Maker’s Mark, one of the finest bourbons in the world, is on my mind. I can’t seem to shake it off. It might be because I’ve just returned from a trip to the distillery in rural and scenic Loretto, Kentucky. Yup, that has to be it. And what an excursion this was…
Master distiller Kevin Smith exuded pride for the bourbon he oversees, as did the others at the distillery who so graciously took in this weary traveller. The steamy day (near 100 degrees!) began at the cafe where I enjoyed a bourbon pulled pork sandwich and some of the best baked beans I had ever tried. It was laced with Maker’s, of course. Kevin then brought me into a room that seemed fit for a golf club house: Wood panelling, comfy club chairs, framed photos and memorabilia from a bygone era, and a bar. A bar full of bourbon. This was the Samuels room – a stately place adorned with framed civil war revolvers, photos of various generations of the Samuels family, and a large guidebook of sorts to all things pewter (the metal) called ” Maker’s and Marks”. This book is how this famed Kentucky spirit got its name.
A comparitive tasting of Maker’s and Maker’s 46 ensued, along with a detailed explanation of the differences between the two. The 46 is essentially the Maker’s we all know and love, aged a tad longer in barrels that have the addition of seared Cognac barrel slabs called “Staves”. The result is a rye-like bourbon, complete with spice and caramel notes. The higher proof adds to the punch this bottling produces, something we cocktail-folk like in a base spirit.
Now time for the distillery tour. Before I go on, I would like the reader to note that the grounds on which MM sit are spectacular – quaint, neat, and picturesque. I was a bit surprised at how small the operation was. When you hear Maker’s Mark, you think ginormous mass-produced bourbon and warehouses as far as the eye can see. Boy, was I way off.
Director of guest services, Natalie Stone (who happened to grow up in the Hospitality biz), showed me the bottling and storage facility first. Down a long line go those well-recognized bottles – they are filled, labeled, sealed, and dipped in red wax. Oh the dipping. How unique this additional step is to MM. The ladies on the line must really have biceps of steel, for the rate that they are able to dip the bottles into the red wax is really a sight to see.
The next step is the hand packing of each and every bottle into their cases. The day I was there, the MM commemorative “Holiday” bottle was being produced.
The bottling facility ends at the case storage area, where the bottles are eager to travel to their new homes. The storage area is small, emphasizing the fact that the product is produced in small batches, even with its incredible worldwide demand.
We mosied on over to the granary, where the grains that make up MM (70 percent corn, 16 percent wheat, and 14 percent malted barley) are collected, cleaned, ground up, and cooked in natural spring water. The cooked mixture is then kept in tanks where the fermentation process takes place. At Maker’s they create their own strain of yeast. I had the chance to taste the yeast, and I have to admit, it’s quite tasty.
Two large column stills turn the fermented mash into alcohol. The distillate is aged in New American white oak barrels (as states the law governing bourbon production) that are housed in large black-colored warehouses called rick houses. The Samuels family decided to paint their rick houses black, as opposed to the more traditional white, so that the travelling yeast spores would not show up as prominently on the buildings.
Most of the Ricks on site are three floors, with the heat getting all the more intense the higher up you climb. Classic techniques are still in use at MM, from the hand pressing of the labels to the filling of the barrels. I like seeing this. I liked it a lot.
My day tour concluded with a trip to Kevin’s office. We sat in a side tasting room and compared other bourbons to the two MM bottlings.
Next we paid a visit to the plentiful gift shop, where I signed and dipped my own bottle of Maker’s Mark!
This was a great cap to my afternoon, and it would not end here.
I checked into my hotel…well, bed and breakfast, actually. I am an avid supporter of B and B’s, and have experienced many in my day. But I have to say, the Beautiful Dreamer B and B in Bardstown, KY is among the very best! Lynell, my gracious hostess, went out of her way to accomodate me, and she did it all with a generous southern smile.
My room, the Stephen Foster room, featured a four post queen bed, jacuzzi tub, and flat screen TV. And there were cookies. Oatmeal and raisin cookies freshly baked that day by Lynell. What a treat!
After settling in to my room I experienced a traditional southern dinner at Kurtz’s, a Bardstown institution. Fried biscuits and beets were brought to the table to start, and with appetizers like fried chicken liver, fried oysters, shrimp cocktail, and fried mushroom caps, who would think anyone would have room for an entree? But an entree I did have: baked turkey and ham with mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. And I tried the fried chicken, Kurtz’s specialty. How did I do it? It was okay – I was washing it all down with a Maker’s 46 Manhattan on the rocks. And I could not finish my way through my turkey and ham dinner. I was stuffed, and I had to save room for the bourbon biscuit raisin pudding. That was heavenly.
Needless to say, I slept well that night. I dreamt beautiful dreams in my comfy bed, and awoke bright and early. I walked across the street and explored the “My Old Kentucky Home” state park and golf club. On this property is the mansion that gave Stephen Foster, Kentucky’s state hero, the inspiration to write the KY state song.
Breakfast was served at 9am sharp, and I marvelled at the spread Lynell had for us: Homemade jams, omelette, ham, grits, fresh baked blueberry muffins, juice, and local tomatoes, peaches and blueberries. One of the best breakfasts of my life- my only regret being I had to leave 30 minutes in to catch my flight. Lynell’s breakfast is a multi-course extravaganza that must be savored.
I departed Kentucky with great memories, some of which are captured in photos below. I fully intend to return, and when I do, there would be nothing more pleasing than to experience the exact same trip all over again – my own “Groundhog’s Day”.
For a good run-down of the Maker’s Mark facility, and how to go about visiting them, click on the Whisky.com link below:
The Beautiful Dreamer B and B is located at 44o E. Stephen Foster Ave, Bardstown, KY
Their website is: http://bdreamerbb.com/