Not Your Mama’s Apple Pie
(First of four posts about trip to Smoky Mountains and Asheville, NC.)
My last trip in 2019, just months before covid shut everything down, was a Thanksgiving week trip camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and then onto Asheville, NC.
It was my first week-long trip in more than two years. I’d forgotten how much you can see and do when you get a full week off. (For those who read my earlier post mentioning I seldom took more than two days of vacation at a time, my workplace closes down Wednesday – Friday of Thanksgiving, meaning I had to only take two days of actual vacation time to get the full week, meaning everyone else is gone those last three days, meaning, most importantly, no emails or phone calls! If you get my meaning.)
Future posts will cover my travels in the Smoky Mountains, a side visit to the Biltmore Estate and time in Ashville, but first let’s start with a quick story about the trip down.
It’s a 700 mile trek from my home to the Smoky Mountains, directly through the heart of Kentucky. How could I possibly drive through Kentucky and ignore those signs imploring me to visit local distilleries along the way? It just wouldn’t be right.
It was late in the day so time only allowed for stops at two of these fine establishments, darn it all anyway. Though a small sample size, it was enough to convince me that for anyone who enjoys distilled liquids you won’t make a mistake regardless of where you go.
Over the years, I’ve toured the Jack Daniels Distillery and had a great time at the Wild Turkey distillery where my wife and I, and one other couple, were the only ones on the tour. With just the four of us, our kindly guide took us into the lab area not normally open to tourists and provided us with very special samples of some aged bourbons they were creating.
But the more local, often family-owned, distilleries have a charm all their own. The people who work and own these places never met a stranger, regardless of how strange you might be.
The first stop, the Casey Jones Distillery outside Hopkinsville, KY, was the larger, more polished of the two on my visit. Even so, I knew I was in good hands when an old dog greeted me as I stepped out of my car.
Yes, there really was a Casey Jones. A woman at the cash register happily told me the distillery had been established by Casey’s grandson, AJ. Apparently Casey was fairly notorious, or perhaps celebrated, for the quality of his moonshine, selling to Chicago mobster Al Capone and making a 30-year living in the business before the law finally caught up to him.
One thing I loved at both distilleries was the .375 ml bottles they had for sale. Roughly 12½ ounces, the smaller sizes made it much more affordable to pick up a couple, or so, souvenir bottles to enjoy at home.
About a half hour down the highway from Casey Jones is MB Roland Distillery near Pembroke, KY. Much different in feel from Jones, MB Roland is in a converted farm house and was Kentucky’s first completely “grain to glass” craft distillery.
I happened to be the only customer that late in the day and the clerks were quite gracious in answering this newbie’s questions, particularly when it comes to moonshine.
You often hear about the many different regulations and even legal requirements regarding the production of bourbon/whiskey. Turns out there’s no regulation regarding the making of moonshine, so what you get from each distillery truly is a unique product.
Yes, I now have bottles of shine from both distilleries sitting on my bar at home. You know, for comparison purposes.
But then, we have my new favorite liquor, Roland’s Kentucky Apple Pie. My bottle hit empty long ago. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t buy a large bottle. You know if I’m ever down that highway again I’ll be stopping by to pick up another bottle, or two.
They make it by mixing their moonshine with apple cider and some other apple pie-tasting kinds of things. They talk about mixing it with ice cream but I’m all for drinking it straight out of the bottle with just a little ice. Though I tend to be the kind of person who prefers straight bourbon, none of that fruity stuff, this was great, perfect for sipping on a crisp fall evening.
From there it was back on the road for a couple more hours, a stop in a motel in a small town along the highway when it was time to call it a day, and onto the Smoky Mountains.