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Outback Jack in Kentucky

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Kentucky is the home of bluegrass and bourbon, the Kentucky Derby and the cream of baseball bats, the Louisville Slugger.

While Kentucky's bluegrass is actually green, it got its name from the bluish-purple buds that give it a beautiful hue in spring. Early pioneers found bluegrass growing on Kentucky's rich limestone soil and traders began asking for the seed of the "blue grass from Kentucky." The name stuck and today Kentucky is known as the Bluegrass State.

The first thoroughbred was taken to Lexington in 1779 — a 1789 census showed more horses than people. Horses are a multibillion dollar industry in Kentucky. Central Kentucky's bluegrass region has the world's greatest concentration of thoroughbred breeding farms. More registered thoroughbred foals are produced here than any other state in the US. More than 10,000 were foaled in 2000.

This is also the home of Vadim Dale, who became known to Australian audiences in last summer's television hit, Outback Jack. Since then, Vadim has followed his heart to start a new life in the US and was keen to show us around the setting for his next life chapter.

Settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries took what the land gave them — rye, wheat, barley, corn and iron-free pure water — and turned it into bourbon. Consumed worldwide, this popular drink stems pretty much only from Kentucky. To be labelled bourbon, it must contain at least 51 percent corn. Each September the Kentucky Bourbon Festival is held to celebrate the rich heritage of the uniquely American drink.

Robert Samuels, a Scottish-Irish immigrant, arrived in Kentucky in 1780 and went about making just enough whisky for himself and a few select friends. He found a small, abandoned distillery with deep, cold spring-fed limestone water. His recipe is used at Maker's Mark Distillery to this day.

The 80-hectare site, purchased by Bill Samuels in 1953, had been operating since 1805. In 1980 it was recognised by the US Secretary of the Interior, who designated the entire distillery a national historic landmark. It is the country's smallest and oldest-operating distillery.

Tours begin at the two-storey Visitors Centre. It takes in the Quart House, the Toll House, where fees were levied for the use of roads, the Still House, the heart of the distillery, their own fire department and an arboretum of more than 275 species of trees and shrubs. You will see the barrel warehouse, where filled vessels are stored while the distilling process takes place, the original owner's beautiful Victorian home and a Kentucky folk art centre.

Maker's Mark whisky bottles are individually dipped in red sealing wax. Visitors who purchase a bottle to take home can follow the same procedure.

Next stop was Shelby County, the American saddlebred horse capital where more than half of the living world champions are housed. We visited Undulata Farm, owned by Edward 'Hoppy' Bennett, a leading saddlebred breeder. His property is unique in that it breeds, raises and shows its own horses.

'Undulata' is Spanish for rolling or undulating land, named by Colonel Harry Weissinger in the late 1800s. The colonel's wealth came from his chewing tobacco business. Gentlemen of means in the post-war period were known for their fine riding horses, so he purchased 1000 hectares and raised fine horses and mules.

Although not strictly open to the public, the owner graciously allows people to visit the farm. Arrangements can be made at the tourism office. Typical tours include a discussion about the farm, the breed and the founder and where possible, seeing some of the fine horses in their daily workouts. During spring and autumn, mares and their foals can be seen in the stalls and fields.

Kentucky was the birthplace of some very famous people — Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Rosemary and George Clooney, Hunter S Thompson, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Depp and maybe the most famous of all, Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Since the 1950s, KFC has had a meteoric rise from small roadside restaurant to internationally famous restaurant chain. Harland Sanders was born in Kentucky in 1890 and while working as a service station operator, began preparing food in his own living quarters and serving it to hungry travellers. Before long, customers were arriving for just the food and he opened a 142-seater in a local motel. So popular and successful was he that the state governor made Harland Saunders a Kentucky colonel.

Sanders travelled across the country offering franchises, tempting people by cooking for them and clinching the deal with a handshake which provided him with five cents for every chicken sold. Now more than 6.5 million people eat KFC every day.

Claudia Sanders Dinner House, named after the colonel's wife, offers southern hospitality and traditional family-style service. The Claudia Sanders Dinner House Cookbook is full of Southern-style cooking. Blackwood Hall, the 125-year-old dwelling adjacent to the Dinner House, was the Sanders residence and base of operations for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

There is no fear of ever going hungry in Louisville — there are 1500 restaurants in the downtown area. Vadim took us along to one which is already a favourite.

Jicama Grill has contemporary décor with rustic accents and a warm colour scheme. Diners enjoy a bold menu of neuvo Latina cuisine — Latin cooking with big flavours and exotic ingredients combined to create zesty and flavoursome meals. During warm weather guests may dine on the patio, surrounded by fresh seasonal herbs which are grown for inclusion in the food.


Louisville in south-central United States


Maker's Mark Distillery tours are free. They operate year round from Monday to Saturday. Sunday tours are conducted from March to December. They are closed on Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day and New Year's Day.

Undulata Horse Farm visits are free and can be arranged through Shelby County Tourism Commission.

Jicama Grill opens Monday-Thursday 5pm-10pm, Friday and Saturday 5pm-11pm and Sunday from 5pm to 9pm.

Flight Centre has return economy airfares to Louisville with Air New Zealand. Per person prices start at:
From Melbourne $2222 + tax: $235
From Brisbane $2222 + tax: $238
From Sydney $2222 + tax: $251
From Adelaide $2404 + tax: $311
From Perth $2573 + tax: $314

To book a flight, call the Flight Centre 131 600.

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

Maker's Mark Distillery
Loretto Kentucky 40037
Ph: 0011 1 270 865 2099

Undulata Visits
Shelby County Tourism Commission
Box 622 Shelby KY40066
Ph: 1800 680 6388, toll-free in the US

Claudia Sanders Dinner House
3202 Shelbyville Road
Shelbyville KY 40065
Ph: 0011 1 502 633 5600

Jicama Grill
1538 Bardstown Road
Louisville KY 40205
Ph: 0011 1 502 454 4383

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