Kentucky’s central bourbon country is all rolling hills and tidy white fences, the glowing green serenity only broken by the occasional anti-abortion billboard. Affluent horses shone caramel under the golden sun, cushioned by the dense fairway grass. Cows wandered languidly around silver-dollar ponds, fat and content on their diet of bourbon mash provided by the local distilleries.
As I headed east, the lush landscape faded to tan and the sky greyed. Pickup trucks with vanity license plates declaring the owner a “friend of coal” splashed gritty puddles the color of skim milk over my hood as they passed. Bare trees bowed under the weight of the dormant kudzu slung across their boughs and spilling down the hills to heap against the road.
I spiraled up curvy mountain roads, twisting past abandoned stone buildings streaked black with coal dust. A decapitated mountaintop, mined into a bald plateau, hulked forlornly to my left, bashfully hiding its nakedness in a shroud of fog.
The turnoff to the highpoint was marked with a shot-up trespassing warning sign, and I parked to walk up the icy partially paved access road. This was private property; as a condition of access I’d downloaded and signed a liability waiver earlier.
From the mist loomed an alien spacecraft, an FAA radar enclosed in a soccer ball the size of a house perched atop a lattice of rebar. I had an uneasy feeling of being watched by this huge orb in the sky, and I scuttled up the trail to the relative safety of the wintry trees.
The highpoint was a slight clearing surrounding a simple marker plaque. The damp ground around me was littered with bright candy colored shotgun shells sprinkled like confetti, lending a surreally festive atmosphere to these gloomy hills that draped protectively over their valuable hearts of coal.
About the beer:
People have asked how I choose each state’s summit beer, and the answer is never consistent. Usually I ask locals for recommendations, but sometimes I’ll select one that I’ve enjoyed before, sometimes I’m constrained by my schedule or location, sometimes it’s a style I’m in the mood for… and sometimes I walk into a liquor store and see a bottle with chicken feathers glued to the neck.
I went in looking for something aged in a bourbon barrel, and fortunately Against the Grain’s Kentucky Ryed Chiquen fit the bill. It’s a mellow amber rye with just a whiff of woody whiskey, and a smooth taste that finishes with a tiny bite of peppery spiciness, and it’s everything I expected from Kentucky in a (feathered) bottle.