My Girl and This Belle Meade Bourbon Posted by: Rod Ford | 0 Comments
I hesitate to say my girl is part of the of the khaki skort crowd who gets things done around this town, but the truth is that every other month or so she gets together with various women friends in her Shakti group to sip white wine and talk about their do-gooding and whose doctor husband ran off with whose au pair (and how is she ever going to replace her?).
On these occasions, I am left to my own meager devices, which means I regress into post-collegiate bachelor mode, which means that, if left unchaperoned, I am prone to doing shameful things like watching ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and /or ordering up stuffed Sweep-the-Kitchen pizzas. Were I to try to cope on my own, I might, by the time my beloved returns (lovely and lightly lit from the Conundrum), be draped over the sunroom sofa distended, immobilized and as fraught with eruptive potential as our dear departed black lab Anthracite was the night he ate the dead vole he found rotting under our deck. (Happy ending: Andy was fine after a $450 midnight trip to the emergency vet, and he lived many more years, during which he ate many other dead things without suffering any perceptible discomfort.)
So anyway, these days on those infrequent evenings when I am left bereft of my bestest friend, I call up my lawyer buddy and we go get supper at one or another of our local bistros. Then we repair to my house to drink bourbon and talk about his do-gooding and whose Shakti-going wife ran off with whose golf pro (and how is that poor bugger ever going to find anyone else to put up with that stack-and-tilt nonsense?).
My lawyer buddy and I are both big fans of fermented liquids and we often compare notes on the same. While he is a bit more catholic in his tastes — he will drink gin — we are largely sympatico in matters libational. So I trust his opinions, up to a point. (For instance, he told me that my taking on of this column allows me to take tax deductions on all the liquor I buy. I am relying on that opinion, your honor.) Like teenage girls at the Stein-Mart, we share our discoveries: I introduced him to Knob Creek; he introduced me to Fighting Cock.
Anyway, on the occasion of my latest abandonment, we went down to the local Mex-Mex and ate their famous “brown with cheese,” then drove back up the hill where I cracked the seal on a bottle of a new-to-me bourbon called Belle Meade.
Now before we go much further let me stipulate a few facts. First of all, I bought that bottle of bourbon — which cost just over $40 (though I have since read it can be had for slightly less in many parts of our viewing area) — specifically for the purposes of writing about it in this space. Which means I was looking for something to consider as well as consume, which put me in a peculiar position described by Susan Sontag in her seminal essay “Against Interpretation” — I was holding myself at arm’s length from the experience in an attempt to explicate the meaning of the bourbon and thereby somewhat inoculating myself against its sensory power.
Fortunately bourbon has a way of dissolving even the most clinical critic’s hermeneutical approach. I took a shot of Belle Meade neat, and my lawyer buddy took his with just a little water, and we concurred that it was damn good. To make sure, we poured ourselves a little more. And then a little more.
This is significant. Because I’d only meant to taste the stuff, to get a bead on whether it was something worth the tariff or just another decent bourbon in a handsome label driving to pass as somebody’s great granddaddy’s was-lost-but now-am-found secret recipe. Because Belle Meade, though it just showed up in liquor stores a little over a year ago, purports to continue the legacy of one Charles Nelson, a pre-Prohibition legend who established the Green Brier Distillery in Nashville in 1860 — six years before the Jack Daniels distillery was established.
Now, I don’t want to get too deep into the nomenclature debate, but contrary to rural legend, bourbon is not exclusively a product of a certain Kentucky county. Jack Daniel’s could be bourbon if they wanted to call it that — they just prefer to call “Tennessee whiskey.” And that’s what Charles Nelson called the most popular of the whiskeys he made in Nashville and shipped all over the country and even to Europe in the 19th century. Green Brier was a thriving brand until Tennessee became an early adopter of Prohibition in 1909. (I wonder if the moonshine lobby had anything to do with the vote.)
Mister Charlie also produced a product called Belle Meade Bourbon, named after the famous plantation and horse breeding farm. And it’s this bourbon that, nearly a hundred years later, his great-great-great grandsons, brothers Charlie and Andy Nelson, decided to try to resurrect. (They planning on bringing back the Tennessee Whiskey too — possibly by the end of the year.) What they came up with was an aromatic, light-bodied 90.4 proof sour mash with a relatively high rye content, an almost gin-like floral nose and some pronounced vanilla and caramel flavors, which finishes in a slightly spicy cinnamon and corn winey drawl.
Some people might care that Belle Meade Bourbon is actually distilled in Indiana, but the truth is I think we sometimes make too much of accidents of nativity. Besides, if all goes well, the Nelson boys will build their own distillery near Nashville.
All I know is that while Belle Meade has quite a marketing story — it’s produced in such limited quantities that I’m going to make sure to procure another bottle before this column hits the Internets and one of those richly detailed old school labels where everything is supposed to mean something (it features two horses, named Brown Dick and Bonnie Scotland, two of Belle Meade’s star progenitors) — I didn’t know anything about that when I was sipping and my bottle was a quite a bit lighter when we put the cork back in than when we took it out.
Enough so that when the love of my life returned from her covert feminist world domination meeting she cocked an eye at my lawyer buddy (who was sunk in tweed chair texting a girl he used to know in college on the off chance she’d been recently widowed) and then at the semi-depleted bottle on the bar.
“You boys like the whiskey?” she asked me.
“Yes, ma’am. I guess we do.” I replied.
Then she shook her pretty head in that deliberate, sexy and only slightly condescending way she has. But she likes me.
When they take over the world, I got mine.
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