answer to the “chicken vs. the egg debate”?) Since its entrance into Central Appalachia, it has:

  • Created unsafe living and work conditions for miners and residents
  • Destroyed mountains
  • Caused large scale disasters
  • Polluted the air, water, and soil
  • Increased cancer rates, liver problems, and skin disorders
  • Reduced mortality rates, as well as overall quality of life.
  • Increased economic problems

Okay, okay, I know that was a lot to go over in such a short time! One blog can’t, and no pun intended, do environmental justice in Appalachia “justice”. I wanted to give each and every one of you a short introduction to environmental justice issues happening right within our state. Next month we will discuss a case example of a coal-caused environmental justice issue!

Until next time,


Meet a Friend of Limestone, Dr. Alan Fryar

Meet a Friend of Limestone, Dr. Alan Fryar

It’s hard to be more of a friend to limestone than Dr. Alan Fryar, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Fryar’s specialty is understanding how water moves through karst, a special kind of landscape formed by the dissolution of limestone. He has studied it across the Bluegrass region. One study performed in Woodford County compared a spring under UK’s Animal Research Center with another in downtown Versailles. He has also researched sinkholes and “telling people where to and where not to build from an engineering perspective.”

This extensive understanding of karst makes him one of the Bluegrass’ top experts on the natural foundation on which our Commonwealth stands.

He explained that Kentucky’s limestone gives it a unique geographic difference. “The Bluegrass region is sort of a dome of limestone.” Dr. Fryar noted that this limestone had an immediate effect on how Kentucky grew and evolved.

“It has to do with historical settlements,” he noted. “People settled in areas where limestone was fundamental.” The Falls of the Ohio and the unique properties of central Kentucky’s soil are both thanks to limestone and attracted settlers.

Dr. Fryar’s interest and knowledge about karst and Kentucky’s history with limestone has led to a hobby of speaking to the landscape’s role in bourbon distilling. He’s been interviewed by several journalists and authors about the role of limestone in Kentucky’s unique industries.

He notes that “interesting coincidences” led settlers to the industries that remain the cornerstones of Kentucky’s cultural and economic identity.

“Bourbon is what people started distilling because the ingredients were available,” Fryar notes. The limestone water that came from natural springs across the Bluegrass was a key ingredient. It isn’t a coincidence that Royal Spring, Kentucky is where Elijah Craig began making whiskey in 1789.

It turned out that the high pH of limestone water is ideal for promoting fermentation, and it naturally filters out impurities like iron that alter the taste. This made water from the Bluegrass region the perfect ingredient for the earliest bourbon distillers.

While limestone water is not essential to bourbon production at this point, it has created a myth around the spirit. “I think that’s where the concept of terroir comes in, where it’s not just physical factors, but it’s also what the consumer perceives as the place, the origin of the spirit that gives it value,” he told Louisville Public Radio in 2013.

Even his students have gotten into the act of studying the relationship between geology and distilling. One of his UK graduates now works as an environmental compliance officer for a major name in Kentucky bourbon.

Dr. Fryar is helping the public understand the geological reasons behind bourbon’s rise in Kentucky. That makes him a great Kentuckian and a true Friend of Limestone.

FOL Visits Maker’s Mark

FOL Visits Maker’s Mark

Have you ever just grabbed a handful of oatmeal? That’s what it felt like when I of reached my hand into the 3 day old mash tub at Maker’s Mark.  I guess I should back track to the beginning of our tour so you don’t think we just I am just running around sticking my hands into things to ruin your next red dipped bottle.

Maker’s Mark was our first tour of many as Friends of Limestone, as we go along this journey together, I will be highlighting and visiting different distilleries around Kentucky. Maker’s Mark Distillery is located in Loretto, KY, so once you think you’ve gotten lost, you’re almost there! If you haven’t had the chance to visit, it is highly worth the drive.

Onto the tour…

We started out learning a little bit about the history of Maker’s Mark & I could give you the full run down on how Maker’s Mark got started, but that’s what Google is for.

Maker’s Mark helped shape and change the whole bourbon industry. Margie Samuels (wife of Bill Samuels Sr.) is a total badass of the bourbon industry!! It was Margie’s idea to dip the bottles in red wax, starting the process on her kitchen table that happens on the bottling line today.  Even to this day, each bottle is hand dipped. Think about that, every Maker’s Mark bottle is completely different. Pretty crazy huh? She also created a bread recipe that turned into bourbon, designed the logo, and picked the shape of the bottle! (okay done fan-girling over her…but c’mon she’s great!)

Now, if you remember back to my previous post on what makes Bourbon, you should remember that some Bourbons are made with rye and some are made with wheat.  Maker’s Mark is made up of 70% corn, 16% wheat, and 14% barley.  This adds up to a grain alcohol that reaches 110 proof .

FOL_Makers Tour-22.jpg

Before combining all of these ingredients to start cooking, Maker’s Mark stands out once again by using a Roller Mill to break up the grains, most distilleries use a hammer mill instead.  The reason behind using a Roller Mill is to help keep the bitter taste out of these grains. Once all of these ingredients are broken up and combined, they are cooked. They spend 3-4 hours cooking, then chill to between 80 and 85 degrees.

Once this mash bill is done cooling, then comes the yeast! From the very first bottle until the one being barreled today, Maker’s Mark has used the same yeast strain. This yeast strain has been passed down over 6 generations, and is kept in different parts of the world (just in case you were wondering, they won’t tell you all the locations!)

FOL_Makers Tour-14.jpg

Now on to the fermentation process, this is where each of us got to try out a 1 day old mash, a 2 day old mash, and then the hard oatmeal feeling of a 3 day old mash. The texture and the taste changed after each day. These are fermented in 9600 gallon tubs – TALK ABOUT BIG! The room smells a lot like beer, which to me smelt pretty good! Next we got to see the copper stills, this where you will see what is called White Dog in the bourbon industry (to make it simple, unaged bourbon), and the distilling process begins. This was another cool part of our tour, trying the white dog directly from the still.  If you ever want something to burn your nose, take a good smell of this!

Now the best part! Time to fill up the barrels that give Maker’s sweet smooth taste!  Until this tour, I never really thought about how the barrels were made, I only cared what was in them. Maker’s Mark buys their barrels locally, once the barrels are made, they sit outside for almost a year to get the definite shape and begin to bring out the wood flavors before ever being filled. Once arriving to the distillery, they are charred at a grade 3, to make the bourbon just a little sweeter.

FOL_Makers Tour-7.jpg

Each bottle of Maker’s Mark is aged for around 6 years. 3 years at the top of the warehouse and 3 years at the bottom. Throughout this aging process, the barrel is tasted up to 6 times! (Where can I get that job??)  They taste these barrels to guarantee each bottle taste like the very first one.  Can you guess how many barrels are aging at this very moment?! Whatever you’re thinking…think a little higher. Now, guess around 800,000!!

I don’t want to spoil all of the tour details, but when you go, check out the creak that runs through the grounds and the wall that is exposed where the Maker’s 46 and private select bottles are stored. THAT’S ALL LIMESTONE! Bill Samuels Sr. bought this piece of land because of the Limestone water that filtered right on his distillery. Now that is something incredible!

Before I leave you wanting to make the drive to middle of nowhere Kentucky, remember that, each bottle of Maker’s Mark taste like the very first one. Which really means, it’s like having a drink with Mr. Samuels himself, right? .. a girl can dream!

FOL_Makers Tour-10.jpg