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How a Children's Museum is Changing One North Carolina Community

I hope that all of my American readers had a great Thanksgiving! If you're traveling today, be safe. (And to everyone else, I hope your Thursday was at least passable. Safe travels to you, too, if you're going somewhere!)

We're almost to the end of my Lake Lure/ Rutherford County posts which makes me a little sad. It really was an unforgettable trip, and I'd highly recommend that corner of the world as a place to visit. 

One of our stops while traipsing around western North Carolina was Rutherfordton (home to both the Bechtler House Museum and the worth-every-calorie cheese fries at Gregory's Original).

As the parent to a very active toddler, I'm always happy when I come across museums or attractions that my daughter can enjoy, too. To my surprise, Rutherfordton not only had a children's museum, but it had a children's museum that rivaled ones I've seen in cities that are ten times Rutherforton's size.

Kid Senses Museum, Rutherfordton, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

While Britton gleefully exhausted herself in the museum's twelve themed rooms, I talked with the Kid Senses museum director, Williard Whitson about the space, the museum's future, and the town that made this place possible.

Mr. Whitson began his director's position with the Kid Senses museum early in 2014 after he moved from the Washington, D.C., area with his wife. Like me, he was amazed to find such an incredible resource for children tucked away in the western North Carolina mountains. "The textile industry is gone," he told me. "We're trying to do something to fill that gap."

After many of the textile companies left the inland portions of North and South Carolina as the jobs moved overseas, the workers were left without any reliable income. Not surprisingly, the children of those households were greatly affected, and a huge portion of the families in Rutherfordton and the surrounding areas are barely making ends meet. Providing STEM skills in a fun environment to those families is what Mr. Whitson sees as one of Kid Senses' primary goals.

"We are a part of the community," he said. "We want the children to come in and see the places they visit with their families." To this end, Kid Senses has partnered with local businesses--including the Family Dollar, a Mexican restaurant, and a veterinarian--and has replicated these locations on a smaller scale.

In one of the most unique areas that I've come across, my daughter could choose one of the stuffed animals (she went with a dog because she's obsessed), x-ray the animal, give it oxygen on the operating table, and use a microscope to examine its fur.

Kid Senses Museum, Rutherfordton, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Rutherfordton may only have 4,500 residents, but the resources that the children's museum provides far exceeds what you'd think a town this size could provide. In other words, the Kid Senses museum is the little museum that could--but it still has plenty of work left to do. "We serve over 65,000 patrons a year," Mr. Whitson shared. "One of our focuses is getting families in, so that they can play together. We want the children to see their parents having fun while learning."

That parental influence goes a long way, Mr. Whitson believes, so the museum has worked on offering more opportunities to families of all socioeconomic backgrounds. "We go out into the communities and do presentations," he said. "We're also offering a free admissions day once a month." Through that free day, the museum hopes to attract families that wouldn't otherwise be able to afford the $5 per visitor (both adult and child) fee.

It's these families that Mr. Whitson hopes to affect through the museum; since there's such a large group of underpriviledged children in the area, getting them involved in learning and education will change the fabric of this community as that generation grows.

On a basic level, Kid Senses was a great place to take my child for a fun afternoon. On a deeper lever, I was pleased to hear that the museum has done so much during its ten year existence--and continues to try and improve the lives of the people who make up this community.

Kid Senses Museum, Rutherfordton, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Kid Senses is an easy drive from Henderson (NC), Asheville (NC), and Greenville/ Spartanburg (SC). It's open every Tuesday through Saturday. 

Historic Hotels of American Luncheon + the Wentworth Mansion

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com

Eating and talking about travel: I really can't think of many better ways to spend a few hours!

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with about two dozen travel writers, bloggers, and hoteliers at the Historic Hotels of America regional luncheon. Not only did I get to pick the brains of several seasoned writers, I had the chance to network with some of the Historic Hotels in and around Charleston.

Networking Natalie

I don't know about you, but networking can be really fun. I love walking into a room knowing that there are people in there with whom I can make a connection. Plus, when you work as a blogger and freelance writer, any excuse to get out of the house and talk to people is welcomed! (Those four walls can bear down awfully close sometimes.)

And yes, I'm one of those crazies who actually enjoys public speaking and cocktail parties. What can I say? I guess I like to hear myself talk.

All of the attendees had the chance to mingle at the informal reception at the bar before heading into the main dining room to eat (more on that below. Spoiler: it was delicious!). The media people stayed seated while the hoteliers rotated through with each course. It was a great way to get to know all of the people there.

During the luncheon, I had the chance to talk with representatives from the King and Prince (St. Simons Island, GA), the Fulton Lane Inn (Charleston, SC), the Francis Marion (Charleston, SC) and the Dunhill Hotel (Charlotte, NC). I even got to see my contact at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel (Jekyll Island, GA) who helped me arrange my history-packed, amazing trip back in September.

Each property is unique, and each has a ton of history. (Duh, Natalie.) If you've been reading this blog even for just a post or two, you know that I'm obsessed with all things historical. To know that there's so much to explore right here in the Southeast makes me so excited for my 2015 travels! I certainly hope I'll be able to visit several of these properties in the coming year.

Exception Eating

So, the gorgeous Wentworth Mansion (one of the Historic Hotels!) hosted the event--and I got to fulfill something on my Charleston bucket list: eating at Circa 1886, the onsite restaurant.

{photo courtesy of Circa 1886}

I'd heard it was great, but just saying it was "great" is the understatement of the century. We started off with shrimp and grits soup--minus the shrimp for shellfish-intolerant me. Yum, yum, yum. It was basically like the creamiest grits I'd ever had: combine grits and a cream-based soup, and that's what you'd get in this dish. It was hands-down my favorite part of the meal.

The second course was a choice of salmon or chicken, and I went with the chicken. It had this delicious balsamic reduction on the top, and was so tender, I didn't really even need my knife.

The third course was a key lime tart. I have a weakness for all things key lime, and this dessert didn't disappoint. I think I could make myself sick off of key lime pie!

After the meal was finished, Chef Marc Collins came out to talk with us about his inspiration behind the food. He said that he likes reinventing traditional Southern foods without turning people away from the basics that made them love the foods to begin with.

Tour Time!

After we'd all eaten to our absolute max, we were invited on a tour of the Wentworth Mansion, which is just across the parking lot from Circa 1886.

{photo courtesy of the Historic Hotels of America}
About six of us were led around the stunning hotel, and we were shown one of the small rooms.

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com
Yes, this is one of the "small" rooms!
There are 21 rooms in the hotel in all--and rumor has it, even a few (friendly) ghosts!

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com
The stained glass over the front entryway. It's original to the house, and each of the sparrows represents one of the owner's children (he ultimately had 13!).

Staying here (and at pretty much all of the other Historic Hotels of America) is high on the bucket list, so maybe my husband will get the hint and plan a fun weekend for us at some point.

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com
The business center: I could get some work done in this quiet, cozy room.
All in all, the luncheon was a wild success in my book. I got out of the house for a few hours (even sans toddler, who was with my mom!), and I was inspired by the other writers in attendance. Some of them have been in the travel industry longer than I've been alive, which reminds me how much I still have left to learn and explore.

Have you ever stayed in one of the Historic Hotels of America? Do you enjoy networking events?

Sponsor Spotlight: Outback Expat

Vicky of Outback Expat has done what so many of us have wished we could do: pick up our lives and made that daring move to halfway around the world. (I had huge dreams of falling in love with some adorable British boy while I was studying abroad in London during college; instead, I came home sans British boy and married the guy I met the first day of freshman year. It all worked out in the end!)

Outback Expat follows Vicky's adventures living in the Australia Outback after her big move from the UK. She happily agreed to let me interview her--I hope you'll find Vicky, her blog, and her Australian adventures as exciting as I did!

Sponsor Spotlight: Outback Expat | Cosmos Mariners
{photo provided by OutbackExpat.com}

Cosmos Mariners: Tell me a little bit about yourself! 

Vicky: My name is Vicky, and my blog has been running since February 2014. I love photography and should do it much more than I do.

Sponsor Spotlight: Outback Expat | Cosmos Mariners
{photo provided by OutbackExpat.com}

I moved to the hot and humid Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia from a town near Bristol (in southwestern England) in August 2013 to live with my partner. We are currently applying for a permanent visa so I can stay in Australia which is not as straight forward as it should be; the process drives me a little crazy! 

I am also a lawyer in the UK and currently trying to get things underway so I can qualify as one in Australia. That is, of course, not as straight forward as it should be, either!

After arriving in Darwin, I was living in the "the outback" with my partner for about a year, which was a little crazy. It was very, very basic in our old house although we had interesting "pets" such as kangaroos, geckos, snakes and far too many spiders. We now live in an apartment right in the middle of Darwin City which is a bit of a shock to the system. Overall, I love city life, especially spending time with the friends we have met in Darwin.

Sponsor Spotlight: Outback Expat | Cosmos Mariners
{photo provided by OutbackExpat.com}

Cosmos Mariners: Tell me a little about your blog. What does your blog focus on? 

Vicky: My blog is about my life after moving to Darwin in Australia from the UK to live with my partner. It sometimes focuses on my travels, things I have discovered in Darwin, the difference between life in Australia and the UK and my friends and family in both countries.

Sponsor Spotlight: Outback Expat | Cosmos Mariners
{photo provided by OutbackExpat.com}

Cosmos Mariners: What would you like to see your blog do in 2015? 

Vicky: I would like to be more motivated to blog regularly and just to get better at blogging as I have discovered I enjoy it a lot! I would also like to get out and take more photos so that I can use these on the blog more.

Sponsor Spotlight: Outback Expat | Cosmos Mariners
{photo provided by OutbackExpat.com}

Check out Outback Expat!


Have you ever thought about moving to a different country? If you could live anywhere else, where would it be? 

P.S. If you're interested in being one of Cosmos Mariners' sponsors, check out the available spots here!

Another Great Cosmos Mariners Sponsor!

The Buck Starts Here: Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com
Before we bought the house we just moved into, I fell in love with a historic home here in Charleston. The love story didn't end well, and the historic home and I had to break up: it needed too much work, was basically unlivable in its current state, and would have required us to move (back) in with my parents for months and month while we renovated it.


While the house we ultimately bought isn't a historic one, I still have an undying love for historic houses and home restoration. 

When I was working with the Rutherford County Tourism Bureau to create my itinerary to the Lake Lure area, I jumped at the chance to visit one of Rutherfordton's historic homes and one that is tied to the North Carolina Gold Rush. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

Yes, you read that right: the North Carolina Gold Rush. Not the one in Alaska or California, but in North Carolina. 

I don't know about you, but I somehow missed that section in my American history textbooks. 

Apparently, there was (and still is) a huge amount of gold in western North Carolina. People were just figuring out that they were sitting on millions when the more well-known gold rushes occurred out West. And those rushes, unlike in North Carolina, had much more surface gold. The lure of cheap, fast money pushed gold diggers (ha! literally) away from the mountains of North Carolina and out towards the Pacific Ocean. 

So, while the momentum of the North Carolina gold ended up burning hot and fast, there's still an awesome history there. 

Christopher Bechtler, whose home stills stands in the heart of downtown Rutherfordton, was a German immigrant who came to America intent on making it big. He started out processing gold up in the North, but after many of his clients started showing up with gold from North Carolina, he packed his bags and headed below the Mason-Dixon line. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

By 1830, he'd become the go-to guy in Rutherfordton--and really all of western North Carolina--to weigh, melt down, and process the gold that the prospectors had found. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

Bechtler ended up minting a $1 gold coin a whopping 17 years before the U.S. Mint did. And even more remarkably, the U.S. Mint acknowledged his coins as legit currency. He later offered a $2.50 and a $5 coin to his customers. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

Sadly, after the gold rush moved elsewhere, Bechtler lost most of this clientele. The role that he and his mint played in North Carolina's history, though, long outlived him. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

For its 225th birthday last year, the town of Rutherfordton reached out to the current owners of the home that Bechtler lived in for most of his adult life. The owners (who aren't related to the Bechtlers) agreed that the story of the gold rush needed to be told to a wider audience, and so they set up tours in the house on the weekends. 

The tours were such a success that the house has remained open to visitors on the weekend. There's also been an organization established to purchase the home from the current owners and convert the home into a permanent museum. With a goal of $150,000, the museum organizers have already started fundraising to gather the money to secure this piece of North Carolina history. 

About two miles away from the home is the site of Bechtler's mint, where you can learn more about the gold rush, Bechtler, and the process of making the gold coins. I was excited to see the cave on the property; some believe that he may have mined for gold here secretly, but the exact use of the cave isn't currently known (I love a good mystery!). 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

There are plans in the works to place a reconstruction of the original mint's foundation, as well as a visitors' center. 

Christopher Bechtler and the North Carolina Gold Rush | CosmosMariners.com

Throughout my time in western North Carolina, I kept seeing a theme played out: the residents there are deeply interested in their collective history, but they're also excited about how to present what they have to offer in new ways. Bechtler and the gold rush are well-known around these parts, but the community wants to share his story in a new way through the proposed museum and redesigned mint site. 

I, for one, am so excited to see how Mr. Bechtler's legacy will be remembered. And who knows, with all of that gold still in the ground in North Carolina, there might be another gold rush!

Are you a history buff? Did you know that North Carolina had a gold rush?

Another Great Cosmos Mariners Sponsor!

Retro Rides and Soda Shop Sandwiches: A Trip Down Memory Lane in Forest City, North Carolina

Retro Rides and Soda Shop Sandwiches: A Trip Down Memory Lane in Forest City, NC | CosmosMariners.com

I'm pretty sure that I was born in the wrong decade. I totally could have rocked those awesome bustles back in the Edwardian period, and I know I would have done well as an outspoken flapper. Or maybe I could have moved to California and danced around with flowers in my head in the '60s.

The only things I would miss would be my contacts, and that whole women-get-to-go-to-college thing. Missing out on college would have been a bummer. And I'd miss my blog, too.

Now that I think about it, living in the 21st century is pretty awesome. But that doesn't mean that I can't have a deep love for all things historical. Right?

While visiting western North Carolina, my dad and I put on some oldies and headed back into the past for one morning of our trip.

The first stop on our trip down memory lane was actually down a side street in Forest City.

Bennett's Classic Auto Museum, Forest City, NC | CosmosMariners.com

We pulled up in front of a large white industrial building emblazoned with an appropriately retro neon sign: Bennett's Classic Auto Museum.

My dad and I are both car geeks; I can remember him telling me about his father's Model A Ford from the time that I was really small. On road trips, he'd point out cars from the '60s and '70s and give his opinion about that make and model. He even had these miniature model cars that my sister and I weren't allowed to play with that stayed in my parents' etagere. Sometimes, when he was there, he'd take them down and let us open the tiny doors and make the small wheels turn. My favorite was the gull wing 1963 Mercedes 300 SL. So. Cool.

While my car tastes have changed since then (I'm now in love with a '69 Thunderbird and a 1958 Fiat Jolly), I still love looking at and learning about old cars. As we walked around the museum, my dad and I took turns holding Britton (who was way into the cars, too! She kept trying to climb into them--a girl after my own heart.)

While all of the cars were incredible, I definitely had some favorites. There's the truck that spent 40 years under Lake Lure (!!!) after the area was flooded. The kids of the original owner knew about where the truck had been left, so they hired some people to find it. And find it they did!

Bennett's Classic Auto Museum, Forest City, NC | CosmosMariners.com

And here's Britton trying to sink the truck again. (At 18 months old, her driving skills leave a lot to be desired.)

Bennett's Classic Auto Museum, Forest City, NC | CosmosMariners.com

There was also the police car used on the set of The Andy Griffith Show that was signed by Don Knotts. I never got into the land o' Mayberry that much, but I can always appreciate a good piece of television or movie memorabilia.

Bennett's Classic Auto Museum, Forest City, NC | CosmosMariners.com

The museum has about 70 cars--some are for sale while others remain in the permanent collection. Two Bennett brothers (hence the museum's name) own and run the museum. They fell in love with cars while helping out at their uncle's Forest City Ford dealership. As they grew up, so did their car collection. At some point, they realized just how many cars they'd acquired and figured they'd share it with others.

Bennett's Classic Auto Museum, Forest City, NC | CosmosMariners.com

I had the chance to meet both of the brothers. Even though they're both in their seventies, they're still hands-on with the cars. While I was there, they were jump starting one of the cars and moving it into the work space behind the museum. While they have help--there's a secretary that hands out the tickets and answers most questions, as well as mechanics that help with the cars' upkeep--the brothers are there onsite, talking with visitors and watching over their collection.

Bennett's Classic Auto Museum, Forest City, NC | CosmosMariners.com

In the seven years since the museum has been opened, the yearly attendance has grown steadily to over 40,000 visitors. The museum's open Monday to Friday 10 AM-5 PM and Saturdays from 10 AM to 3 PM.

For lunch, we headed over a few streets to the Fountain at Smith Drug.

The Fountain at Smith Drug, Forest City, NC | CosmosMariners.com
I forgot my poodle skirt but I still enjoyed my sub sandwich, fries, and sweet tea! My dad and I were amazed at the prices which seemed like they were out of the '50s, too.

The Fountain at Smith Drug, Forest City, NC | CosmosMariners.com
Good food and cheap eats? Sounds like my kind of place.

Which past decade would you like to travel back in time to see? Are you a fan of vintage cars?

Start planning your retro vacation with the Rutherford County Tourism Bureau!

9 Awesome Gifts for Your Favorite Traveler

Please tell me that all of you lovely readers are further along than I am in your holiday shopping.

I've bought exactly zero gifts. ZERO. (To my mom and sister, who read this blog--I will have something come Christmas Eve!)

But as with so many things in life, do as I say, and not as I do. Get started on your Christmas shopping!

If you're still struggling to find the perfect gift for the traveler in  your life, maybe I can help. Here are some of my favorite travel accessories that would make any traveler happy!

Travel Themed Gift Guide: Christmas Ideas for Your Favorite Traveler | CosmosMariners.com

1) A really, really light suitcase. I have this one suitcase that is carryon sized, but it weighs about 10 pounds. That's BEFORE I put anything else in it. I've fallen in love with the ultra lightweight suitcases that are on the market since they're so easy to lift up and down--and, you get to pack more since you're not wasting that precious weight on suitcase bulk.

2) Travel bag organizers. I bought these before I went to Scotland and never looked back. I even go so far as to label each individual bag--I can glance inside my suitcase and know exactly what I need to grab in an instant. No more rifling through your suitcase, tearing up all of those carefully folded and rolled clothes!

3) A really cute passport holder. This is totally superfluous since it doesn't actually do anything other than look cute, but that's pretty much what your cat does, and you still love him/her. Right? Plus, if you know someone who travels a lot, a cute passport holder might be the thing to brighten his or her day.

4) A travel wallet. For those who demand more out of their travel gear than just cuteness, a solid travel wallet is a great gift choice. You can get versions with passport holders, hidden pockets, multiple money pockets (for keeping all that currency organized!), and airplane ticket pockets.

5) A great backpack. I'm not talking about a hiking backpack that you often associate with hostel-living, never-going-home-again nomadic travelers. I'm a huge proponent of using a rugged pack like one by The North Face as my purse/under the seat item when flying. It holds so much more than a purse!

6) A beautiful travel journal. This would make a great stocking stuffer! The only thing better than traveling is being able to share those memories once you get home. Give your favorite traveler a pretty, inspirational journal, and you'll be able to relive the trip when he or she returns!

7) A fully stocked toiletries case. This is also another low-cost but high-impact gift. Buy a sturdy travel case and then include everything your traveler needs: a travel sized hairdryer, small bottles of shampoo, a little container of tissues, and more. I love mine so much that I wrote an entire blog post devoted to it. (That's true love right there.)

8) A three-in-one coat (men and women). When I studied abroad in London, I made the mistake of not packing a coat (or a sweater or long pants). I learned that lesson the hard way, so the next time that I went on a big trip, I made sure to take a great coat with me. I love the three-in-one jackets you can get: the outer portion is waterproof and thin like a rain jacket while the inner portion is lined fleece. You can remove the two coats, wear each separately, or both together on a cold, wet day. Whenever I'm going somewhere non-tropical, I don't travel without it since it's so versatile. Get it monogrammed for extra fun!

9) A micro 3/4th camera. All of you DSLR lovers out there, go ahead and guffaw at me. I used to have a Nikon DSLR, but that thing was so bulky that I pretty much needed to carry another suitcase just for it. Since getting a micro 3/4th (also called a mirrorless camera), I won't ever go back to a traditional DSLR. The micro 3/4th camera also has interchangeable lenses, manual settings, and all of the bells and whistles of a D3000 or Rebel, but it's just way, way smaller. If you're a professional travel photographer, you might want to stick with your DSLR, but for the traveler or travel blogger who wants awesome pictures from a camera that's still small enough to stick in your purse, I'd highly recommend a micro 3/4th.
Happy shopping!

This post uses Amazon affiliate links. If you click one of the links above and purchase that item, I'll get a little (very, very little) kickback. 

Another Great Cosmos Mariners Sponsor!

Defiantly Different: Tradition, Whisky, and the Blue Ridge Distillery

Defiant Whisky, Bue Ridge Distillery, Golden Valley, NC | CosmosMariners.com

Redbud Lane in Golden Valley, North Carolina looks just like any number of small, gravel roads found anywhere in the country. But at the end of the lane is something that those other gravel road don't have: a distillery. 

The red distillery building, at first glance, could be a barn, but when you look closer, you see the tall, wide doors made out of polished blond wood, and--peeking out from behind those doors--lots of shiny metal.

Defiant Whiskey, Blue Ridge Distillery, Golden Valley, NC | CosmosMariners.com

When I arrived onsite, I was greeted by Bill, one of the distillery's employees. "We built this building--the salvage guys and me--everything but the concrete floors," he tells me right off. And that's when I know that I'm not at your usual distillery. Bill, along with Tim Ferris, the owner, and several of the other employees, work as salvage divers when they aren't at the distillery. It's definitely an unusual combination, whisky and diving, but in so many ways, it reflects the ethos of the entire company. 

They are different. They do things differently. And that's exactly how they like it. 

Check Tradition at the Door

Defiant Whisky is the result of the company's commitment to make single-malt whisky through a non-traditional distilling process.

The process of creating Defiant Whisky begins with American-grown malted barley from Wisconsin. Water from a well on the property is added to the barley and heated. After this combination reaches the required temperature, the liquid from this mixture, called wort, is slowly siphoned off and then placed in one of the distillery's fermentation tank with yeast to create a barley wine.

Defiant Whiskey, Blue Ridge Distillery, Golden Valley, NC | CosmosMariners.com

Over the course of several days, the added yeast converts sugar to alcohol. If you added hops at this point, you'd get an American lager beer!

Next, the liquid goes into a still where it is heated to a temperature between the boiling points of water and alcohol. At the right temperature, the alcohol in the mixture will turn to vapor while the water remains a liquid. The distillers can control the number of times that the liquid goes through the distilling process: every time the liquid is distilled, it retains a higher alcohol content but loses flavor. 

Defiant Whiskey, Blue Ridge Distillery, Golden Valley, NC | CosmosMariners.com
When the whisky has been distilled the correct amount of time to produce the desired flavor, the whisky is cooled down so that it becomes a liquid again.

At this point, the whisky is drained from the still into a large milk jug; first, the heads of the whisky come out. These cannot be drunk (well, they can be but they aren't very tasty) since they have more of a medicinal taste. Then, the hearts of the batch come out--this is the good stuff! Finally, the tails of the batch come last: some distilleries add a bit of the tails to the hearts. The tails have a different taste than the hearts and, when added to the hearts, change the overall taste of the product. Defiant Whisky doesn't do this since they've worked hard on their product!

Up to this point, the process followed by the company is very similar to what you'd find at any traditional distillery. So, what do they do different?

Normally, traditional whiskies are put into an oak barrel. At Blue Ridge Distillery, the whisky is put into large metal tanks and hundreds of oak spirals are added to the liquid.

Defiant Whiskey, Blue Ridge Distillery, Golden Valley, NC | CosmosMariners.com
The distillers at Defiant have found that the oak barrel isn't necessary to getting the taste they want--it's the amount of surface area on the oak spirals that allows more of the whisky to interact with the oak cells. This chemical interaction adds to the final flavor of the drink and creates the flavor. 

Elisa, one of the distillers, told me, "It's the maturation process that's important--not the age of the whisky." So, in other words, an 8 or 12 year whisky isn't better than a non-traditionally distilled whisky just because it's older. 

So, once the whisky has reached the required level of interaction with the oak spirals, the finished whisky is placed in a bottling canister, where each bottle is hand filled and corked before being placed to the side to await its finishing touches--a label, a tag, and a quality seal on top. 
In Defiant Whisky's process, the spirit goes from malted barley to bottled products on a pallet in about 90 days. And just as surprising, nothing is automated here. At every step, one of the handful of employees is there, mixing, draining, bottling, labeling, stacking. 

World-wide, Homegrown

The man behind the whisky is Tim Ferris, the owner of Blue Ridge Distillery Company and a salvage diver. When I met him, I asked him about his experiences as a recovery diver, and he told me that he'd been on two jobs this year. The first was in Italy where he and his team recovered transatlantic cables from a shipwreck. The second was off the coast of Africa to recover equipment from a downed helicopter. In that situation, he had to train on land in an identical helicopter in order to figure out how things felt inside since there was zero visibility underwater. "I would feel something and I knew what it was," he said.

So, how did someone who works in the water end up distilling whisky in the North Carolina mountains? On his diving jobs, Tim sampled many of the world's greatest foods and whiskies, and he was inspired to try his hand at making his own version in between salvage jobs. The result from his experiments was Defiant Whisky; the location is Tim's family land. He decided to situate the distillery on the land after testing the water and finding that it had a pH balance perfect for the distillation process.

"Salvage divers are a non-traditional group," Elisa said, "So it's not surprising that we do things differently here." 

Welcome to Camp Whisky

And do things differently they will.

The future for the distillery lies among the seventy buildings of a former Girl Scout camp. After Blue Ridge bought the camp this past summer, Tim and his team began to consider how they can make it into a place that would embody the company.

While part of the operation will remain at the current location, the camp will host portions of the distillation process, bottling, and shipping. There's also the possibility that Blue Ridge will use the camp's pavilion and main hall for entertaining visitors or for farm-to-table dinners using locally sourced produce and meat.

Defiant Whiskey, Blue Ridge Distillery, Golden Valley, NC | CosmosMariners.com

The company has plans to add in a 5000 liter to their current equipment, an addition that will allow the team to make in one day what it takes to do in a week currently.

Whether you look at what the distillery is doing in the short term, or the possibilities that Camp Whisky holds, there's no denying that Blue Ridge Distillery is going places. So, do yourself a favor, grab a glass, and taste the difference that going against the grain makes.

Have you ever gone on a distillery tour? What's your adult beverage of choice?

Learn more about the distillery and all of the other fun things that the area has from the Rutherford County Tourism Bureau!

Another Great Cosmos Mariners Sponsor!