Fourteen: Angel’s Share (Lincoln Homestead Park to Hodgenville)

by davidharries

Miles: 72
Total: 956

Right over the Nelson County line I witnessed something that filled me with deep, visceral sadness. Promise lost. Opportunity wasted. Unrealized potential, posed parallel the solid yellow line. A king-size Reese’s cup package, crushed. Its insides, outside. Time of death: unknown. Time of discovery: quarter to eight. Its cups arrayed like a traffic light, peanut butter oozing out the rays of a grade-school sun.

Luckily, much happier things waited in Nelson County’s Bardstown. I picked up a sandwich for later and rolled past Heaven Hill’s collection of bonded barrelhouses. They must have at least a dozen within view of the road, and product seemed to be moving steadily on HH-branded semis.

My destination, a little up the road. Willet Distillery’s right on SR 49, up the hill. I missed the 10 a.m. tour by a few minutes, but had my lunch in the shade and waited till 11 a.m. when Donna gave me a one-on-one tour (low demand on a Wednesday morning, I guess.). Founded in 1936, and still family owned, Willet makes much less by volume than the big guys in the area, and bills itself a craft distillery. They’ve got two mash cookers, one that holds 3,000 lbs of grain, the other 6,000 lbs. Sounds big to me. Fermentation happens in open-topped 10,000 gallon vats, and lasts four or five days, depending on ambient temperature. Willet’s got a column still for its beer-stripping runs and an ancient copper pot still for final distillations.

Outside the distillery we ventured into the barreling room, where white spirits are cut to cask strength and rolled out into aging warehouses to sit for the next four years or so. Simply tin wrapped around a wooden skeleton, each five-level barrelhouse holds 6,000 53-gallon casks. There’re plumb bobs hung from the ceiling to ensure stability through even loading. The barrelhouses exude the smell of whiskey, and walking inside’s overpowering, in a Very Good Way.

Donna tells me all the corn comes from Nelson County, which helps explain why I’ve been seeing so much of it the past few days. A lot of corn and horses west of Berea. Surprisingly, not a ton of tobacco, and the plants I have seen are very small. We try a pair of samples, including a remarkably citrusy two-year old rye.

I’m back on the road in the heat of the day, headed to President Lincoln’s birthplace in LaRue County. It’s a national historic site, and I enjoy a 15-minute film in an ice-cold theater before climbing 56 steps (one for each year of his life) up the monument and paying a visit to what was once thought to be Lincoln’s birth cabin. It’s known now to be much too recent, dating from the 1840s, but neat to visit regardless. The Lincolns, including Abraham, spend two years at Sinking Spring before a land-ownership dispute pushes them a few miles away.

Sinking Spring’s just a short ride from tonight’s home, Hodgenville’s LaRue County Park. I stop at Dollar General for supplies, and we have a new champion in our kcal/dollar race: 21 oz. of generic fig bars for a buck. 2200 Calories. It might be tough to unseat this King Fig.

There’s a pavilion toward the back I have my eye on, but when I ask the folks at the pool about a shower, they say sure, we’ve got a cold one here, but if you’d rather, there’s a hot shower in our community building, just across the field. Needless to say, I rathered and set up inside the somewhat air-conditioned building. Heaven. Thank you, LaRue County.