“Relaxing” in Canada’s Laurentian Mountains

Giant Fir trees reaching to the stars, crystal clear lakes, spectacular sunsets and good friends welcomed us to Quebec’s Mont Tremblant resort area.  A huge ski resort much of the year, the area is transformed during the brief summer months into a much more temperate paradise.

The resort was created in the 1990s on land that once was part of the Algonquin Nation. First accessed by outsiders in 1892, with the arrival of the P’tit Train du Nord, the area now features abundant parks and recreation opportunities. Home to both the Parc National du Mont-Tremblant and Le Domaine Saint-Bernard, a 1,500-acre eco-tourism area, the original train bed in now the longest linear park in Canada.

New development blends in nicely with the earlier Le Village and “downtown” areas.  Even name hotel chains have built in the village style and blend seamlessly with the new shops and restaurants that populate the resort.  Not surprisingly, shops skewed toward outdoor gear, but I actually stumbled upon a Desigual retailer with decent European stock. When you finished shopping and eating, visitors can ride a gondola to the top of the 2,800’ summit and enjoy 360-degree panoramic views.

Glittering lakes and the meandering Riviére La Diable enhance the landscape. The men did a bit of guided fishing one morning, but it was not to be a record-setting day and as they left Lac Ouimet, they heard to say “Ouimet no fish today.”

We played two rounds of golf at La Belle and Le Bête, the Beauty and the Beast, both very pleasant courses. I am happy to report I only lost two balls, and one of those disappeared in plain sight.

Touring the area was fun, and we enjoyed seeing nearby villages and even a brief visit to the local casino (where I am ashamed to admit I insisted on playing the OMG Kittens! slot machine.  Yes, that really was the name, and those cute kittens let me down big time). In other breaking news, my husband survived the French-inspired meals we had at several very nice restaurants.

“Relaxing?”  Well, maybe that’s in the eye of the beholder . . . It was a wonderful visit, and we are fortunate to have such terrific friends!

The Final Tasting. Our Last Day in Bourbon Country.

  

Not all distilleries are huge with recognizable names.  The bourbon industry has exploded in recent years and there are dozens of new products on the market, from both established distilleries and a few new kids on the block. Be sure to check out the businesses known as Craft Distilleries.  In 2012, the Bourbon Trail launched a Craft Tour. Craft doesn’t necessarily mean new but is more size-related.  Family owned and run Willett, for example, is more than 80 years old and is one of 13 distilleries featured in the craft passport. And remember, not all distilleries are included in the official trail – for instance, Buffalo Trace.

Every property had its unique features and personality and although the basic principles for distilling are the same – grind the grains – cook the mash – ferment and strain the product – store in charred white oak barrels – and age for at least 2 years.  Jim, our tour guide at Willett wins the award for the best guide with hard facts.  He really explained the details of the cooking process.  It was a fitting conclusion to our series of tours and at least one in our group felt they were now ready to distill their own.

Located in Bardstown, known as “Bourbon Capital of the World”, Willett is undergoing a renovation to their visitor’s center as well as an addition that will include two bed and breakfast-style facilities and some lakeside cabins. The Willet tour ($12) also featured a look at their gleaming copper pot still, the inspiration for their beautiful bottle design.

In this Rickhouse, they were also curing hams for a James Beard nominated chef with restaurants in Nashville and Charleston, putting that Angel’s Share to good use. So logical, I will have to make it a point to try some one day soon.

We have sampled many bourbons new to us and have learned how to study the color, identify the smells (gotta smell it with your mouth open), how it tastes on different parts of the tongue, and the “finish” after you swallow.

In the final analysis, as one guide said, “the best bourbon is the one you like.”

 

Favorite Fact: I have two here. Bourbon is taxed annually, from the first year it is in the barrel.  To prevent the “burn” that some bourbons produce after you swallow (and which distillers call a “Kentucky Hug”) don’t inhale – it is actually caused by the fumes you breathe as opposed to the liquor you drink.  

 

Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com

Craft Tour:  http://www.kybourbontrail.com/craft-tour

Willets:  www.willettdistillery.com

Let Me Count the Distilleries . . . Day 3: More Bourbon.

There are at least 33 distilleries in Kentucky, responsible for 95% of the bourbon produced in the U.S. And, bourbon can only be produced in the U.S. and must be 51% corn, stored at a maximum of 62.5% alcohol (125 proof).

Today we take in three more distilleries and tastings with a Mint Julep Tour. Our terrific guide Wendy and driver Don showed us more of the beautiful Kentucky countryside and filled us in on a bit of the history and happenings in Louisville as well as the fast-growing distillery industry.

We began the day about an hour out of Louisville at the Makers Mark Distillery.  What a beautiful setting.  As an incredible bonus – the Dale Chihuly glass installations that will be in place until the end of October 2017. The appearance of this property was a definite favorite.  I loved the storybook-style architecture with the bright red shutters and their liquor bottle cutouts.  This site is too beautiful to miss on any bourbon tour.

At Makers, we had the chance to dip our own bottle in their famous red sealing wax, and so I did.

After lunch, we circled back to the cute town of Bardstown to stop at Heaven Hill and the Bourbon Heritage Center for a look and tasting.  Probably most famous for Elijah Craig bourbons and their new product Larceny, this property is not the distilling site, which is located in Louisville.  I was not a fan of these bourbons but did purchase some yummy Evan Williams bourbon-infused chocolate sauce.  Chocolate in any form goes very well with bourbon and each distillery has offered a delicious chocolate candy with their tasting.

Vintage Jim Beam Bottles.

At the end of the day, we hit the Jim Beam facility – distillers of my favorites – Knob Creek and Basil Hayden. This is one huge commercial enterprise and I had the opportunity to place my personal bottle of Knob Creek on the production line and seal the black wax with my thumbprint. A final touch was engraving the bottle with a commemorative message – a perfect souvenir (and one I can drink!)

It was a long, but fascinating day topped off by sharing a famous Hot Brown (turkey, toast, bacon and Mornay sauce, better than you can imagine) back at The Brown Hotel.

 

My bottle of Knob Creek in production.

Favorite Fact: Margie Samuels named Makers Mark, designed the bottle, logo and the red wax tradition. A master marketer, she was the wife of Bill Samuels, Sr who created the Maker’s recipe. She played a major role in the success of the company, significantly at a time when women generally had no role or place in the industry.

 

 

Mint Julep Tours: www.mintjuleptours.com

Makers Mark: www.makersmark.com

Heaven Hill: www.heavenhill.com

Jim Beam: www.jimbeam.com

Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com

Loving the Angel’s Share: Day 2 in the World of Kentucky Bourbon

 

 

After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we piled into our van and headed out for the noon Distillery Tour ($14) at Woodford Reserve.  It’s a beautiful country drive through horse country, rolling hills and endless fences to Versailles, about half an hour from Lexington.

Another historic property with National Register designation, Woodford’s beautiful gray stone buildings reflect the personality of its Scottish founders.  Owned today by the Brown-Forman conglomerate (based in Louisville), we watched them bottle Old Forester, helping a sister-product meet demand.

Learning about the process is interesting.  I have been surprised about the smells during the cooking and fermentation process.  The closest overall is the smell of banana bread.  That was a surprise.  We tasted the sour mash today and it was not pleasant. It’s very warm by the 100-year-old cypress fermenting tanks and the mash is a bubbling, sometimes moldy-looking, a grainy, yellow stew; not appetizing.

Once in a Rickhouse you feel as if you could become intoxicated just from the smell.  The 10% evaporation during the bourbon’s first year in the barrel (and 3-5% each year after) produces the scent, known as the Angel’s Share.

The Woodford property is sophisticated and sleek with lovely grounds, leafy trees, lots of stone and dramatic triple copper pot stills. A 500-foot-long gravity-fed barrel run is still in place. After our informative tour and tasting, we enjoyed a nice lunch from Glenn’s Creek Café on the back porch before making the one-hour drive to Louisville.

 

In Louisville, we stayed in the elegant, historic Brown Hotel. Tonight, we enjoyed an amazing Chef’s Table dinner, in the kitchen of the English Grill.  Under the stewardship of English Grill Manager Troy Ritchie (who also wears the dual hats of Wine Sommelier and Bourbon Steward), we enjoyed the handiwork of archeologist-turned-chef Dustin Willet, and server Kelly.  Troy surprised us with a visit to the rooftop for a beautiful aerial view of Louisville and a sneak peek into the Mohammed Ali Suite, chock-full of Ali memorabilia (for the uninitiated, Ali was from Louisville).  It was an amazing evening.

 

Favorite Fact: Opera singer Lily Pons let her pet lion cub roam free in her suite at The Brown Hotel.

Woodford Reserve: www.woodfordreserve.com

Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com

A Trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

I have been a bourbon drinker since I was a J-school student at the University of Tennessee. Something about the hills, and football . . . . but the love of bourbon stayed with me ever since.  Through the last few years, I developed a heightened interest in visiting some of Kentucky’s many distilleries. Finally, with the urging of some good friends, we made it happen.

Eight friends, four days, six distilleries, great food and a lot of laughs later, we headed home.

First stop – Buffalo Trace.  The largest property not on the nine-site official Bourbon Trail, Buffalo Trace has deep roots in the community that go back more than 200 years.  During the Trace Tour, our third-generation guide, Freddie, kept us entertained while imparting details of the company’s colorful history, as well as facts about the much-sought-after Pappy Van Winkle bourbon now produced here, (they acquired the Van Winkle business in 1972). This is a huge distillery and when their current expansion is finished they will have 1 million 53-gallon barrels in storage warehouses (known as Rickhouses in the distillery world).

One of Blanton’s popular bottle stoppers.

On the National Registry of Historic Places, this is one of the only free distillery tours, and runs every hour on the hour. A highlight this day was seeing the by-hand bottling of Blanton’s Single Barrel. I learned about the differences between wheat and rye bourbons and am pretty sure I prefer the wheat.  We loved Freddie’s folksy stories and enjoyed learning how to identify a few of the smells and differences between the White Dog Mash (which is really legal moonshine) and their more refined products. We clapped and rubbed hands filled with the clear White Dog, smelling how it changed.  Ultimately it proved to be a good skin softener. The group favorite at the tasting was the Bourbon Cream Liqueur handcrafted from small batches of Buffalo Trace Bourbon. Delicious, and even better when mixed with root beer. We can’t wait to try it in a root beer float.

Buffalo Trace is located in Frankfort, about 30 minutes from Lexington and the 21C museum hotel, our home for the night. At the hotel, we enjoyed a bourbon flight in the Lockbox bar, under the direction of the hotel’s very capable, bourbon steward.  I tasted a few new to me and picked the Wellers 90 (a Buffalo Trace product) as the best of the group. Bourbons can be ordered in a .5, 1.5 or 3 ounce pour, and the assortment, organized by distillery, was impressive.  No Pappy Van Winkle, however, at any price.

Bourbon flight at the Lockbox bar at 21C.

 Favorite Fact: Buffalo Trace kept operating during Prohibition, for “medicinal” purposes.  With a doctor’s prescription, you could get a pint every 10 days.

Buffalo Trace: www.buffalotracedistillery.com

Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com

Laugh, Learn & Laugh Some More.

 

Our friend in Asheville thought we would enjoy the LaZoom City Comedy Tour and she was right on point.

The 90-minute open-air bus tour winds its way through charming Asheville and manages to impart quite a bit of local flavor and history between the funny, corny, and sometimes bawdy, commentary.

Tour guide Cookie flips out.

This is a great city – chock full of unique locally owned shops and restaurants (over 90%) and more craft breweries than anywhere else in the country. You can bet the breweries are mentioned during this tour, which allows consumption of wine and/or beer while on board, and includes a rest stop at the Green Man Brewery.

Two facts that made an impression:

  1. despite the ghost stories, no one died during the Civil War’s Battle of Asheville, and
  2. last month Asheville’s nationally renowned Wicked Weed Brewing company sold out to Anheuser-Busch. We hope it’s not the start of a trend.

Check out their website for times, fees and other tour options: http://www.lazoomtours.com/

Miami’s Oldest Companies Tell it Like it Was

The Dade Heritage Trust, located in the 1905 original office of Dr. James Jackson, Miami’s first physician.   https://dadeheritagetrust.org/

If you are a history buff, a business expert, or maybe a little of both, you might enjoy reading my latest articles, written for the Dade Heritage Trust’s bi-annual magazine, Preservation Today. Find out what some of Miami’s oldest businesses have to say about their secret of survival.

How to Succeed in Business.Preservation Today.Spring-Summer 2017

 

Miami Perspectives

The Magic of Miami’s Stiltsville

It’s easy to take things for granted.  Many of us never take the time to see what’s in our own backyard.

Miami’s Stiltsville was a unique, raucous, lively, storied, and often infamous, cluster of shack houses about a mile offshore in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Known for both wild parties and old-fashioned family weekends in the sun, Stiltsville was a destination that promised fun and a hint of the unknown.

When I moved to Miami in the 70s, I took Stiltsville for granted, passing up opportunities to visit.  The community had rebounded from Hurricane Donna in 1960, and Hurricane Betsy in ‘65.  But then, on August 24, 1992 – it was gone.  Or at least most of it was gone. What was left after the fierce winds of Hurricane Andrew was mired in controversy and political wrangling. Not considered old enough (50 years) for designation by the National Trust for Historic Places, powerful people wanted the remaining seven damaged structures demolished.

The Bay Chateau House.

My husband and I were among the fortunate few when we recently visited Stiltsville on a glorious, sunny afternoon, and spent some very special time (with very special friends) relaxing at the colorful Bay Chateau House.

For four decades, our good friends’ family owned home #14, “Haven from Slavin.” I’ve always enjoyed their family stories of weekends spent fishing, swimming and exploring the tidal flats surrounding the homes. Water levels on the flats are 2-3’ and during low tide drop to just a few inches; a perfect aquatic playground.   Their three sons, now with children of their own, enjoy an exceptional shared history of their days on the Bay. It’s one of those sons who is now part of a group of caretakers for the Bay Chateau House.

Today, there are no private owners left at Stiltsville.  Instead, there is the unusual relationship forged by the Park Service and former owners; the non-profit, public-private Stiltsville Trust formed in 2003. Owners were transitioned to caretakers of this incredible resource. The U.S. Government now owns the entire area, a part of America’s only national park 95% under water, Biscayne National Park. Visitors can see the area by boat, but very few have the opportunity to actually enter one of the homes.

At its height in the 60s, there were 27 buildings, most on pilings raising them about 10’ above the sandy flats. Earliest records indicate man-made structures as early as 1922, and in the 30s Eddie “Crawfish” Walker sold bait and beer from a shack nailed to a barge.  Later in the 30s, things got really hopping with off-shore private clubs.  Then the Quarterdeck Club had a long run from the 40s until it burned in 1961, but much of Stiltsville’s boisterous reputation is due to the Bikini Club. The Bikini Club, run out of a yacht towed out and grounded in 1962, made quite a name for itself in its short three-year history. Its reputation was for hard-drinking, gambling, nude sunbathing and who knows what else. The club was closed down for operating without a liquor license and possession of 40 under-size, out-of-season crawfish.

Anyone for a swing-jump off the deck into the bay?

Private clubs notwithstanding, most of the stilt homes were owned by private families, who just loved the beauty, freedom and camp-like vibe of the natural setting. Of the seven surviving structures, one is the Miami Springs Power Boat Club started by firefighters, policemen and workers who lived near the airport.  The others are known as the Leshaw House, Hicks House, Baldwin-Sessions House, Ellenburg House and A-frame House.

I’m told by locals that Flipper’s famous TV scene going from deck to Bay was filmed at the A-frame House. Stiltsville also had many famous human visitors, including several Florida governors, local judges, Steven Stills, rib-master Tony Roma and Ted Kennedy. It’s been featured on film and in print, including TV shows Miami Vice and Sea Hunt, as well as several books by local best-selling author Carl Hiaasen.

Who knows what treasure will be the next to disappear.  Look around . . . while you can.

For More Info:

For a well-done 30-minute documentary produced by WLRN and featuring local expert, professor Dr. Paul George, visit Stiltsville through this link: http://video.wlrn.org/video/2365452261/

Biscayne National Park: https://www.nps.gov/bisc/index.htm

 

 

The A-frame House. Can you visualize Flipper sliding off the dock?

The Ellenburg House.

With the Miami skyline as a backdrop, the Baldwin-Sessions House. The most elaborate structure still in existence, it was once featured in a national ad for Pittsburgh Paints.

A Quick Trip to Bimini.

Bimini is the closest Bahama Island to Florida – about 51 miles away. We’d heard about the new high-speed ferry and thought we’d give it a try for a quick day-trip to the island.  It’s two hours each way and leaves from the Port of Miami. As my husband said this was a “one & done”, we won’t be doing this again, but we did have fun checking it all out and spending the day with good friends.

Here is what you need to know:

  • The ferry is absolutely freezing (they say it helps reduce seasickness); I am not exaggerating, take a blanket.
  • Maybe it helps to keep it cold, but people were still sick. Take meds in advance like we did and you should be OK. There was a large carton of motion sickness packets at the boarding gate – but it was empty.
  • Get a golf cart so you can drive around, they have 2 and 4-seaters and even some 6; it will set you back $50 for the day.
  • Resort has a small casino, it is closed during most weekdays.
  • There is no straw at the Straw Market.
  • Eat some conch salad – it will be good, conch fritters not so great. We had a nice lunch at the Big Game Club, one of Hemingway’s former hangouts.
  • Check out the Dolphin House Museum, it was charming; a work of love and tribute by a local craftsman/poet.
  • Trash cans on the island all seem to be from Miami-Dade?
  • If you do go by ferry, get a discount ticket on Groupon; a business class ticket will buy you a snack and drink along with your ticket.
  • On the ferry you can book water activities through the Resorts World Bimini & they do sell snacks, coffee and soft drinks to everyone on board.
  • Be sure to take your passport.
  • Divers wold enjoy the options here, for everyone else a few hours is enough.
  • Enjoy the views of the beautiful turquoise Caribbean waters.

Ashley Saunders master artist/ craftsman/ builder & poet. Takes visitors on tours of his 2-story Dolphin House Museum. No fee, but $5 donation from adults is very appreciated.

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