Maker's Mark Distillery
After driving over 40 minutes on a one lane, winding road with a speed limit of 55 mph (do NOT go that fast with large cars) and no other cars in sight, we finally reached Maker's Mark Distillery, where the entrance was marked with a sign that said "You've found the home of Maker's Mark". Thank goodness! The dark brown houses with stunning red shutters on the estate were super cute! Apparently, the romantic reason for why they are painted this way is so that they look like the bottles of Maker's Mark bourbon. But there is a practical reason too. If you look at the trees on the premises, you will see that the bark is extremely dark in color, and it is due to a type of fungus growing all over it. So by painting the buildings an extremely dark brown, they are able to mask that dark-colored fungus that is growing all over the walls.
So what exactly is bourbon? It's a type of whiskey that must be made up of at least 51% corn, but at Maker's Mark, they use 70% corn. Bourbon is mostly made in Kentucky and contains iron-free water that is filtered through limestone, which is unique to the region. And it can't be distilled to more than 160 proof.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was seeing the gigantic fermentation tanks bubbling away. Well, seeing wasn't my favorite part, it was actually dipping our fingers into the tank and tasting the sweet mash that had been fermenting for just one day (it starts tasting icky the longer it ferments). The yeast used to ferment the mash is a strain that has actually been around since the Civil War and has been used in the Samuel's family bourbon recipes from the very beginning.
Walking into the warehouse, you'll get a concentrated whiff of the bourbon aging in the brand new, charred oak barrels. It will make you want to sit in an armchair and sip on a glass of bourbon right there in the midst of seemingly never-ending rows of barrels and a dirt ground.
When you are in the bottling facility, don't forget to look behind you, where there is an entire wall of innovative Maker's Mark advertisements that will get your neurons working.
Finally, the tour will take you to the event that you really came on the tour for: the tasting. It included three of Maker's Mark's bourbons and a bit of their Mint Julep. The easiest one for me to try was the Mint Julep because it's a cocktail rather than just straight up bourbon. But as the designated driver, I handed off all the drinks to Andrew.
This was also a wonderful time to advertise their Ambassador program, which Andrew is a part of. It's free to sign up for it, and basically, you get to go through the entire bourbon-making process starting from the raw components. After waiting several years, during which you can track your bourbon on a phone app, you can go to the distillery and buy the bourbon from the barrel it had been aging in!
After the tasting, we were provided with bourbon chocolates, which I'm definitely not a huge fan of. I think most people would prefer the bourbon straight up than the chocolates. What I thought was interesting, though, was that every distillery we had gone to so far had the exact same chocolates, but the chocolate boxes were all printed with different distillery names...
This year is Maker's Mark's 60th anniversary, and they've got something special to show: a ceiling of glass art pieces done by Dale Chihuly, the glass art expert who is renowned for his work around the world. And it was beautiful! What a spectacular ending to the tour!
And as tours usually do, this one ended up in their store, where you can buy bottles of Maker's Mark and seal it with the red wax yourself. You get all dolled up in an apron, sleeves and protective glasses before you do it. But what you will learn is that it's much more difficult to get that perfect drip look than you'd think!
- Don't worry if you are winding along what seems like a one lane road - keep following the GPS, and you'll actually get to Maker's Mark!
- Unless you want to wax your own bottle, the bottles are a bit expensive here in comparison to our local alcohol shops (if you are from the Chicagoland area, Binny's sells them for much less).
- The tour starts in a little building right next to the parking lot. After you purchase your ticket ($10 per person), make sure you walk around the house to check it, including the sleeping cats!
- There's no public transportation here so get a car!