Straight Bourbon: Distilling the Industry’s Heritage by Carol Peachee

“Bourbon is a legacy of blue grass, water and Kentucky limestone,” Carol Peachee tells me when I ask what makes Kentucky bourbon so prized.

Limestone? Water? Bluegrass? What’s that have to do with fine bourbon?

Turns out it’s quite simple. According to Peachee, the limestone filters the iron out of the water as it flows through the rock, producing a sweet-tasting mineral water perfect for making the greatest tasting liquor. Limestone, with its heavy calcium deposits, also is credited with the lush blue grass the state’s prize-winning horses gaze upon — making their bones strong.

It’s been a long time since I took geology in college, but I do like the taste of good bourbon and the sight of stately horses grazing in beautiful pastures and the more I can learn about it all, the better. Which is why I love Peachee’s entrancing photographs.

Carol Peachee

I first met Peachee, an award-winning professional photographer, when she was autographing copies of her latest book, Straight Bourbon: Distilling the Industry’s Heritage (Indiana University Press 2017; $28). Creating beauty as well as a sense of yearning, her books, including The Birth of Bourbon: A Photographic Tour of Early Distilleries, take us on a wanderlust journey of lost distilleries and those now re-emerging from the wreckage of Prohibition. At one time, Kentucky had over two hundred commercial distilleries, but only sixty-one reopened after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Now, as Kentucky bourbon becomes a driving force throughout the world, once barely remembered and long closed distilleries are being restored and revamped and are opening again for business.

Using a photographic technique known as high-dynamic-range imaging ― a process that produces rich saturation, intensely clarified details, and a full spectrum of light ― Peachee hauntingly showcases the vibrancy still lingering in artifacts such as antique tools, worn cypress fermenting tubs, ornate copper stills some turning slightly green with oxidation and age, gears and levers —things we would never typically think of as lovely and compelling.

Traveling with the Book

Keeping copies of her books in my car when I travel to Kentucky, I love visiting some of the places and sites she’s photographed.

Her passion for bourbon may also have come about, in part, because she lives in Lexington, Kentucky which is rich in the history of bourbon making (and, we should say, sipping).

To get a taste of how bourbon connects to the land, when in Lexington, Peachee suggests a stop at the Barrel House Distilling Co. including the Elkhorn Tavern located in the old James B. Pepper barrel plant. It’s part of Lexington’s happening Distillery District. But fine bourbon doesn’t just stop in Lexington.

“There are so many bourbon distilleries now,” she says, noting that the heritage of good bourbon making is more than the equipment and the water.

“The cultural heritage of distilling also lays in the human culture,” she writes in the Acknowledgements section of her latest book, “the people who learned the crafts of milling, copper welding and design, barrel making and warehouse construction and then passed them on through the generations down to today’s workers and owners.”

And now Peachee has passed them down to us so we can fully appreciate the art of distilling

Town Branch Bourbon Bramble

  • 2oz Bourbon
  • 3/4oz Fresh squeeze lemons
  • 3/4oz Simple syrup
  • 5 Fresh blackberries muddled

Shake with ice, strain and pour over fresh ice in rock glass with blackberry garnish.

Town Branch Bourbon Mint Julep

  • 2 oz Bourbon
  • 8 mint leaves
  • 1/4oz simple syrup
  • Dash of bitters

Muddle ingredients.

Add crushed ice with mint garnish and straw.

The above recipes are courtesy of the Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company.

Lincoln Roadtrip: Following the backroads to find Abraham Lincoln


I am proud to announce that my book, Lincoln Roadtrip: The Backroads Guide to America’s Favorite President, published by Indiana University Press, is a winner in the 2019-20 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition, taking the bronze in the Travel Book category. The annual competition is sponsored by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation.

The Old Talbott Inn in Bardstown, Kentucky looks much like it did in Lincoln’s day.

Winners of the awards, the most prestigious in the field of travel journalism, were announced October 16, 2020, at the annual conference of SATW, the premier professional organization of travel journalists and communicators. This year’s gathering was a virtual event.

Buxton Inn in Granville, Ohio

The competition drew 1,299 entries and was judged by faculty at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. This year, the SATW Foundation presented 99 awards in 26 categories and more than $21,000 in prize money to journalists. The awards are named for Lowell Thomas, acclaimed broadcast journalist, prolific author and world explorer during five decades in journalism.

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial replica of the Lincoln Homestead when the Lincoln family lived here in the early 1800s.

In honoring my work, the judges said: The concept of this book is straightforward, “historical travel” with a focus on perhaps the most beloved President in the history of the United States of America. But a straightforward concept does not automatically signify a simple task. Author Ammeson completed massive research about Lincoln’s life before his ascension to fame. The photographs enhance the words nicely. Another attractive enhancement: offering current-day sites unrelated to Lincoln that provide entertainment along the route of the dedicated Lincoln traveler.”

The Home of Colonel Jones who knew that young Lincoln would accomplish much in this world.

I wanted to create a fun and entertaining travel book, one that includes the stories behind the quintessential Lincoln sites, while also taking readers off the beaten path to fascinating and lesser-known historical places. Visit the Log Inn in Warrenton, Indiana (now the oldest restaurant in the state), where Lincoln dined in 1844 while waiting for a stagecoach, stop by the old mill in Jasper, Indiana where Lincoln and his father took their grain to be milled (and learn of the salacious rumor about Lincoln’s birth–one of many) and spend the night at the Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio, a gorgeous inn now over 200 years old.

The Golden Lamb, Lebanon, Ohio

Connect to places in Lincoln’s life that helped define the man he became, like the home of merchant Colonel Jones, who allowed a young Abe to read all his books, or Ashland, where Mary Todd Lincoln announced at age eight that she was going to marry a president someday and later, Lincoln most likely dined. Along with both famous and overlooked places with Lincoln connections, I also suggest nearby attractions to round out the trip, like Holiday World, a family-owned amusement park that goes well with a trip to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and Lincoln State Park.

The Kintner House, a bed and breakfast in charming Corydon, Indiana. Lincoln never stopped here but his brother Josiah who settled nearby did when it was a tavern and inn. Confederate General John Hunt Morgan took over the inn for a short period of time after crossing the Ohio River with his soldiers in what was the only Civil War battle fought in Indiana.

Featuring new and exciting Lincoln tales from Springfield, Illinois; the Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky; the Buxton Inn, Granville, Ohio; Alton, Illinois; and many more, I wrote Lincoln Road Trip  hoping that it will be a fun adventure through America’s heartland, one that will bring Lincoln’s incredible story to life.

Ashland, the home of Henry Clay in Lexington, Kentucky.

For more information about the awards, including a full list of winners and judges’ comments, and SATW, visit www.satwf.com and www.satw.org

Graue Mill, a stop on the Underground Railroad. Lincoln stopped by here to meet with the owner on his way to nearby Chicago.

To order a copy of Lincoln Road Trips, click here.

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