When friends gather.

Friends we had made in Austria and Japan are now, like we, back in America. A little more than three years ago we last gathered with said friends for a Weinwandertag in Gumpoldskirchen, a lovely, lovely hamlet not too far outside of Vienna. Genussmeile, the event was named, and so we wandered the mile-long vineyards and ate and drank and laughed across the day.

Good times.

With our two sets of friends living more or less equidistant-ish from Knoxville, we offered our homestead as a meeting place for a long weekend that involved much, well, eating, drinking and laughing.

To whet our appetite for the vineyard picnic that was to follow, a wander around the Fort Loudon State Historic Park one day. The fort, now reconstructed, was the westernmost British fortification during the French-Indian War. The scenery was particularly spectacular on this day.

En route to our picnic we passed this sign along the road. Dr. Internet tells me that it is a Southern tradition to alert passers-by so that they not speed or be excessively noisy.

This is the group photo taken at the vineyard by “Chita” (short for Conchita, she informed us.)  Don’t adjust your monitor; we think perhaps Chita had had one too many tastings when she took the snap.

What did I say about the day being gorgeous? I miss spring walks through the vineyards; seeing blooming grape vines made my heart sing.

The thing about moonshine tasting, or any of the tastings we’ve experienced is that while a well-made spirit is critical, so too is the setting, and especially the performance of the Pourer. We set out on one of the days to achieve both. Our stop at Hillside Winery received high marks for the hard cider blend Pomicide; but the setting, an assembly-line like with a stack of paperboard cups and zero Pourer character, disappointed.

Within walking distance, the Old Pigeon Forge Distillery had their entertain-the-tourist game on. The boys, in particular, rather enjoyed their bourbon and vodkas.

A lone official wine tasting, at the Apple Barn Winery. To be honest, their seasonal “Apple Cranberry” wine tasted like adult Ocean Spray; the dry wines were downright Blech.

The highlight of our Tasting Day was “Doc” at the Tennessee Shine Company. Even if but a fraction of his tall tales were true, he was hands down a superb entertainer. A little on the adult-side with some of his humor, but what kind of parents would bring their children to a moonshine and whiskey tasting, anyway?  Easily the most enjoyable tasting of the day.

Fun fact: the tasting cups are actual Communion cups.

Now, moonshine comes in every conceivable flavor. And then some. Which is why it is important to taste. Take Root Beer Float, for example. Not as sweet as I was expecting, and entirely drinkable. A pour over ice after dinner is rather yum.

We drew some lines, however. No one was up for tasting Nanner Puddin’ Moonshine.

Some of the flavors were colors not entirely found in nature. (Cue the adult humor with the label.)

Between the Iowa and Texas Bourbons brought by our friends, and our collective purchases, the bar more resembled a liquor store by the end of our Tasting Day. 🤣

The boys continued their personal Tasting Day back at the house with Irish whiskey samplers that I brought from Christmas in Dublin. Sláinte! Kampai! Prost!

No visit to East Tennessee would be complete without trekking around the GSMNP. Spotting bears was the goal along the Cades Cove Loop but alas, there were none to be found.

Casual dinners around the table; card games; laughter; and yes, perhaps a few drams filled our evenings. And then all too soon, it was departure morning.  Dare I whisper that our weekend felt normal?