by Daren Wang
If you want to have bourbon with Robert Hicks, first you have to have moonshine.
One-hundred-and-eighty-three proof moonshine that tastes like peach schnapps and is delivered to his door in yellow milk jugs.
You stand with him at his kitchen island, and he pours moonshine into cups that would be a bit small for afternoon tea but are larger than is called for when dealing with what the Franklin, Tennessee, fire marshal would term “an accelerant.”
He then tells you a story of a movie star who calls him and asks that he put on one of his “guitar pulls” for him, in which Nashville’s musical royalty come around for some moonshine and company and play songs and tell stories.
I get details about the star and this particular guitar pull, but somewhere in there, the teacup had been refilled, and the particulars are fuzzy.
We were scheduled for a book event soon after, and I’m happy to say Robert drove. I don’t remember him actually having any of the moonshine.
Tennessean Magazine has called Robert Hicks Nashville’s Master of Ceremonies. The release party for his paperback of “The Orphan Mother” drew at least 150 people to Parnassus Books. Robert seems to know each one, and can ask about their people by name.
Before Hicks even takes the stage, the bookseller is forced to admit it has sold out of the 100 or so copies they had on hand, and will give a discount if anyone wants to order copies for Robert to sign at a later date.
After his reading, Robert takes questions, and someone asks how he dares to wear seersucker after Labor Day.
There are a few questions about Robert’s breakout novel, 2006’s “The Widow of the South.” Robert tells how he wrote the book after he had raised the money to restore Carnton, the Franklin plantation where the book’s heroine, Carrie McCavock, lived. After the restoration, the museum brought in only a couple thousand visitors annually, so he told her story to attract more attention.
After the talk, a group of Robert’s friends collect for steak and bourbon at Cork and Cow in Franklin. There are white tablecloths. The cheapest cut on the menu is the filet mignon.
This is not a drinking bar, but I am here to try The Widow of the South, Robert’s signature cocktail. It’s made from Battlefield Bourbon, Robert’s bourbon. Because if you are Robert Hicks, “having a bourbon” means having YOUR OWN bourbon.
Each year, he signs and numbers 1,864 bottles of a Battlefield, made, in part, from water he has absconded with from a historic battlefield. Tonight, we’ll be getting a few molecules of the Shiloh battlefield. Proceeds from the bourbon benefits Civil War battlefield reclamation.
Have I mentioned that Robert is Southern?
Nelson Eddy is there—he hands me a business card that says he is the official historian for the Jack Daniel’s distillery. He, too, is having a Widow of the South with Battlefield.
The Widow of the South is not on the menu, nor is Battlefield Bourbon on the bourbon list. But Robert asks, and a bottle comes to the table.
This is what’s known as “knowing someone.”
“Oh, you want some of that? I know someone.”
The drinks come — big, generous cocktails in chunky glasses.
They do not taste like peach schnapps.
In fact, it tastes like a well-made Old Fashioned. The bourbon is very good, just the right amount of char and oak with some nice vanilla notes.
I check with a resident expert, and it is OK to drink Old Fashioneds after Labor Day.
(P.S. If you happen to be a revenue officer, I’m pretty sure it really was just peach schnapps, legally made and sold. Robert Hicks does not have jugs of illegal moonshine in his house. Robert was telling a tale. He does that. Really.)