Distillery Tour: Maker’s Mark

Meet me at Maker’s? That is the current Twitter and Instagram hashtag. Social media campaigns aside, a meeting at Maker’s isn’t such a bad idea. It’s really a gorgeous place. Now, if you are heading to Maker’s then most likely you are coming from Bardstown. If you aren’t, then you should. Bardstown is a lovely little slice of Kentucky and the spiritual home of bourbon.

Getting to Maker’s Mark from Bardstown is relatively simple. Head south out of Bardstown on KY 49 until you hit Loretto. Just so you know, saying Maker’s Mark is in Loretto is a bit of a misnomer. That’s the postal address and closest town but the distillery feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. From KY 49 head east on KY 52 and then left on Burks Spring Road. By the time you’ve gotten this far there are plenty of signs to lead you in.

My recent trip to Maker’s was my first in many years. A lot had changed as the brand, and bourbon in general grew in prominence. Arriving today, you park in the main parking lot up hill from the distillery and then walk to the entrance to the visitor’s center. It is a pretty glass fronted white building with “TOURS” written large so all can see.

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This was added to the old home on premise and the two connect. You can wait in some of the rooms of the old home, which are beautifully maintained, pending your tour.

After a brief wait your tour number will be called. There is usually coffee and sometimes snacks to enjoy while you wait. From the main house you head down a trail and stop outside the main distillery building. You will get the usual tour guide instructions pertaining to safety, photography, and history of the distillery. You will get a nice rendition of family history going all the way back to T.W. Samuels and his cousins Frank and Jesse James, yes that Frank and Jesse. Current ownership by Beam and then Suntory is downplayed a bit but they don’t hide it. Regardless of your opinion of the owners, the distillery facilities and tour is much improved over the days before they were bought.

Going into the distillery you see things in a bit of reverse order. First, you encounter the gleaming spirit stills img_1080

before going past one of the three 11,421.5 gallon mash tubs. img_1082

Maker’s does the first distillation (low wines) to a proof of about 120 proof (60% ABV) and then second distillation (high wines/white dog) come off at around 130 proof (65% ABV). This is cut to 110 proof before entering the barrel. After the distillation talk you move on to the fermenting tanks. Maker’s has 62 make from Douglas fir. img_1087

Here you are inviting to sample from several of the washes under fermentation to taste the flavor developing over time. Average fermentation is about three days and it’s neat to taste the differences over that fermentation period.

After see fermentation it is on to see where the original labels were printed and cut along with a collection of commemorative bottles. From there you head over to the warehouse for the most wonderful smell in the world…aging whiskey.

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After a brief overview of how bourbon aging work courtesy of your guide then you can take a look at the extra stave process that goes into turning Maker’s Mark into Maker’s 46. From here you head over to the bottling facility to see where they still bottle onsite and hand dip each one of those red wax (plastic now) tops.

By this point an experienced (or novice) whiskey tourist is getting a bit thirsty. Luckily for you the next stop is the tasting room. As you sit on stools at long wooden tables a tasting is already set out for you.

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You are led through Maker’s White (distillery only white dog), Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46, and finally the new-ish Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. All of these were fine drinks but the Cask Strength did it for me.

After the tasting you are led out through a corridor surrounded by slumbering Ambassador barrels on all sides and an amazing ceiling of colored blown glass by artist Dale Chihuly that is pretty awe inspiring.

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Conveniently you come out into the gift shop. I’ve been in my fair share of distillery and other tour gift shops but I have to say that Maker’s is pretty impressive. You have damn near anything you can imagine made out of barrels and assorted whiskey paraphernalia. If you want, you can dip your own bottles to take home. Also, the distillery just released a cask strength Maker’s 46 that as of right now you can only get in the gift shop.

The tour at Maker’s is one of the best in Kentucky. It really is worth a stop regardless if you are a new bourbon drinker or an old hand. It offers something for even the most experienced distillery tourist. Just don’t worry if you are only halfway there and you are wondering “where the hell am I”. Hold the course and meet someone at Maker’s.

Location: Maker’s Mark Distillery, 3350 Burks Spring Rd, Loretto, KY 40037.
Tour Cost: $9 for the basic one hour tour, additional experiences are available for $25 with pre-booking.
Mashbills: 1 Mashbill: 70% Corn, 16% Wheat, 14% Barley
Barrels: Independent Stave New Oak Char #3
Retail Whiskey: Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength
Distillery Exclusive Whiskey: Maker’s 46 Cask Strength, Maker’s Mark White

Maker’s 46 Cask Strength

Maker’s 46 Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
55.4% ABV
$40 (per 375ml)
Website
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What the Distillery Says:
Right now they don’t. Not a peep. This bottling is a distillery gift shop exclusive at this time. This was a similar distribution pattern to Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. Let’s hope this one goes on to larger distribution too.

What Gary Says:
Nose: Sweet oak, vanilla, lovely baking spices (cloves, cinnamon) over butterscotch.
Palate: Nice rich mouthfeel, warm and sweet caramel with nutmeg and cinnamon, with a hint of fruitcake.
Finish: Moderately long and wet.
Comments: Wow – this is really tasty stuff. I’m not a huge fan of Maker’s 46, but this really shines at cask strength. At one sitting while nosing it reminded me of dusty bourbon (that butterscotch note). Much more robust on the nose and palate, and pleasantly spicy without being “sharp”. My only complaint is the price. I get that there aren’t many cask strength wheated bourbons out there (and one of my favorites – Old Weller Antique 107 – has gotten harder to come by these days), but if this was $50 for a 750 mL – I’d be all over it. At nearly that for half a bottle, I’ll absolutely enjoy it when someone else is offering, but not rushing out to pick one up.
Rating: Stands Out / Must Try

What Richard Says:
Nose: Wow this one wears the proof on its sleeve. Water brings out a more woody, vanilla forward nose.
Palate: This is great in the mouth. It’s warm and spicy with a dry back sweetness. Dusted with cinnamon and sweetened cocoa powder.
Finish: This finishes a little hot and peppery.
Comments: Yes this is a bit pricey for the half bottle. However, when Maker’s Mark Cask Strength first came out it was priced high for a half too. As distribution and demand grew the bottles became full size and the price normalized a bit. Regarding the actual bourbon in the bottle I will say that it is good. I’m always glad to see more wheated and cask strength bourbon on the market. This checks off both of those. However, I do like the regular Maker’s Mark Cask Strength more. In a lower proof I prefer the 46 but at cask strength this is more wood dominated. A nice extension of the line but I prefer the other cask strength option.
Rating: Stands Out

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky
55.65% ABV
$50 to $60
Website
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What the Distillery Says:
From the barrel to bottle at 108 to 114 proof, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength retains the signature front-of-the-palate flavors of Maker’s Mark – while amping up the oak, caramel, vanilla and spice to create a remarkable new bourbon.

Though it’s bottled at a higher proof than either Maker’s Mark or Maker’s 46 bourbons, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength has a lower proof than most cask strength whiskies. To us, a higher proof can overwhelm a bourbon with a heavy alcohol taste. And at Maker’s Mark, we’ve always been about creating whiskies that taste “yummy.”

Although Maker’s Mark goes into barrels at a consistent entry proof of 110, the proof of Maker’s Mark Cask Strength will vary. As water evaporates from the barrels as our whisky slumbers, the proof increases. But if you’ve ever lived in Kentucky, you know our summer temperatures can fluctuate wildly so the rate at which our bourbon becomes the “angel’s share” also differs. As a result, we’re never 100% sure what the proof will be till we open the barrels.

What Gary Says:
Nose: Light, sweet oak, vanilla wafers w/ a hint of licorice.
Palate: Warm, soft sweet vanilla with honey, caramel crèmes with undertones of cinnamon creeping in.
Finish: Moderate, with more bite than the start.
Comments: The first time I tried this, I was underwhelmed – especially for the price (it was $50 for a 375 mL bottle initially). Thankfully the price has come down quite a bit, although still on the high side for me. This is what I expected Maker’s Mark to be at cask strength. Still sweet/smooth, but a bit more of a bite that kicks in near the end and carries through the finish.
Rating: Stands Out

What Richard Says:
Nose: Much heavier on the wood than regular Maker’s with big doses of vanilla.
Palate: The barrel strength pushes this one out of the gate like it’s on fire. The oily rich mouthfeel bursts with caramel sweets, dark cocoa powder, vanilla cream, and one single Red Hot candy dissolved in the mix.
Finish: Woody but much spicier.
Comments: This reminds me of the first time I tried Maker’s Mark. Back then it was an impressive step up from Jack and Jim. It seemed to be bursting with flavor compared to bourbon’s I had up to that point. I get the same thing from the Cask Strength version. It’s sort of what I’ve hoped Maker’s would be for a long time. As pricing has come down to near $50 for a full 750 ml bottle it’s something you really should try.
Rating: Must Try

WhistlePig 2016 Boss Hog

WhistlePig The Boss Hog Straight Rye Whiskey: The Independent
60.3% ABV
$299.99
Website
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What the Bottler Says:
The name says it all. This is our biggest, most profound whiskey. For the Boss Hog in us all.

The 1st edition, created in 2013, was our best at the time: our best barrels, barrel strength, 12 year aged.

In 2014, the 2nd edition was created as a memorial to Mortimer, one of our founder’s first pigs. He died heroically whilst defending the honor of Mauve, his porcine lover and companion. This marked the first time Mortimer appeared on the pewter stopper. Again we used our barrels as barrel strength, this time aged for 13 years.

This 3rd edition of Boss Hog, The Independent, is a celebration of the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. This is our first Rye Whiskey ever finished in Hogshead 250 liter Scotch casks – the largest barrels in the business – which were enhanced with new American Oak heads.

The result is extraordinary. A fine balance between complex spices and delicate nuance. There’s nothing else like it.

Nose: Oak and vanilla are predominant, with undertones of mint, caramel, and baking spice.
Palate: Warm and bold, with lots of spices. Very faint hints of peat and smoke. Slightly earthy.
Finish: Surprisingly easydrinking for 125 proof with a long, warm, spicy finish.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Mint tea and newly made vanilla extract.
Palate: Heavy on the mint, vanilla, and caramel with a light back smokiness. The press notes are right, this drinks much easier than the proof would foretell.
Finish: Mint, allspice, oak, and dark cocoa powder.
Comments: Apparently WhistlePig is not to be out done by Jim Beam’s $300 13 year old rye by coming out with their own $300 rye. It’s a bit surprising given the recent release of their 15 Year for $200. Let’s be honest, the price stings a bit. This isn’t a rye for the masses. However, if you have the opportunity to try this then please do. It is a stellar glass of rye.
Rating: Must Try

We would like to thank WhistlePig for sending us a sample to review.

Nomad Outland Whisky

Nomad Outland Whisky
41.3%
$30
Website
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What the Bottler Says:
Nomad Outland Whisky is imbued with the characteristics of the wild, open space of the Scottish Highlands. A new concept that takes the Whisky itself on a journey from its birthplace to the warm and humid plains of Jerez.

In Jerez it is left to soak up the wonderful natural aspects of this special micro-climate giving Nomad its quintessential Scottish character and a soul that is truly Jerezano.

After a year of tests, ageing the Whisky in barrels that had previously held Fino, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez Sherries, to find the perfect blend, our Master Blenders chose those Whiskies that had been aged in Pedro Ximénez.

A premium blended whisky produced from a unique selection of over 30 different malt and grain whiskies from Speyside, The Higlands, Scotland, each 5 to 8 years old. The resulting blend is left to mature in Scotland in sherry casks for 3 years, altogether, before being transferred to Jerez where it will be finished for a mínimum of 12 months in old Pedro Ximenez casks in the San Fernando cellar of González Byass.

This outland whisky matures in the unique micro-climate of Jerez, subject to the different changes in temperature, the winds and the humidity of the Andalusian city close to the sea. NOMAD, over time, will absorb the native yeasts which are present in the atmosphere of the cellar, and it will be imbued with the tastes and flavours of the old Pedro Ximenez casks, previously used to age sherry, giving the whisky its unique character.

Bright, topaz coloured whisky

It has a unique aroma with malty notes, reminiscent of oak and sherry due to its ageing in american oak barrels.

Smooth and elegant on the palate

With prominent flavours of raisins, honey and distinctive bouquet as a result of the finishing of the whisky in Pedro Ximénez sherry barrels.

A long finish, pleasant

With hints of vanilla and dried fruits. A very elegant whisky with a complex aftertaste.

What Gary Says:
Nose: Thick, dusky sherried raisins, figs, plum wine.
Palate: Creamy, but less intense than the nose; sweet raisins, plum, sherry with a bit of smoke.
Finish: Moderate in length, and on the wet side.
Comments: When I first nosed this whisky, I thought “Whoa – this is REALLY different!” The nose is very thick and dense, and very unique. While unhelpful to 99% of you, it immediately reminded me of a friend’s International Whisky Night, where I sampled whiskies from Australia, Korea, and all over the world. My point is this is a pretty unique pour. On the palate, I felt a bit let down – as the flavor was much less intense, although not off-putting or unpleasant. This is one of those drams where I could sit with an ounce and nose it for hours if for whatever reason I couldn’t drink that night. For me, the nose was “Must Try”, while the palate was closer to “Average” – although still different enough. I’d love to have tried this at a higher proof.
Rating: Stands Out

What Richard Says:
Nose: Heavy on the raisins. Very rich and dark fruit forward. The sherry dominates the nose…probably too much.
Palate: Sherry, raisins, Fig Newtons, and just about any other baked dark fruits.
Finish: The finish shows the youth of the malt more than anything else. Not terribly developed but unoffensive.
Comments: So…for $30 I can’t be too critical. This is VERY sherry forward. It’s almost like a refortified fortified wine. The sherry makes this one dimensional and not reminiscent of scotch in any way.
Rating: Average

We would like to thank Nomad for sending us samples to review.