Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 9, 2022

Enough stuff!

Give a holiday memory that’ll last a lifetime

Christmas gift list circa 2012: Sweater for dad, scarf for mom, socks for junior and a book for little sister. Ho-hum. Christmas gift list circa 2022: Drive an exotic car on a racetrack, learn to fly and become a barbecue pitmaster.

Now you’re talking.

Giving experiences instead of material gifts has taken off, partly as millennials turn away from the humdrum wrapped package in favor of thrill seeking and partly because the pandemic taught all of us that memories are more valuable than those silly socks.

And there’s science behind it. Anticipating an experience brings more excitement and happiness than waiting for a material good, Psychology Science reports.

“You can think about waiting for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant or looking forward to a vacation,” Cornell doctoral candidate Amit Kumar told the journal, “and how different that feels from waiting for, say, your preordered iPhone to arrive. Or when the two-day shipping on Amazon Prime doesn’t seem fast enough.”

Virgin Experience Gifts offers experiences nationwide that consumers can search by state. It attributes the rise in interest to both generational and pandemic factors.

“Surveys support that especially the millennials and Gen Z generations don’t want more stuff,” says Allison Lester, director of media relations for Fletcher Marketing, which represents Virgin Experience Gifts. “They are high on the idea of giving experiences over sweaters and candles. They’re big on dinners, things they can enjoy together, things that make core memories and help to solidify relationships.

“The other (factor) is COVID. Americans being forced to stay inside and be isolated from each other made us appreciate the connectivity to each other and made us want to experience life more fully,” Lester continues. “At the end of the day, if you’re confined to your home with things there’s not a lot of joy in that.”

Become a pitmaster

If you’ve always wanted to learn how the pros smoke a brisket, Backyard Pitmasters has the gift that will keep on giving. The three-hour Brisket U. class covers everything from wood sources, fire management, rub mixes and timing. And then you get to eat your work.

Michael Albrecht, founder and partner in Backyard Pitmasters, started the business after watching a lot of TV shows that highlighted competition barbecue.

“It’s pretty complicated,” he says. “People just wanted to know how to do it in their own backyards. It proved out really quickly. We did a few classes in Houston and then we paired up with craft breweries in other markets and we brought in a bunch of folks who just wanted to do it in their own backyards.

“It’s the opposite of competition. We’re teachers and instructors and we’ve hired the best, most experienced teachers,” Albrecht continues. “We’re all KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) certified, but we don’t compete. We’ve put tens of thousands of people through it in the last six years.”

Because brisket takes more than 10 hours to cook, the instructors start smoking the meat the day before a class. Students learn how to shop for brisket and trim it. Then they’re shown a partially cooked piece of meat so the class can see what a halfway done brisket looks like.

Along the way, they get instruction in what kind of wood to use, flavor profiles, temperature control and other skills that go into the cook. Instructors also cover different types of grills and smokers that can be used. Finally, students get to enjoy a fully smoked brisket.

Class schedules for both Nashville (East Nashville Beer Works and Mill Creek Brewing in Nolensville) and Chattanooga (TailGate Brewery), as well as locations in other states, are available at www.brisketu.com. There’s also RibsU at Chattanooga’s Five Wits Brewing Company.

Once you’ve completed the class – all are $119 – there will be no doubt as to your new status. Students get a diploma as a certified backyard pitmaster.

If brisket’s not your thing, Backyard Pitmasters also offers classes in ribs, chicken, turkey, wild game and seafood.

Just ducky

For an experience only available in one place in the world, travel to Memphis and become an honorary duckmaster at The Peabody Hotel.

The tradition of ducks at The Peabody started in the 1930s when the general manager and a friend went duck hunting and brought back a few live decoys (it was legal then for hunters to use live decoys).

After a wee nip of Tennessee sipping whiskey the men decided it would be funny to put the ducks in the lobby fountain. The quackers were an immediate hit.

In 1940, bellman Edward Pembroke offered to use his experience as a circus animal trainer to deliver the ducks to the fountain, and the tradition of the duck walk was cemented in history. There have been many celebrity honorary duckmasters through the decades, including Al Roker, Jay Leno and Oprah Winfrey. And now the general public can join that elite list.

“The Ducky Day Package is one of our most exclusive packages because the ducks only march twice a day,” says Kelly Brock, The Peabody’s director of marketing. “It’s especially popular with families, but we have ‘kids’ of all ages book the package so they can say that they got to march the world-famous Peabody Ducks. It makes for a very special gift for the holidays or even a birthday or anniversary.”

The package (starting at $434) includes one night’s accommodations plus an official brass-headed duckmaster cane, a T-shirt, a rubber duck toy, signature cookies and a reserved table at the duck walk. Children must be 5 or older to participate. Information: 1-800-PEABODY.

Gone fishing

Anyone can drop a standard fishing pole into a creek. Fly-fishing is another thing.

Learn from the pros at Blackberry Farm in Walland. The luxury resort has a fly-fishing school available to its overnight guests that takes advantage of a casting pond on the extensive grounds where beginners can practice their newfound skills.

On-site instruction ranges from one hour ($125) to eight hours ($520).

“It’s a lot simpler than what a lot of people have it made out to be in their minds,” says Bryan Begbie, fly fishing manager. “It’s just a different technique of fishing. The flies we use don’t have any weight. The line is the momentum. When you see a fisherman casting, they’re building up momentum to get the fly to the fish. There’s a lot less casting involved than people think. The whole idea is you present the flies to the trout and let them come back to you.”

Beginners start with a lesson at the casting pond. Then they learn about flies and how to set the hook. From there, it’s time to put on the waders and hit the water. The pond is stocked with trout so the chances of catching one are dramatically increased over catching fish in a wild setting. It’s a catch-and-release program so all the trout are safely returned to the pond.

“These fish are my co-workers,” Begbie says. “We’ll take pictures with the fish and then release it properly back to the water.”

Begbie says the best times to fly fish are the fringe seasons of spring and fall, although the winters at Blackberry Farm are mild, and some of the biggest fish have been caught in the colder weather.

And even though the staff tries to maximize a guest’s chances to catch a trout or two, nothing is guaranteed.

“It happens all the time,” he says. “We tell people we’ll give them opportunities, but then it’s up to them. Some days, it’s just really tough fishing. It’s about the experience and not always about the catching.”

If you want to talk about the one that got away, cap off your fishing lesson with a whiskey tasting with one of the resort’s beverage experts. Information: www.blackberryfarm.com.

Experiences, state by state

Virgin Experience Gifts fans out across the nation to find experiences in every state.

“We work with a network of best-in-class experience providers across the U.S. and we have so much fun researching and vetting our experiences,” says Melanie White, Virgin Experience’s executive vice president. “We choose the experiences based on a blend of in-territory research, search data and trends, customer feedback and intuition. It’s literally our job to know what new and innovative things to do are available in your area and we are constantly adding new experiences to our site.”

In Tennessee, experiences include driving a NASCAR race car solo on the Nashville Superspeedway’s 1.33-mile oval track ($460) and learning to fly with a certified FAA flight instructor ($254) in Murfreesboro. No worries, the instructor handles the plane during takeoff and landing. You only take the wheel once the aircraft has reached cruising altitude.

Nationally, Lester says Virgin has seen increased experiences gifted to others in national parks because of the pandemic.

“National parks have been a really huge thing, not just for gifts,” she says. “The options in the national parks have increased greatly and that is one that is travel focused. It’s when you’re traveling or a friend is traveling. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has seen record-breaking year over record-breaking year. It’s definitely because you could be socially distanced and outside. People didn’t want to vacation in New York City.”

Virgin has also seen a greater interest in California.

“That is probably due to there being so much there,” Lester says. “The state is very diverse and varied from top to bottom in all the things you could do.

“One of the items that we cannot keep vacancies in is the exotic car driving on a racetrack. The NASCAR driving is very accessible because they do it all year-round. The exotic cars only do them on certain weekends. So many people want to do it, it’s one of the hardest to schedule.”

And in this era of supply chain issues and shipping worries, Lester points out that giving an experience comes with none of the hassles most of us have experienced during the last two years.

“You don’t have to worry about supply chain. You don’t have to worry about shipping so it’s a great last-minute gift. You can buy this on Christmas morning and have it under the Christmas tree,” Lester says. “The other thing that research has shown is that millennials want convenience. We’re used to having everything at our fingertips.”