Palm Sunday found me in Kentucky. I planned to visit a distillery, of course, so I found a church close to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY. I found St. Rose Proiry and was not disappointed.
After Mass I drove to the distillery and waited until visiting hours began.
Like Woodford Reserve, the site of the distillery is a ways off the beaten path. Not too difficult for Google Maps, but there’s not much cell service in the surrounding area.
I walked around with some other early birds taking photos. At one point I was standing near the Visitor’s Center attached to the old homestead taking photos. The local cat rubbed up against my leg. I hadn’t seen him before so when he touched me I almost jumped over the wall.
The setting is quite beautiful. I think everything is painted black to hide the black grime that grows on everything. The trees are covered.
The Visitor’s Center is a large open area with an old still in the middle. The guy in shorts turned out to be our tour guide. He commented later that he was a teacher and I’d bet he’s pretty good. He was a very good guide.
The tour cost $12. There’s a $3 discount for retired service members and active duty are free.
The area was chosen because of the 10 acre spring set lake on the ridge line above the valley. That fresh water source, filtered by the Kentucky limestone to remove iron, is a familiar refrain at all of the distilleries I’ve visited.
We basically walked right into the production area. Of course the try boxes are a thing of beauty.
The tour was a little out of order, because we went to the fermenting room after the distillery. The vats are huge wooden vats, holding between 19 and 23 barrels worth of bourbon after the volume is distilled twice.
The tour guide surprised us by telling us all to stick our hands in the vats and have a taste. I quickly reasoned that whatever impurities we introduced would be distilled out later, so it makes sense to not worry about a little dirt.
One focus of the tour is the newish bourbon called Maker’s 46. The typical aging process for Maker’s Mark bourbon is to age the barrels for about three years at the top of the warehouse and then move them to the bottom for four years. Each of the warehouses holds around 55,000 barrels, and for some reason 378 barrels makes a batch. The Maker’s 46 is then returned to new barrels which have some french oak staves standing inside. Those staves have been aged in Lebanon KY before they’re used inside these barrels. The bourbon is only aged for nine months, but the master distillers have determined the best nine months include winter. So in order to control that cold period a little better, they built this stone warehouse.
It’s set back into the hillside and then covered in earth so it’s perpetually quite cool.
The next stop was the bottling area. The bottles are washed with bourbon, filled, and capped.
Inside the glass doors you can see the giant bottle that was being filled when the line was shut down on Friday. That big bottle is the best seller in KY. It’s cheaper by the gallon…
Every bottle is hand dipped to get the Maker’s Mark signature red wax top. Those vats are where all of the bottles are individualized. The line ran a little slow last shift, apparently. They didn’t meet their production goal. I wonder if I could help…
The tasting was pretty well laid out, with everything from the white dog moonshine on the left to the longest aged private select on the right. It was instructive to learn where the taste is in your mouth and where you feel the burn or finish as you swallow it. The shorter the age, the more “Kentucky hug” you feel as it burns down into your chest. And again with the chocolates.
The gift shop was full of all manner of branded items, but the highlight was buying a “baby Maker” that didn’t have a wax seal yet and dipping it yourself. Of course you had to wear a apron, sleeves, gloves, and safety glasses to appease the legal community. That bottle cost $19.
I really enjoyed the tour, of course. It was very professional and dipping my own bottle was fun. It will be on the shelf for a while before I decide to pull the tab.
Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour
3350 Burks Spring Rd
Loretto, KY 40037
Part 9 is here.