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Published on June 15th, 2012 | by Siz

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Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour – A Kentucky Treasure

Tucked away out in the countryside of the Commonwealth of Kentucky lies a tiny little town known as Loretto. This town would be all but forgotten if it wasn’t for a particular bourbon distillery that decided to call Loretto home. Maker’s Mark has made quite a name for itself given the fact they’ve stayed away from fancy packaging and over hyped advertising. They’ve slowly crept into the cabinets of bourbon consumers and made themselves a staple on liquor shelves around the world.

The history of Maker’s Mark is similar to other bourbon start ups and you can read all about it on their wonderful site by clicking here. The long lineage of bourbon in Kentucky makes it hard for new comers to gain a foothold. However when you produce a product like Maker’s does you quickly create your own foothold and blaze a new path.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of making my second trip to the Maker’s Mark distillery. On the way back from Louisville I decided to pull off the interstate at the Bardstown / Clermont exit. About 2 miles off the interstate you first pass the Jim Beam distillery and then a few miles past that the Four Roses. If you can resist these and continue down the road you’ll run into about 15 rickhouses and the ‘Bourbon Heritage Center’ and Heaven Hill distilleries. Somehow I made it through without stopping at all these distilleries along the way. As Elwood Blues would say “I’m on a Mission from God” and I was heading for the small town of Loretto and the Maker’s Mark Distillery. 

The town of Loretto is not really close to anything and it’s about 35-40 mins off the interstate. The roads aren’t very good and they’re as crooked as Lombard Street in San Francisco. Once you get to a certain part in Kentucky you begin to lose cell phone reception and hence lose any GPS capabilities on your iPhone. Luckily for me, I have a keen sense of smell and I could use my nose to find the Maker’s Mark Distillery, well that and a few giant road signs that directed me where to go.

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour

When you finally hit Loretto and you start passing some huge rickhouses painted black and red, and I know from my previous trip that these are Maker’s Mark rickhouses. Unfortunately, I also know I’m still about 10 minutes away from the distillery. After the last crazy hairpin turn and nearly colliding with an RV I found the road that leads to the promise land. The nice big sign that says ‘Welcome you’ve arrived to the Maker’s Mark Distillery’. What a sight for thirsty eyes to see!

The day I chose to tour the Maker’s Mark Distillery was a Sunday. **Tour Tip** – When you pull in go past the Toll Gate cafe and there is a ton of parking. They have limited hours on Sunday they are only open 1:30-3:30. Luckily we got there right at 1:30, we missed the first tour but were able to make it for the second one. This gives you more time to tour around the little house where you sign in for the tour. They have done a great job at making it very interactive and a way to kill time while waiting on your tour. My favorite part of the house that I didn’t see last time was this black notebook sitting on a podium when you round a corner into the main office. I walked by and decided to be nosey and open it up. In there there were sketches of how the Maker’s Mark bottle and packaging came to fruition. I’m not sure if this was the original or if it was recreated, but either way it’s pretty cool to look at.

This is cool and all, but I’m ready to get the tour started. I’m not going to ruin the tour for anyone, but I’m going to point out my highlights from the trip. The tour starts on the front porch of the house we’re hanging around. We started walking and the tour guide began giving some history on the location of the distillery how many people the land passed through and who finally owns it now. He also gives you some very important information as to why they chose this location. When it comes to Bourbon it’s all about the water. Kentucky sits on a limestone shelf and that naturally filters the water and removes minerals and impurities while adding calcium which is perfect for creating Bourbon, and thats why Bourbon comes from Kentucky.

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Still House

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Still House

The first stop is the Still House, this house is 5 stories tall and contains the double still that Maker’s Mark uses to produce their bourbon. This my favorite part of the tour. If you go during production it’s incredibly loud, but you can actually see the bourbon flowing through the stills in the background of the picture below. Unfortunately they were in maintenance mode when we came through for this season. At least it was easier to hear the tour guide speaking this time. **Tour Tip** – Take as many pictures as you want! They don’t care at all and if you fall behind the group a little they’ll wait on you.

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Double Copper Still

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Double Copper Still

The next part is my second favorite part of the Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour. The Mash room (I can’t remember what they call it), but is home to 6 giant Cyprus wood mash tanks. When in full production these tanks are full of the Mash that produces the alcohol content. They add yeast here and it starts to eat the sugars in the liquid and it produces an odor and releases carbon dioxide into the room. It has a very pungent smell, but it’s also pretty freaking awesome. When they are in production they actually let you stick your finger in and taste the Mash. My first trip to the Maker’s Mark Distillery I got to do this and it very cool. The tour guide even went on to tell me, now in approximately seven years you can that you stuck your finger in someone’s bourbon. Which is pretty cool and at the same time, weird to think about.

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Full Mash Tanks

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Full Mash Tanks

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Empty Mash Tanks

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Empty Mash Tanks

Once you leave the Still and Mash house you go over to the Barrel House. This is really cool, it shows you how they store the bourbon in those giant house. Some interesting facts that I picked up here. Each barrel weighs 525lbs. A guy on the tour asked if he could take one and the tour guide said if you can carry it out of here by yourself you can have it. Needless to say he didn’t try. Another little fun factoid from the tour guide, there are approximately 5 million barrels of bourbon being stored in rickhouses across the state of Kentucky, yet there are only approximately 3 million people that live in the state of Kentucky. Talk about having your priorities in line! To me the best part of the Barrel house is getting look at the cut away barrels that are used in storing the bourbon. They use Charred White Oak barrels, specially made for Maker’s Mark. They also added the new barrels that they use for Maker’s 46 this was a new addition to the tour from my last visit.

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Cutaway Barrel

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Cutaway Barrel

Maker’s 46, this is by far my favorite bourbon right now. This is part of the reason why I wanted to come back and do the tour I wanted to find out more about 46. I’m sure I’ll get something about this wrong, and if I do I’m sorry, but I’m doing all this from memory. Maker’s 46 is the original Maker’s Mark recipe. After it has been aged to the perfect taste they empty the original Maker’s and take the barrel that it was stored in and add 10 (or 12, can’t remember exactly) brand new French Oak staves inside the barrel. These staves were specifically made for Maker’s 46. Then they let this age for another 2-3 months with the new staves and then they bottle that as Maker’s 46. Pretty cool right? So where does the 46 come from? This is the part that I get a little fuzzy on, everyone thinks it comes from the proof, because it’s 47% alcohol, but the 46 comes from the iteration of the French Oak Staves. It’s the specific type of wood they used referred to as 46. To learn what Maker’s Mark says about 46 check out their video here.

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Barrels

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Barrels

The last part of the tour isn’t very exciting to me, it’s just the bottling and the wax dipping house. It’s cool to see the process and where all the bottles come from, but I like to see how it’s made. To be honest, I kinda always tune out at this part, but you should stay alert!

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Inside the Rickhouse

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Inside the Rickhouse

 

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - In the Barrel House

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - In the Barrel House

Finally, the tasting room! Now the first time that I did the Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour,  we walked through the barrel house and into the gift shop and up to the bar for our tasting, but they’ve completely redone this part of the tour. Now you walk through into a big room that is full of plexiglass and is essentially four soundproof rooms where you do tasting and there are 4 glasses sitting at a seat ready for you to taste. HEAVEN!!! This is what I came here for. You get a glass of the Maker’s Mark White Dog, Original Maker’s Mark, Maker’s Mark Over Matured, and Maker’s 46. I love that all of these come from the same recipe. They all just have different aging techniques to them. Very cool! Our tour guide was a fantastic at giving us tasting techniques, most of them I knew already, but I did pick up on a very key factor to tasting bourbon. As with any spirit, you’re supposed to nose it first, bring it up to your nose and open your mouth and breathe through your mouth. This allows the spirit to hit the taste buds on your tongue to aid the nose in picking up scents and flavors. The biggest and most important thing that I learned was where specific taste buds are at on your tongue. Sweet taste bud receptors are at the front of your tongue, meaty and savory are on the sides of your tongue and the back receptors pick up all the spice. Now this became extremely helpful when tasting the difference between Original Maker’s Mark and the Over Matured Maker’s Mark. The original has a very sweet finish and if you let it sit on your tongue the taste buds at the front of your tongue start to go wild and get all tingly! This sends a signal to your brain that the bourbon is sweet. However the over matured hits the back of your tongue and produces some very spicy notes and a lot of heat along the way. This indicates that the bourbon is very spicy. Same recipe of bourbon, just aged longer! Thats simply incredible.

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Bourbon Tasting

Maker's Mark Distillery Tour - Bourbon Tasting

Now here’s the cool thing about Maker’s 46. The master distiller wanted something that was full and complex, sweet yet powerful. He wanted something that after you took a sip you wanted to drink more. Essentially he wanted to create bourbon addicts out of us all. I can say he successfully achieved, good move sir! When tasting the Maker’s 46,  our tour guide told us to let it sit on our tongue a little bit longer and then swallow and just sit there and see what happens to our mouth. Well as soon as I swallowed my mouth instantly started salivating, essentially telling my brain, I NEED MORE!!! That was the intention behind Maker’s 46, the master distiller wanted something that would make you salivate and want more of this wonderful bourbon. I can tell you right now, that’s exactly what he accomplished.

Hopefully I didn’t ruin the tour for you, but instead convinced you to want to go even more now. I know the great folks at the Maker’s Mark Distillery would love to have you and take you around their second home. Make sure to take lots of pictures and really soak in the tour, because you never know when you’ll be able to go back. If you have time make sure and hit up other distilleries along the way. I know Jim Beam was reworking their distillery to make it tour ready and hopefully they’ve finished that by now. The Bourbon Heritage center is always a fun little stop along the way as well. Thanks for hanging in and reading this epic post I hope you enjoyed it.

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