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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

My Favorite Macallan

For those of you opening this post and looking for whiskey related commentary, I apologize. This is only tangentially touching the whiskey world. However, it’s my damn website so I can write what I want. And what I want is to pay tribute to an amazing friend that I lost this week.

In early 2005, my wife (then fiancée) and I decided to take the plunge on a getting a dog. I had dogs growing up but college and the early part of my career had left me with little time for the trials of bringing home a puppy. Unlike many people, we approached breed selection in a more analytical manner rather than an emotional one. We were looking for a small, even tempered, playful breed that shed little and would be content in our modest two bedroom townhouse. We settled on a Boston Terrier. They are cute in a less conventional way and really the quickest route to my wife’s heart is unconventional. After the decision was made we found a breeder in Douglasville in short order. We called, found out they had several puppies available, and set up a time.

On the appointed day we drove down from Smyrna to Douglasville with our printed MapQuest directions (no Google Maps app then) and managed to not get lost. We pulled into the small farm and knocked on the door. The breeder took us to the shed where two very rambunctious Boston Terriers were running around outside (the parents). Inside there was a small open topped pen with several squeaking little puppies in it. I got to choose which one would come home with us. I picked a little one who wandered right over to me with an odd little white marking on his nose. CIMG0100
We held him wrapped in a towel all the way home. He burrowed in and slept most of the way. He was so quiet that he gave us no sign of the years to come. Words like “ornery” and “rambunctious” just don’t begin to describe this little dog. I named him “Macallan” because I was fond of the malt and mostly because I wanted to name him after a malt distillery and it seemed like a reasonable name. At least it was reasonable compared to many of the nearly unpronounceable Gaelic names born by other distilleries. If I had known the kind of dog he would be I would’ve chosen Ardbeg or whatever Gaelic is for “hurricane.”

The puppy years were challenging. Macallan was rarely contained if he didn’t want to be. We saw him climbing dog gates like a ladder stacked two high and then jumping from the top to escape. Not only would he sneak out but he would also sneak back in leaving us to wonder how there was a puppy downstairs and poop in the hall upstairs. He cost us thousands of dollars in damage over the years. We had to get new flooring put in the living room because he worked up a little piece of carpet from behind the dog gate and pulled it so that it ran a two inch wide strip straight into the middle of the living room. He chewed up so many of my wife’s shoes that I was worried that she might end his life before it really even got started. He even decided to “mark” my best friend by peeing on him the moment they met. Macallan never did that to anyone else and I always told Matt that he was Macallan’s bitch from that day forward. All this was juxtaposed against the quiet moments laying with him on the bed. His favorite place was laying on my chest sleeping, nose up so that he could feel me breathing. CIMG0156

The middle years saw maturity in terms of obedience and destruction but he didn’t slow down. CIMG2607
There was no toy he wouldn’t destroy. I bought the ones you usually buy for a pit bull, not a 12 pound Boston Terrier. He laid waste to them all. His favorite toy was a soccer ball he would chase endlessly around the backyard. Sometimes he would get it in the corner nose bumping it like a seal. He scrapped and chewed that damn ball until one day he came running toward me with the half deflated ball in his mouth. He’d finally eaten away enough covering to puncture it with his teeth. He ran toward me with it in his mouth, so big that it was blocking his field of view, with such joy as if to say “See Dad! I finally killed the motherf%$#er!” The arrival of our second Boston Terrier named Abby was not well received. Macallan was a people dog not a dog’s dog. The two dogs were just getting to the point of grudging acceptance when we added insult to injury by having the audacity to have kids. But he was always so great with children. He was gentle and patient. Macallan didn’t growl or fuss. He just sat there bearing the brunt of our girls’ “affection.”Christmas2009 192

His later years still left him with the vigor and playfulness to fetch and play for hours. He was never motivated by food or treats (which made him a pain in the ass to train) but he loved a ball and tug of war like they were the greatest things in the world. A cataract started to set in his right eye around the age of eight. That was made worse by a leaky cornea a year later. But he still would not be slowed down until a blind right turn ran his left eye into a stick in the yard at age 10. The recovery was slow and came with surgery and lots of medication. Still, he prevailed and healed. By then he was completely blind but he managed. As long as we didn’t move around the furniture Macallan made his was around just fine. He couldn’t run and fetch anymore but that made him more snuggly and companionable again like when he was a puppy.

In the last week of his life he started to act out of character. He was bumping into things and endlessly circling the house and the back yard unless we held him. Late on the morning of July 4th he fell over having a seizure in the downstairs hallway. Over the rest of the day the seizures got worse and more frequent. He was in so much pain that night and seeing him that way broke our hearts. Early on the morning of July 5th we took him to the vet for observation. Shortly after 9AM my wife and I were called back to be with him. He died in my arms right before 10AM. He was so tenacious and lived life so aggressively that only a brain tumor could bring him down. He was a great companion and the best four legged friend I could ask for. He was our oldest child and my only boy. I will always remember him sleeping on my chest as a puppy, face up so that he could feel my breathing. I love him more than I can express and his loss hurts so much more than I could have expected. A piece of my heart is gone.

I miss you buddy.
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