THE HOME TEAM: My maturing tastes
About five years ago, I gave up tennis. For a long time I’d been losing — badly — to all three of my sons, and now I found I couldn’t even reach a drop shot without clumsily tripping over my sneakers and tumbling into the net. Bye-bye, Longshore courts. Time to retire the racket.
Right around the same time, I also quit on basketball, another of my favorite sports. What happened is I’d suggested to my youngest son, Robby, that we go out and take some jump shots on the driveway — once home to the fabled (not really) WDBL — Westport Driveway Basketball League. As I fired away, I saw Robby get down on all fours, with his head at pavement level. “Those aren’t jump shots,” he told me. “You’re not even getting off the ground.”
I find, though, as the years go by, that as you give up some of your most beloved pastimes and habits, you replace them with new ones. After scrapping tennis and hoops, I gave golf a try. And liked it! For maybe three years. At that point, my initial progress plateaued, in spite of my lessons from Chris at Longshore, and I concluded the game was boring, aggravating, and time-consuming — as I had initially thought when I began hating golf as a teenager.
One new habit did stick, though. My wife and I had for a long time been the only couple in America, I think, to not drink coffee. Then, a few years back, it happened that our drive from Connecticut to Vermont, a drive I used to be able to do in my sleep, I actually was now doing in my sleep. Caffeine to the rescue. But what started out as a driving emergency measure has now evolved into a Post Road Starbucks cherished daily ritual.
On the alcoholic beverage front, I’d been strictly a beer-and-wine guy my whole adult life. None of the hard stuff. But in my mid-fifties, I started putting on a few pounds around the middle, and the tough crowd I hang with — my sons and their friends — didn’t let that go unnoticed. “So when’s the baby due?” they’d ask, patting my belly. I deduced there’s a good reason they call it a “beer belly,” and gave up suds in favor of whiskey. The result? I lost the beer belly — and gained a taste for whiskey.
My chosen brand was a no-brainer: I’m a huge country music fan — and Jack Daniels is mentioned in maybe every third tune out there. (“Jack Daniels kicked my ass again last night” — Eric Church; “Whether it’s a cold beer, tequila, or a double shot of Jack” — Florida Georgia Line; “I fell in love with Jack Daniels again” — Miranda Lambert) I also love the old-school black-and-white label, and enjoyed the heck out of a visit to Lynchburg, Tennessee — home of Jack D — on my latest cross-country-road-trip-with-dog.
I might well have been satisfied to just stick with Jack as my go-to had it not been for my oldest son Matt, himself a novice whiskey drinker, who suggested we spend the recent three-day Presidents Weekend touring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Thanks to the limestone in the water, the beautiful stretch of rolling hills between Louisville and Lexington is home to Kentucky’s most celebrated Bourbon distilleries (they say Bourbon’s not Bourbon without limestone water) and its heralded thoroughbred farms (the same limestone is good for the horses’ bones). Put the two together, and you’ve got some spectacular sightseeing. Not to mention some pretty fine whiskey tasting.
Matt and I made it our business to hit all the distilleries, or at least most of them: Woodford Reserve in Versailles (they pronounce it ver-SAILS down there), with its gorgeous gray limestone main building; Four Roses and Wild Turkey, both in Lawrenceburg; Town Branch in Lexington, the state’s only “brewstillery” (makes both Bourbon and beer, including my brand-new favorite, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale); Maker’s Mark in Loretto, the best tour and most impressive distillery, and Bulleit in Louisville (funniest tour guide).
At each and every stop, Matt and I took the tour (to the point where both of us can now recite exactly what distinguishes Bourbon from all other spirits) and did the tasting. What did I learn in these gleaming tasting rooms, with their sparkling crystal and amber, barrel-charred spirits? That I absolutely cannot tell one Bourbon from the next. Our standard joke went like this. Matt (after we both tried, say, a Bulleit 10 Year): “What’d you think?” Hank: “It’s tied for my favorite.”
So while I’m still loyal to Jack, my first brown whiskey, I’m more than open to trying pretty much anything — from a Basil Hayden to a Willett Single Barrel. Yup. This old dog has definitely learned some new tricks.
“The Home Team” appears the first Friday of every month. You can also keep up with Hank’s adventures on his blog, “Beagle Man,” on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/ To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com.