Category Archives: Distillery Tours

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Distillery Tour: George Dickel

George Dickel…the other Tennessee whiskey. That’s not really their slogan but when I first visited Cascade Hollow over ten years ago it kind of felt like that was their only point. Since then they have expanded their product offerings, expanded their tour, and seem to be heading down the path of coming into their own.

My most recent visit to George Dickel was the early part of last year. It was an exceptionally cold spring day but it was also exceptionally beautiful. Those of you who haven’t ventured into the valleys (or “hollers” as they are called) of the Tennessee and Kentucky mountains are missing some truly beautiful country. To get to the distillery you need to take exit 105 off of US interstate 24 regardless of whether you’re coming from Nashville or Chattanooga. If your GPS or Google Maps sends you a different way ignore it. Trust me I’ve made that mistake before. From exit 105 turn right onto highway 41 South. After about 1.5 miles you turn right onto Blanton Chapel Road. Continue on for about 4 miles until you come to a stop sign where you can turn left onto Lyndell Bell Road. Follow the signs to Normandy Dam (3.5 miles) and take a right onto Frank Hines Road. Pass by the Dam and continue on Frank Hines Road into Normandy. With railroad crossing on your right, go straight onto Cascade Hollow Road and follow the signs for 1.5 miles to the George Dickel Distillery and Visitor’s Center. It’s about an hour from Nashville and an hour and a half from Chattanooga.

Now because you are whiskey people you might also be coming from Jack Daniels which is about 20 minutes away. From there take highway 55 to Tullahoma, TN. Turn left on 41A North. Turn right onto Hunters Lane between the Hampton Inn and Ruby Tuesday Restaurant. Turn left at end onto Normandy Road (Hwy. 269) and go approximately 7 miles to Normandy. At stop sign turn right across railroad tracks. Turn right again on Cascade Hollow Road. Distillery is 1.5 miles. I know you are looking at these directions thinking this is some crazy twisty way back into the middle of nowhere. Well, yes it is. Cascade Hollow is a very quiet place. However, if you think this is a crazy way to go then try one of those other routes the Google tries to send you.
Once you arrive it’s time to begin the tour. They do tours from 9AM to 4:30PM Monday through Saturday. They start every 30 to 45 minutes or so but to be honest it’s pretty laid back and no one seemed in too much of a hurry. There is a basic tour which is free or an extended tour with tasting at the end for $10. Do the $10 tour. You didn’t drive all this way just zip through an abbreviated tour and not taste their whiskey did you?

When we went there were two very lovely Tennessee ladies accompanying us on the tour. They were gracious and thoroughly knowledgeable about the distillery, its history, and its products. After a brief history overview at the visitors center you set out across Cascade Hollow Road and then a small bridge over the creek on your way to the distillery. As you are crossing the lawn that wonderful smell of a sour mash distillery at works wafts towards you. If you like boiled peanuts you’ll love this.
When you first enter the distillery you are inundated with a wall of noise. It can be a bit hard to hear the guides when the distillery is running. The first stop is the mash tubs where they go over the mash bill (84% Corn/8% Rye/8% Barley), the four hour mashing process, and show you the pumping of the mash up to the fermenters. On the way up they talk about Dickel’s yeast and the three to four day timing of the fermentation which results in their 6% to 8% ABV distiller’s beer. An interesting fact that we picked up was that their rye, while made on contract by MGP in Indiana, actually uses Dickel’s proprietary yeast instead of one of MGP’s yeast strains.

As you are walking around you immediately see how much more manual the Dickel process is than other large U.S. whiskey producers. There’s not a computer terminal in sight. When they say they do it manually, they mean it. Another note of contention is the contract production that is thought to be done at Dickel. Their people swear they don’t make anything other than Dickel because they don’t have the capacity. After seeing how manual their distilling is I can start to believe that.

Next, off to the stillhouse. Just beneath the still is the barreling area which is kind of neat to watch if you can be there when they are barreling. After looking at the stills we go through their distilling process. Their low wines come off a column still at about 115 proof (57.5% ABV). The high wines come off a pot still at about 130 proof (65% ABV). Off the stills the whiskey is chill filtered before going into their mellowing vats. Their reasoning was that George used to prefer the smoothness he got from winter made whiskey over other seasons. Take that for what you will. The mellowing vats have 13 feet of charcoal and perforated plates covered with wool blankets on either side. For an entire batch of distillate to trickle through takes about 7 to 10 days. From there it goes to the barrels.

After leaving the stillhouse you walk past the silos where spent grains are held prior to local farmers picking it up for livestock feed. From there you go into the warehouse where they store the barrels for private selection. The other 12 standard warehouses are on the hills surrounding the distillery. They hold about 198,000 barrels and are six racks high and 25 to 30 barrels deep in the single story warehouses. That single story design means they don’t rotate barrels. This kind of makes sense with their manual work processes. At this point in the tour the guides go through the barrel wood, the maturation process, angels’ share, etc. The No. 8 sits for five to seven years, the No. 12 is eight to ten years, and the Barrel Select is 12 years.

From the private barrel warehouse we head to the media and marketing room where you can see old and new media, photos, advertisements and memorabilia. After that is the obligatory video that marketing takes pride in. The video shows barreling if you didn’t get to see it as well as bottling and the rest of the production process. Due to bottling line capacity constraints the only things bottled on site are the private selection barrels and the Orphan Barrels for parent Diageo. Everything else is loaded onto unmarked tanker trucks and shipped to Diageo’s bottling facility in Plainville, Illinois.

After the video we head off to the tasting room. There we run through the whole line of their standard products (No. 1, No. 8, No. 12, and Barrel Select). After the tasting it’s back to the visitors center to purchase any bottles or memorabilia that may interest you. One note on the bottle purchases. There is a bottle available of private selection (9 year old when we were there) that was picked by their Master Distiller. The ones in your local liquor store picked by the store owners are around $45. The one at the distillery is about $100. The only discernible difference to me is that you get to sign the barrel that it came from there in the visitors center. I don’t know about you but my signature isn’t worth $55. Buyer beware.

Bottle aside, if you are in the area and are a fan of Dickel this is worth a stop. Cascade Hollow is a beautiful part of the country and Dickel offers a nice contrast to larger operations. So stop in, take a tour, enjoy some whiskey, and avoid that gift shop bottle. 😉

Distillery Tour: Jim Beam

Jim Beam is about as ubiquitous to bourbon as you can get. As the number one selling bourbon in the world (we won’t get into the whole Jack Daniel’s thing today) you can find it in the far reaching corners of the world. Even though you can find it almost anywhere, you might want to consider visiting where it’s made. Well, it’s actually made at two distilleries…one in Clermont, Kentucky and another in Boston, Kentucky but only the Clermont location is open for tours. This past April I made the trek to Clermont with some Georgia Bourbon Society pals to see what it was all about.

I’ve been to Jim Beam once before a number of years ago and the video and gift shop they had then was a distant and sad memory from what they have now. It’s referred to as the American Stillhouse and it is a great new facility. To get there you can either take I-65 north to Kentucky highway 245 south to Happy Hollow Road or from Bardstown, Kentucky take 245 north to Happy Hollow Road. Ten years ago when I was last there you could walk up, get in line, see the video, have a sip of bourbon and be on your way in about 30 minutes. Now, I would recommend booking a reservation in advance. There are two tours available at the moment. We took the standard Guided Tour which is $10 and that does not go towards any purchases in the gift shop. It’s about 75 minutes. There is also the VIP Super Premium Tour with Fred Noe for a modest $199 and that one lasts about six hours.

Once your tour begins you load up outside of the gift shop in a branded bus and head up to the distillery. The tour starts by walking you through the distilling process in the miniature experimental distillery they have set up in a smaller complex next to the main distillery. It’s been around for about two years. The tour guides are well spoken and surprisingly knowledgeable. They walk you through the history and legal designations of bourbon and what is required to make it while in the old water sourcing warehouse.

From there you head to the miniature cooker, fermentation tanks, and still to talk through grains, mashbills, and yeast. The standard mashbill for Jim beam, Old Crow, Knob Creek, Baker’s, and Booker’s is 76% corn, 13% rye and 10% barley. Their higher rye mashbill used for Old Grand Dad and Basil Hayden is 63% corn, 27% rye, and 10% barley. During the discussion of yeast our guide confirmed (multiple times) that they are now using the same yeast for all their whiskeys. In 1987 when National Distillers Group sold their spirits business to Fortune Brands Beam brought over the yeast National Distillers was using for the Old Grand Dad brand and mashbill. At what time that was converted to the standard Beam yeast strain for Old Grand Dad products has not been confirmed. I guess that kind of makes it “New” Grand Dad. 😉

In discussion of distillation it was also confirmed that the Boston plan makes exclusively product destined for Jim Beam White and the flavored Beam products. Everything else comes from the Clermont distillery along with the balance of the Jim Beam White destined distillate. For nearly all the Beam products the low wine comes off the still at 125 proof/62.5% ABV and off the second distillation at 135 proof/67.5% ABV for the high wines. From there it gets watered down to the legally required 125 proof for barreling. Booker’s is the exception. It is distilled at a higher temperature thus equaling a lower proof (more of the water evaporates with the alcohol at the higher temperature) and comes off the first distillation at 115 proof and the second distillation at 125 proof so that it can go straight into the barrel with no additional water.

Next they take you to the miniature filling station. A volunteer gets to fill a barrel surrounded by the barrel heads of all the commemorative barrels of bourbon made by Beam. After this it’s off to the full distillery.
Down a walkway you head into the main still room. These babies are huge compared the little experimental stills you just saw. This is a high performance, high quality control operation. Through the mass of production noise you can see computer displays showing all the production metrics. It’s quite a sight but it’s so loud that you’re happy to soon head back out.
The next area is for dumping. Knob Creek was on the dumping block when we came by. Everyone got a nice sniff and then we were ushered over to the bottling line. You now have the opportunity to hand bottle either a bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel or Jim Beam White Single Barrel. The neat thing we found out is that the excess whiskey from the barrel (no barrel yields exact multiples of 750 mls) is used to wash these bottles so that there is no water or bourbon contaminating the Single Barrel bottles that didn’t come from that barrel.

The last stop in this area was the decanter room. It’s kind of neat to see all the different designs that have held Jim Beam over the years. Some of them are so ornate that you can barely imagine them actually holding bourbon.

Next we are off to the warehouse. Nothing to me smells as good as a whiskey warehouse. All that old whiskey slowly giving up shares to the angels makes for a delicious aroma. A few places where barrels are raised and dropped allow you the chance to look up vertically and see how many stories of whiskey are stacked in each warehouse. It’s impressive.
After the warehouse you head to the tasting room. This is a cool set up. You get a pass card that is good for two pours from these drink machines that I’ve only seen at wine bars. You can choose your two pours from any of Beam’s regularly sold products (no Old Grand Dad, Old Overholt, or Old Crow). After your tastes you can head home or back to the gift shop.
All manner of Jim Beam Brand paraphernalia can be had at the gift shop. If you’re looking for whiskey, they sell the range of Beam brands (again no Old Grand Dad, Old Overholt or Old Crow). If you want a gift shop exclusive you can get a bottle of Fred Noe’s select bourbon which is really just the seven year old white label. However, it’s got a different label and Fred selected it so that’s something. If you want to drop $200 you can get a Distiller’s Masterpiece is a sexy decanter finished in sherry casks.

I was really impressed with the new Beam complex and tour. It’s first rate in every way. If you’re in the area or even if you might consider making a designated trip then it’s worthwhile.

One last note on Beam: There is now “Fred’s Smokehouse” open on the grounds where you can get barbeque for lunch. It’s staffed by some older Kentucky ladies who are about as sweet as the chocolate bourbon pie. I feel comfortable saying that I am a lover of the “Que” and I appreciate all styles: Dry and wet, Kansas City and Texas, Carolina Mustard and Alabama White. However, I do NOT recommend the Smokehouse. The watery meat, stale buns, and mediocre sauce should be avoided. You can get a much better meal at any number of places down the road in Bardstown.

Distillery Tour: Lazy Guy Distillery

Did you know that there is a legal distillery making craft spirits right outside of Atlanta in Kennesaw? Yeah, I didn’t either. It seems like every other day new distilleries are popping up and keeping track of them is a giant undertaking. That said this one is about 15 minutes from my house so I really should’ve been a little more on top of it. Luckily for me, I have friends that are just as obsessed with all things whiskey as I am. A fellow Georgia Bourbon Society member put the word out on the Lazy Guy Distillery a couple of months ago and another member was industrious enough to organize a little tour for us.

It’s best to plan in advance if you want to visit Lazy Guy. It’s damn near a one man operation and that one man, Mark Allen can’t be making spirit if he’s got people randomly knocking on the front door. Also, he has a day job in consulting too. He will schedule tours for small groups and periodically he has open house events. We at met the distillery before the August Georgia Bourbon Society meeting in a torrential downpour. This is an extremely small operation and I drove past it twice before getting to the right place.

The distillery is two buildings near historic downtown Kennesaw dating back to the 1800’s. The front is an old house that serves as the office, tasting bar, and gift shop. Out back is an old barn right above the railroad tracks that serves as the distillery and aging warehouse. The tour comprises a walk out back for a very detailed walkthrough of the operations and a tasting of the four products Mark is bottling right now. You go into the barn and front and center you see the still, column, condenser and mash tun. image

Off to the right are the fermenting tubs, off to the left is the bottling line, and around the left corner in a little nook is the “warehouse” where the aging spirit is held. image3

When I say small, this is small. However, right now it is a one man operation. Mark is quick to tell you about his efficiency yields and how all of this is set up to allow him to produce spirit by himself. Right now his only help in product production are volunteers helping with the bottling.

Mark is a very enthusiast and knowledgeable distiller and he is more than happy to keep the tour at the newbie level or dive into all the geek detail you could want. He is a very technical and practical distiller. He’s more the mad chemist out back in the shed than the romantic idea of distillers that some hold on to. Mark’s background is information technology and consulting. Distilling is new to him and he is self taught through voracious reading, visits to other distilleries, and good old trial and error. He’s very forthcoming with how he does what he does and why he’s made the decisions he made that led up to now. As examples of this he uses enzyme, not malted barley to kick start fermentation and how his “fermenting tubs” are giant plastic container that allow him to (relatively) easily monitor and adjust temperature and maintain sanitation. image2

It may not be as romantic of a notion as those 50 year old wooden fermentation tubs and germinated malted barley for fermentation but it gets the job done in a way he likes and can manage. I have to respect that.

Currently, Lazy Guy has four products on the market that you would probably call white whiskey or white dog with plans for a straight bourbon (aged 2 years) in 2015. Here’s a rundown of each one:

Threesome Whiskey
The mashbill is 60% corn, 30% wheat, and 20% unmalted barley and it is bottled at 40% ABV. The distillate for this product is essentially bourbon distillate. It’s aged very briefly in used barrels. Lazy Guy uses used barrels for everything except the new bourbon they plan for next year. The reason is that Mark can’t get anymore barrels. You’ve heard of the dreaded bourbon shortage, which doesn’t actually exist to the extent you may think? Well the real concern is a true barrel shortage. There just isn’t enough production to keep up with demand so small guys like Mark can’t even get on the list. The barrels he does use were toasted rather than charred. Mark’s reasoning is that it gives more of a smoky and floral note rather than the typical coconut and vanilla. It was nice for a white whiskey. Better than most for sure.

Cold Heart Whiskey
This is essentially a high proof version of the Threesome coming in at 60% ABV with the same distillate but it spends a little less time in the wood. It’s a similar profile to Threesome but it drinks surprisingly well at the higher proof.

Kennesaw Lightning
This is Lazy Guy’s corn whiskey. The mash is 80% corn and 20% barley and clocks in at 50% ABV. It is a solid vodka replacement for sure. Maybe in a bloody mary?

The General
Don’t let this one confuse you with the recent Compass Box release. The two could not be farther apart. This is also a corn whiskey, although a four grain corn whiskey. The mash is 80% corn, 6% rye, 7% wheat, and 7% barley. It clocks in at an impressive 75.5% ABV. This was something Mark was playing around with when a distributor stopped by and had a taste from the still. It went over so well it became a new product, although reduced to 75.5% from the 90% it was tasted at. It also drinks surprisingly well at high proof.

I’ve got to say that I was impressed with what Mark Allen is doing over at Lazy Guy Distillery. He has a passion for it but he’s not deluded by his passion. He realizes that the whiskey geek isn’t his target market. He has a great business head on his shoulders. He knows his product, market, and distribution and works smartly within those bounds. I’m not rushing out to buy a bottle because it’s not my type of thing but I respect what he’s doing and wish him the best.

You can visit the distillery at 2950 Moon Station Road, Kennesaw, Georgia. Make sure to call (770) 485-0081 or email first.

Distillery Tour: Old Kilbeggan Distillery

Wow, it’s been a crazy summer. It’s already October and I’m just now getting back to the content from my trip to Ireland in May. Well, continuing from the post on The Old Jameson Distillery we’re off to Kilbeggan!

After our time in Dublin and the surrounding areas, my wife and I headed west on the N6 to Kilbeggan. It’s actually pretty easy to get there. Off the N6 you turn on to R389 and take that north to R446 headed west and the distillery is just down the road on the right. Heading into the quiet town of Kilbeggan we meandered down the main road until we came to The Old Kilbeggan Distillery/Kilbeggan Distillery Experience (formerly know and the Old Locke’s Distillery). If you are smart you aren’t racing down any of the Irish country roads but heading through Kilbeggan you can drive right past the distillery if you aren’t paying attention. Hang a right just past the distillery and the parking lot will be on your right behind the distillery.

As soon as you get out of the car you’ll see barrels off in the distance and smell that tell tale whiskey distillery aroma of distilled water of life, grain, and fermenting distiller’s bear/mash. Let’s take a moment to level set expectations. This is not where Cooley makes all their Kilbeggan. That facility isn’t open to the public. They make a very small amount of whiskey here. More of this site is still dedicated to the shuttered remnants of the Old Locke Distillery than the new active distillery operation. It’s not a deal breaker for a visit. I just want you to realize when you are outside the distillery that only a relatively small part of what you are looking at is actually devoted to active production. Also, most of the “tour” is the Old Locke’s part and you only get to see a little of what is used to make the new stuff. I’m not sure why the Irish are so shy about their production facilities but at the time of this post Bushmills is the only distillery doing a tour anywhere close to what bourbon and scotch fans have come to know.

So with that disclaimer out of the way let’s head around front from the parking lot and go inside. As you enter the front there is a lovely little bar to the right and a desk to the left where you pay your seven euros per person for the tour. At the time of my visit in May 2012 they were not taking plastic. Cash only so come prepared. Now that I think about it that’s a good general tip for traveling in Ireland, especially for plastic dependent Americans.

After you pay your euros you’ll get a copy of the tour guide. Yep. Not tour guides. It’s a paper packet with notes for the various numbered tour stations throughout the Old Locke’s Distillery. For those of you who have toured other active distilleries this is a little anti-climatic. It’s really more of a museum at this point than a distillery tour. (According to the website Kilbeggan now offers guided, self-guided, and group tours seven days a week. I guess I went for a visit a little too soon.)

Once you make your way through the museum portion you can head across the breezeway and up the stairs to a small area housing actual Cooley whiskey. You can head to the back and overlook the active still. (According to Cooley this is the oldest pot still in production.) That’s as close as you’re going to get to active production here. Head back downstairs and follow the signs to the gift shop. Here you can get your shot glasses, minis, and other Cooley/Kilbeggan swag.

After you stock up on souviners head back over to that bar you passed on the way in. Here you can get your dram of Kilbeggan included in the tour price. This is really a neat little bar. They also have Guinness on tap and you’re just as likely to be sitting next to a local having a pint as you are to be sitting next to a tourist. You can also buy minis and bottles of many different Cooley offerings. Special among these is the Distillery Reserve version of Kilbeggan. This is actually what’s being made here at the distillery. It’s young and it’s pricey. I bought a bottle. I kind of wish I hadn’t. If you really want one then I recommend waiting and picking one up duty free at the airport in Dublin. It’s A LOT cheaper.

All in all it’s an interesting little jaunt going to Kilbeggan. I wouldn’t plan a whiskey pilgrimage around it but if it’s on your way why not stop by for a visit. My hope is that they continue to expand this facility and open the Cooley Distillery in County Louth to tours. Until then this is as close as you’re going to get to the birthplace of Kilbeggan or Cooley whiskey.

Drink wisely my friends,