The Gourmet Highway: Spirits of the South-A Whiskey River Adventure

Distilled spirits came to early America much like the arrival of wine. Europeans were deeply steeped in alcoholic beverages from producing them to personal enjoyment. Wines arrived in Florida with the early Spanish Conquistadors and the monks who brought in wines to St. Augustine. The Scots, Irish, Welsh, English and Dutch had mastered the art of distilling and their traditions ignited eras of spirits drama that continue to this day.

The South became the haven for spirits production. Plentiful good water, long growing seasons for grain and fruit along with the influx of particular immigrants who knew the skills combined to give us those liquid delights we enjoy today. George Washington, America’s father, was also the young country’s first major whiskey producer with his rye whiskey operation at Mount Vernon.

George Washington’s Original Recipe for Rye Sold at Mount Vernon

Visitors to our first president’s home can purchase a bottle of the exceptional Mount Vernon’s George Washington Rye at the gift shop. It’s made according to the original formula.

Whiskey is simple to understand, but the complications from labels like “bourbon” do cause confusion. Bourbon is whiskey, but to use the name on the label, it is, among other prerequisites, required to be made with a certain amount of corn and aged for a minimum period. Bourbon is made not only in Kentucky-the unchallenged leader- but in many other states as well. Garrison Brothers Bourbon made in Texas and C4 produced in Arlington, Georgia are delightful as is Virginia Gentleman.

No distilled spirit on the planet enjoys the popularity of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. The brand is priceless, the logo nearly as recognizable as Coca-Cola. “Jack,” as it’s almost universally called, is still made in lovely Lynchburg, a middle Tennessee village that will remind you of rural Ireland. The water used today comes from the same source its namesake used just after the Civil War. The formula has never been a secret. It’s sometimes described as bourbon plus one: a final filtration with sugar maple charcoal which gives each sip of Jack a hint of sweetness.

The Popular Bourbon Trail is a Tourism Bonanza

Lynchburg, because of it’s strong relationship with Jack, is a highly popular tourist destination. Tour buses loaded with American’s and visitors from faraway places arrive daily. The distillery is both a museum and a working operation. Jack paraphernalia along with bottles of the fabled elixir are purchased with the frenzy of a big city department store on Black Friday.

For almost three decades on a late October weekend, Lynchburg has hosted the heralded Jack Daniel’s International Barbecue Competition, a mega event attracting over 60,000 featuring teams of grillers from throughout America and over 50 foreign nations competing for cash prizes and valuable award recognition. It’s a global event, a tourism extravaganza that other states and other producers have noticed, prompting their own whiskey-influenced attractions.

The Jack Daniel’s International Barbecue Competition, an acclaimed painting by Olivia Thomason

Louisville, the charming river town, is Kentuck’s Bourbon hub. The city established its Bourbon Trail, a highly-popular distillery and bar tour that combines education with lifestyle enjoyment. The Ohio River played a huge role in Bourbon’s evolution and the city is home to Bourbon authorities with few peers. Michael Veach, a published author who many believe to be the country’s top Bourbon authority, resides here and his lectures and Bourbon tastings in major cities and riverboats stay booked year round.

Veach’s Bourbon Tasting Notebook and American Whiskey Tasting Notebook, a combined effort with Susan Riegler contains expert tasting notes plus a place to make your own notes. Inexpensive, and small enough to carry to bars and liquor stores, they are available on Amazon.

This is the most concise essential guide to Bourbon enjoyment

Fabled distilleries like Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Four Roses, Bulleit, Old Forester, Woodford, Maker’s Mark, Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace and Pappy Van Winkle are no longer confined to Kentucky but ingrained in American heritage and lifestyle lexicon.

A new and highly regarded single malt whisky debuts in Virginia

Cocktails are not only American in origin but very Southern as well. According to legend, the world’s first cocktail was invented in a French Quarter apothecary by pharmacist Antoine Peychaud in New Orleans. He named it the Sazerac and it’s the official cocktail of the Big Easy. By the way, Peychaud’s bitters is an elegant essential in countless cocktails and gourmet dishes.

American distilled spirits whether Bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey or their ubiquitous progeny now dot the Southern landscape and are highly attractive places to visit. Combine a trip to Mount Vernon for a sip of rye with one of Virginia’s newcomers,  Virginia Distillery Company.  located in the Blue Ridge Mountains just south of Charlottesville and Jefferson’s Monticello, it’s the largest dedicated American Single Malt whisky distillery in the U.S. The distillery is currently offering a limited-edition preview product called “Prelude: Courage & Conviction” to be released nationally in April.

The best restaurants have outstanding bars with a wide selection of whiskies and other spirits. If you visit Jalisco in Mexico for the tequila experience, the distilleries have tours and tasting rooms patterned after those found in the American South. There are close connections between tequila and American whiskey and Bourbon. Thousands of used aging barrels marked Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace and Jack Daniel will be seen in Tequila warehouses. They are filled with Tequila, aging while permeating with the flavors that are distinctly American. Have dinner at Agave, one of the top restaurants in Atlanta. Their bar has hundreds of Tequila selections and more than a few have a hint of Jack or Maker’s Mark in them.

Ever wonder what might be available in heaven? Frank Sinatra loved Jack Daniel so much that he had a bottle of the Tennessee whiskey buried with him. Reciprocating, the distillery produces a special Frank Sinatra/Jack Daniel Edition. So, for 2020, have a glass of Jack and sing out loud, “My Way.”

The whiskey river runs long and deep and transcends borders.


COCKTAILS FOR 2020 – Something Old, Something New

~Selected by Doc Lawrence

Smoking Hot Margarita

Tim Pinkham eagerly awaits Autumn Haedrich’s gloriously original Margarita at Agave Restaurant

Agave Atlanta

Lunazul Humoso Tequila – 1 1/2 oz
Triple Sec – 3/4 oz
Fresh Lime Juice – 1/4oz
Sweet & Sour – 2oz
Jalapenos – fresh slices


Fill shaker with ice.
Add 2 pieces of sliced jalapeno
Add ingredients
Shake vigorously
Pour over ice in your favorite glass
Garnish with a salted rim & lime wedge
A fun cocktail to pair with charcuterie.


Whiskey Sour

The Old Fashioned is a classic Bourbon cocktail

With a rich and long history dating back to1862, it was also the official drink of the 184-year-old Jefferson Literary and Debating Society at the University of Virginia. The whiskey sour is a heritage cocktail, timeless and classy, a natural fit with Jack Daniels.

3/4 cup Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 limes)
2/3 cup simple syrup
Maraschino cherries

Combine the whiskey, lemon juice, lime juice and syrup. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice and fill two-thirds full with the cocktail mixture. Shake for 30 seconds and pour into glasses. Add a maraschino cherry, toast to peace and goodwill, then drink ice cold.


Maker’s Mark Old Fashioned 

A whiskey Sour made with Jack Daniel’s is legendary

1 Orange wheel
1 Maraschino cherry
1 tsp simple syrup
1 1?2 oz Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1?2 oz Club soda
In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle the orange, cherry and sugar.
Fill three-quarters of the way with ice and add the bourbon and club soda.
Garnish with an additional orange wheel and maraschino cherry.
Tina T’s Classic Cocktails

Yankee Ginger Rye

A simple blend of 1 part Bulleit Rye and 2 parts ginger ale. What makes this a Yankee version is using Vernors Ginger Ale. Vernors is synonymous with Detroit. It’s an original ginger ale, not a dry ginger ale which gives it a stronger ginger flavor.


Roaring 20s Classic Manhattan

The Manhattan is both lovely and delicious.

3 parts Bulleit Rye
1 part Sweet Vermouth
Angostura Bitters
Luxardo Cherry

A Manhattan was meant to be enjoyed with a good American Rye. Tina’s Rye of choice is Bulleit. It’s simple to make but easy to damage.

Fill a shaker with a generous amount of ice. Add the rye and vermouth. Gently shake to chill and combine, without bruising the whiskey.

Place a Luxardo cherry in a martini glass. (Bright red grocery store maraschino cherries are an insult to this cocktail!) Veil the glass with bitters to taste. Strain the rye and vermouth into the glass.


The Sazerac

The Grandaddy of cocktails. A New Orleans Original

1-2 sugar cubes
2 dashes orange bitters
2 dashes aromatic bitters
59 ml whiskey
1-2 ice cubes
7 ml absinthe
Lemon zest, to garnish
2 rocks glasses

Muddle sugar cubes, orange bitters and aromatic bitters in an old-fadhioned glass.

Add whiskey and stir gently. Add cubed ice and stir until chilled.

Add absinthe to a second chilled rocks glass and swirl to evenly coat glass.

Discard absinthe from second glass and pour in mixture from the first rocks glass.

Rim glass with lemon zest and serve.


Old school journalism describes the style and stories produced by Doc Lawrence. “In everything I do,” he says, “there is a beginning, middle and an end.” One of the top travel writers in the country, Doc is steeped in the heritage of the deep south. Traveling the back roads from Texas to Virginia and on down to Key West inspires stories about local food and wine preferences, community theater, folk art and music often leading to clues for a good story. Heroes include Faulkner, Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy Parker and Willie Morris. An Atlanta native, Doc keeps a well-stocked wine cellar and bar and two outdoor grills. He enjoys entertaining and believes that the greatest challenge for a writer is to keep searching for a higher life. |
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