Although the bluegrass state of Kentucky is relatively small, many people of commanding reputation have been born there, among them Abraham Lincoln, Hunter S. Clarke, Lionel Hampton, Adlai Stevenson, George Clooney and Muhammad Ali. Another American icon synonymous with Kentucky is the Corvette, immortalised in the 1960s TV show ‘Route 66’. The car is a powerful symbol of American strength and freedom, and its enduring ubiquity confirms its popularity.
The Corvette is manufactured in Bowling Green, and even before you follow the signs to join a guided tour of the factory, the parking lot signals that you’re in the right place. Perfectly polished models from all over the country fill the spaces, their number plates affirming their owners’ creativity and humor.
The tour takes about an hour and covers all stages of the manufacturing process. The guide’s commentary is excellent and proximity to the vehicles surprisingly close, giving buffs an intimate encounter. Conversation is animated and motoring anecdotes are happily shared. The Corvette Museum begins where the factory tour ends, and gleaming models from 1953 to the current Grand Sport powerhouse occupy the rooms like emperors receiving deferential minions. Once visitors have paid their respects, the hushed reverence is replaced by excited chatter as souvenirs are paid for in the gift shop.
The other compelling element to the Corvette Museum is the Corvette Cafe. It’s like the ‘Happy Days’ restaurant, with laminated tables, booths and shiny chrome. The checkerboard floor is reflected in the menu design, and the food and beverages are excellent. It is the perfect finale to a uniquely American experience.
Only a few miles away is another motoring attraction developed in America — drag racing. Beech Bend Park in Warren County is a popular amusement park, campground and automobile racetrack just outside Bowling Green. Every weekend the area reverberates as dragsters growl on the starting line in anticipation of the chase. High octane fuel ignites the excitement and the smell of burning rubber fills the crowded stands. When the lights turn green the cars pounce, fluorescent flashes in the Kentucky sun. It’s an intoxicating mix of polished power, color, smoke, and thunderous noise, and although the entry fee is only $10, take an extra $2 for ear plugs because your mind won’t be the only thing that’s blown if you don’t.
The other facilities at Beech Bend Park are ideal for families wanting relaxation and fun. Voted as one of the top five Kentucky camping areas, the park features 500 sites surrounded by woodland and close to the Barren River. And if the dragsters don’t deafen you, the excited scream from children on the amusement and water rides will.
Another uniquely American experience can also be tasted in Bowling Green. Ever since the Baptist minister, Elijah Craig, distilled the first bourbon in charred oak casks in 1789, Kentucky’s reputation as being the world’s bourbon epicentre has grown to the point where it now produces 95% of all bourbon distilled and aged. Reverend Craig not only gave us the drink synonymous with Kentucky, he also established the connection between the spirit and spirituality. Today in Bowling Green, that connection is still extant. The relatively small Corsair Distillery is managed by Ben Kickert, a pastor with the Broadway United Methodist Church. Ben has a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from Western Kentucky University and a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies. He also has training in Greek and Hebrew. Needless to say, Ben’s position on the apparent contradiction between his religious convictions and the production of alcohol is considered and articulate.
‘To me,’ Ben says, ‘there really is no contradiction. Throughout scripture, alcohol, especially high quality alcohol, has been symbolic for the idea of being blessed and for celebrating the work of God. Jesus turning water into wine was not just about continuing a party, it was about symbolizing how oppressive institutions were being replaced with overflowing blessing and celebration. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were told they could take their tithe money and spend it on a huge meal which would include ‘strong drink’. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul specifically tells his protégé to drink wine as part of his diet. The demonization of alcohol is unfortunate and it is completely out of line with what the Bible actually teaches. There is no shame in drinking alcohol, only in excessive drunkenness.’
As well as overseeing the production of bourbon and other spirits, Ben is responsible for arranging daily tours and tastings for the public. The intimate bar is the ideal setting for sampling Corsair’s gin, absinthe, vanilla bean vodka, spiced rum and Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout infused with hops during the distilling process. Newly-released whiskeys such as Wry Moon, 100% Aged Rye, Pumpkin Spice Moonshine and the single malt, Triple Smoke, are also available, although it’s probably prudent not to try them all in one sitting.
Not surprisingly, Ben’s beliefs have practical application. As he says with compelling conviction, ‘If you are going to do something, do it the best you can. At Corsair we make the best spirits possible. That is something to be proud of.’ His claim’s veracity can be clearly seen in the major awards won by his micro-distillery;
- 2009 San Francisco Spirit Competition
- Gold Medal - Gin
- 2009 World Beverage Competition
- Platinum - Rasputin
- Gold - Gin
- 2010 San Francisco Spirit Competition
- Gold - Triple Smoke
- Double Gold - Wry Moon
- 2010 Beverage Tasting Institute
- Gold - Triple Smoke
- Silver - 100% Aged Rye
- 2010 ADI Conference (Various Categories)
- Gold - Corsair Wormwood Wit Barrel Strength
- Silver - Corsair Wry Moon
- Silver - Triple Smoke
- Bronze - 100% Aged Rye
- Bronze - Corsair Rasputin (Hopped Whiskey)
There is, however, one undeniable contradiction in relation to this creative distillery. When it comes to size, smaller is better.
Robert C. Gallagher once said, ‘Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine’. There is another exception to that rule. Evident in Corvettes, drag cars, campgrounds and the contents of Corsair’s casks, the spirit of Kentucky remains strong in Bowling Green.