Checking out the weather forecast last night indicated a wet day today. I’d estimated a 10.30 am depart time to get to the Jim Beam American Stillhouse for a 12.30 pm tour but decide to leave 15 minutes earlier. So I’m up at 8 am, showered, dressed and ready to meet Jennie for breakfast. She’s older than I had imagined from her Airbnb photo, she’s around my age I’d guess. I’d mentally prepared to be sweetness and light at breakfast, and tell her my life story because that’s what I’d thought would be expected.
Jennie offered me grits and bacon for breakfast in a prior email exchange, but not liking grits – well, I think they’re disgusting actually – I said coffee and toast would suffice. So she serves me up a couple of English muffins and grape jelly with a huge mug of coffee. It was very nice and pleasant, as was our chat. After half an hour or so, I make my excuses to go and get ready to leave. It was strange staying in someone else’s house, especially when they are there. I’m still not sure about whether I’d do it again – certainly not by choice, that I am certain of – but then I’d didn’t have a choice here.
All the downtown hotels were booked as there is a big horse racing meeting taking place over the weekend, Kentucky being famous for that sort of thing. Hence Airbnb was my only option last night. I bid farewell to Jennie and set off at 10.15 am in the pouring rain. It’s still warm though, around the low 70s, but quite miserable otherwise. There is heavy and persistent rain belting down. Visibility on the road is very poor. I take the Bluegrass Parkway most of the way towards Clermont where the Stillhouse is, and the traffic is not too heavy but in the weather conditions extra care is needed. I can’t comment on the scenery because I can hardly see it!
Jim Beam American Stillhouse Tour
Jim Beam tour ticket
I arrive at Jim Beam around 11.45 am. There’s already a huge line of people queuing to get in – they don’t open the doors until noon today, a Sunday. It’s still raining quite hard as well. When I saunter in around 10 past 12 and head to the empty pre-booked desk to collect my tour ticket, I overhear that none of those people queuing had booked. And by the time I’ve picked my ticket up, the first few tours are sold out. Why on earth would you not pre-book a tour? Imagine arriving at 12 to be told there are no tours until 2 pm (which I heard one couple get told, and the line behind them was still very long). I’d be amazed if any of the folks queuing were locals so they must have travelled a distance, only to face a long wait. And there’s nothing to do after you’ve spent 10 minutes looking around the gift shop. Stupid people. Book ahead dimwits!
The tour covers the entire bourbon making and bottling process, and is very comprehensive and informative. Overall it is excellent. We get to walk through live production areas except for bottling. For that section however they have created a mini-bottling line for tours that shows how it’s done. And real bottles get filled with real bourbon while we watch! You can customise a bottle with your name and fingerprint. And all for the price of a normal bottle, albeit it’s the $50 single barrel Knob Creek. Too expensive for me…
But many on my tour do take up the offer. At the end of the tour there’s a tasting session of three bourbons, and you get to choose which ones from the whole range. We are given a special shot glass that we can keep. It’s engraved with scenes around the site. Knowing the standard ‘white label’ Jim Beam product very well, I opt for a couple of special bourbons I’ve seen on shop shelves but never tasted. I particularly liked Devil’s Cut. Tour concluded, I buy a branded shot glass as a memento in the gift shop. All-in-all, despite the rain – the tour does involve some walking outside between buildings – it is an excellent ‘attraction’ and highly recommended. Do go – but book ahead!
Out into the rain again and I’m on the road to Nashville. I stop at a gas station just down the road from the Stillhouse and buy a ham and cheese sandwich. This isn’t marked up but costs me over $5! What the hell, I think, I’m hungry and there’ll be nothing on the Interstate.
I’d planned a route off the Interstate as much as possible as usual, but I realise I’m a bit behind schedule. With the rain still belting down I figure I won’t see much going on this ‘off track’ route. So I decide to stay on I-65 S for another 50 miles or so and not turn off as planned. The road is pretty boring apart from the ‘amusement’ (not really) created by many, many dumbass truck drivers who pull out into the outside (left) lane and sit there doing the 70 mph speed limit, not moving over for anyone.
This is just plain stupidity. The inside two lanes are often completely clear but the trucks just ignore everyone, forcing car drivers to undertake. In the UK, trucks aren’t allowed in the outside lane and I have since discovered that on a freeway, commercial vehicles cannot travel in the left lane when there are three or more lanes. So where are the state troopers to pull these miscreants over and book them? Nowhere. I hardly ever saw a trooper at any time on any road. So the truckers just keep doing it. This didn’t just happen once or twice on I-65, it was happening all the time. In fact I witnessed it time and again over the course the whole road trip. Something really should be done about it.
An hour or so on and the rain is easing so I consider getting off I-65 and joining my planned route on US-31 W southbound. Such a junction appears a few miles further on, so I leave the Interstate. I have made up some time but interestingly when I’m on US-31 Google Maps keeps telling me I-65 is quicker to my destination, but only by about 4 minutes. Gee whizz, no thanks. And it’s a much more interesting drive of course, passing through towns and the countryside. The road goes up and down, round bends and curves, making it ten times better than the boring flat and straight freeway. It’s still overcast in the sky above but there’s good visibility and I can see a lot of stuff as I drive.
The last stretch into Nashville requires a return to I-65 though. Soon after I’m in the heart of the city as the road carves right through it. When I exit for downtown it’s only a few hundred yards to the Holiday Inn Express Nashville-Downtown. This is the first really expensive hotel of the trip but the ‘deal’ I got was still a lot less than many other downtown hotels. Even so, it’s over $200 a night… But then of course they add on all the state and local taxes plus the usual rip-off charges like $30 a night for car parking.
It’s my choice however, as I want to be near downtown and within walking distance of the nightlife of Honky Tonk Row et al. One bonus I discover is that the hotel runs a free minibus shuttle that will take you anywhere within a few miles of the hotel during the day, and to the downtown area at night.
Some Blues With The Stacy Mitchhart Band
So after a couple of hours in my room – washing some smalls if you must know, which allows me to have a carry-on suitcase on the plane for a 3 week trip – I go back down to reception. The shuttle is waiting and 5 minutes later I’m walking up Printer’s Alley and into the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar. I found this bar pre-trip and the band on tonight, Stacy Mitchhart Band, are supposed to be very good. Let’s hope.
It’s very busy inside and there are no bar seats available. The seating is laid out around the stage and I find a space on a bench seat at the back of the raised lower level. It’s quite a good view of the stage actually. A waitress comes along and I order some beer and food. There are a number of tables in front of me by the railings that separate it from the dance floor level, which have ‘reserved’ notices on. As I’m waiting for my food, the waitress comes back and removes all the notices from the unoccupied tables. I jump up and ask her if the tables are now free and she says yes. So I grab one all to myself! I now have a brilliant view of the stage, right at the front of the raised area. Result!
The band appears and does a warm-up instrumental before Stacy arrives on stage. The rain had finally stopped on my way into Nashville but when I checked in at the hotel the temperature and humidity were very high. As I arrived at the Bar, it was still very warm, in the high 70s. And it turns out Mr Mitchhart and his band are pretty hot too.
During the evening the band play a mixture of tunes, from BB King, The Police, Prince – a good and interesting version of Purple Rain, a track not too many artists would have the confidence to tackle but Stacy’s guitar solos were very good – plus a bunch of his own songs. It was overall very good, even excellent. He was however requested to play Samba Pa Ti and before starting he muttered under his breath, “I sure wish I knew this”. But it became clear he did not I’m afraid. It was the only bum song all night.
The band was really tight, including at various points keyboards, saxophone and trumpet. They were all clearly having a great time together on stage. My only criticism was set timing. They came on at about 8.30 pm and eventually finished at half past midnight. It was however split into 3 sets of differing lengths, with long gaps. The last set started at 11.25 pm, having finished the second at 11. It seemed to break the flow and momentum a little to me, and the last set seemed the shortest when it should have been the longest. Whatever, the crowd – and I – loved every minute of it.
What I didn’t love was the food. I had a fried chicken sandwich. It was tasteless. The fries were below average as well, so I can’t recommend the food. And I went to the restroom. OMG. I mentioned how Lynagh’s toilets were bad, these were even worse. Absolutely disgusting. I tried to avoid touching anything inside, it was that bad. How the Bar can operate with a toilet like it is beyond me.
Anyhow, music over, it’s time to head home. The shuttle finishes at 10 pm but the driver earlier said there’d be loads of taxi cabs around. But I never saw one, not even an ‘in service’ one. So I walked. It was quite a pleasant walk actually. It was still very warm and I never saw another soul until I reached the hotel. Just gone 1 am and I reach ‘home’. And despite the earlier bad weather, what a superb day.