Saturday, October 14, 2023
A few days ago the email arrived: Leiper’s Fork Distillery was releasing a single barrel seven year rye.
Now, Ralph and I are pretty busy. There are server things causing great grief and there are app things taking up much time and there are the usual life things that happen in between. We are the kind of people who will buy a movie ticket and then look at each other about five minutes before the movie is supposed to start and say meh and decide to stay home. We are the kind of people who buy concert tickets and then forget we did until a week later when one of us says oh… weren’t we supposed to do that thing?
But when the email said that Leiper’s Fork was releasing a rye, it went on the calendar and we planned our entire day around getting there early so when the doors opened at 10:30 we’d be ready.
Leiper’s Fork isn’t even a real town. It’s officially an unincorporated rural village with a population of less than a thousand. Much less. And don’t let the word rural fool you. These are wealthy people with land and clout who are fiercely protective of their space. You will not see a construction truck anywhere near there. Church bells do not ring there. There are no multi lane roads. The downtown is about a dozen shops, and that’s being generous. There were, up until recently, two restaurants. Both were family owned until one retired and sold to a chain.
Within months the chain went out of business because nobody in Leiper’s Fork was tolerating a chain in their town.
Actually, it’s pretty much my kind of place.
Beautiful, peaceful, spacious. Lots of art, lots of live music, and of course Leiper’s Fork Distillery.
The distillery is charming, rustic, and gorgeous. The retail store and tasting room was rebuilt from a log cabin that dates to 1825. It was built without a single nail. Everything they make is local – the grains come from local farms, and the leftover mash goes to the local bakery to make some of the best bread you’ll taste.
Hemingway is the official Distillery cat, a friendly black cat who is as happy to nap on the barrels as he is to hang out on your lap while you sip a pour on the porch.
Every bottle is filled and and every label written by hand, a not insignificant amount of work. They fill only about 500 barrels each year, compared to some of the mass producers like Jack Daniels that barrel something like 2000 a day. I love the artisan quality of it.
For those uninitiated to the whiskey industry, prohibition in Tennessee lasted until 2009, at least when it came to manufacturing it. Leiper’s Fork put its first whiskey in a barrel in 2016. The important thing about that is that when we first moved here in 2019, they hadn’t even released their bourbon. They had a couple of experimental minimally aged whiskies, and of course we tried and bought them all. But the real fun started when they finally released their first Bottled in Bond bourbon.
It is one of my favorites. Sweet, with a little heat, maple-caramel-ish, drinkable by the bottle. I mean… if I was the kind of person to drink bourbon by the bottle I bet it would be a good choice.
Since then they have had special releases every few months and they are always bottles you can only buy if you show up with enough time to grab one before they’re gone. We’ve gotten a number of single barrel releases, and one maple syrup barrel aged bourbon that was really delightful.
They’ve only ever released a rye twice. And the first release was the only one we missed because we were away when it happened. So you can bet your booties that when we heard they were doing another release today, we showed up.
The bad news is they only allow you to buy one bottle per person.
We thought we were being smart by getting there at 10 for their 10:30 opening. Imagine our surprise when we saw a long line out front and people already leaving with their bags of loot.
We got on line and waited, along with the dozens of other people streaming in behind us. You know you’re in trouble when the guy from the store comes out and starts counting how many people are waiting. Because that’s when you know he is going to start telling people they’re out of luck. All you can do is stand there and hope he counts past you.
The good news is that they only allow you to buy one bottle per person.
There were only 126 bottles produced and we were two of the last dozen people to get one. By 10:20, a full ten minutes before they were even scheduled to open, they were already sold out.
Our bottles are numbers 44 and 55, in case you want to play the lottery. If you win, you own me a drink.
The woman who checked us out said that the first people to show up were there at 4:30. As much as I enjoy their whiskey, there is slim to no chance of me showing up for anything at 4:30. Or 5:30. Or anything before 9:30, really.
Occasionally I have limits.
Afterwards we had a nice stroll around Leiper’s Fork. We stopped at a little coffee truck where I had a delightful honeybee tea, made with coconut milk, whipped honey and cinnamon. We sat by the creek like a bunch of old timers and listened to actual birds instead of trucks and hammers.
We almost had breakfast but it is an oddity of the south that many places stop serving breakfast at 10:30 and I’m not at the stage in my life where I want a burger or fried chicken at 10:30 in the morning. So we came home and had bacon and eggs from the Farmers Market instead.
In case you were wondering, the barrel that I’m supposed to be finishing that I haven’t finished in a year? It’s from Leiper’s Fork. Today Ralph asked me whatever happened to that project and I sort of mumbled things about wasps and stink bugs and weather. Maybe now that it’s cooler and I’m feeling all warm and glowing about my rye catch, I will make another attempt at donning the HAZMAT suit and getting out there to sand it. I’ll keep you posted.
On the whole it was a lovely morning on a lovely fall day.
And you will be happy to know that the rye was quite delicious. It had that nice rubber tire on the nose and a little bit of maple syrup followed by peppery spice on the palate with a pleasant mellow heat. I suspect those bottles are not long for this world.
Photo: near the entryway to the distillery. Whatever the time of year it is always beautiful there.