As we drove through Loretto, KY after leaving Mammoth Caves, we knew when we were getting close to the distillery as we passed a dozen large black buildings with the Maker’s Mark Logo on the side. These buildings house thousands of barrels of aging bourbon. After a long and winding drive, we finally arrived at the small parking lot and signed up for the distillery tour.
The tour was very informative about how the Samuels family created what we know today as Maker’s Mark – from the flavor to the shape of the bottle and the famous red wax.
The tour itself wasn’t quite as entertaining as the one we did at Jack Daniel’s since our tour guide wasn’t as enthusiastic and they we’re currently making any bourbon during our visit. We did enjoy the aroma of standing in their warehouse surrounded by thousands of gallons of aging bourbon though.
We also go to see a portion of their bottling process which includes an automated system that rinses each bottle with Maker’s bourbon prior to being filled! The bottles are then each hand dipped in wax giving each bottle a unique drip pattern, with a minimum number of drips to pass their quality test. They claim that each operator develops a certain style and can actually identify their own bottles if they see it in a store.
Of course one of the best parts of a distillery tour is the tasting!
We got to taste 4 types of bourbon of varying availability. First was Maker’s White, which is the bourbon prior to aging in the barrels, also known as moonshine or white lightning. It’s only available for purchase at the distillery and only recommended for cooking, not drinking. The taste is very harsh and burns your throat even though they dilute it for the tasting.
The next was Fully Matured, i.e. standard Maker’s Mark, which was very smooth and enjoyable after the moonshine. The tour guide did a really nice job of describing how the flavors would interact with your taste buds, activating different parts of your tongue and making them tingle.
Next was Over-Matured, which tastes terrible, like extremely bitter charcoal and is basically provided just to prove the point that too much time in the barrel isn’t always good. If aged too long, the bourbon soaks beyond the burned layer of the barrel and into the raw wood, imparting the bitter flavor.
The last taste was Maker’s 46 which goes through an additional special aging process and is more mellow than normal Maker’s. We both enjoyed this the most so we purchased a bottle in the gift shop.
Another perk to purchasing the bottle at the distillery is that they have dipping stations where you get to dip your own bottle! Katharine dipped our bottle and did an amazing job creating just enough drips to pass a normal production grade bottle!
On our way out we also enjoyed some well-placed glass art by Chihuly, which cast a colorful glow over the barrels.
So far we’ve really enjoyed factory tours of companies that take pride in their product. Not only is it interesting and entertaining, but you get a sense of brand loyalty, which makes us wonder why more companies don’t create tours for their customers. (The other tours we’ve done which we highly recommend are Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee and Celestial Seasonings in Colorado.)