Right on the Mark…at Maker’s Mark

Given our plans to go back to Ohio for the Christmas holiday, we have elected to maintain a slow pace for the next couple of months. Although our hearts are in the West, having both grown up in the Midwest we’ve decided it is time to explore some states right outside our childhood backyard.  We suspect that the culture of some of the small towns we plan to visit will fit well with this slower travel pace.

Beautiful autumn day at Maker's Mark
Beautiful autumn day at Maker’s Mark

Kentucky is the first state on our list, birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, horse capital of the world, and home to the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Thanks to the government shutdown :(, which has closed the gates to national parks and landmarks, we have literally been driven to drink (hehe).  Terry decided the first order of business was to hit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.   This delighted him to no end, but the prospect of sipping bourbon quite frankly made me shudder, not one to imbibe in whiskey.

Meandering down narrow country roads, we came upon Maker’s Mark, a small-batch bourbon distillery outside the tiny town of Loretto.  The grounds, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980, are quite picturesque and a feeling of serenity sets in as soon as your toes touch the ground.

Serene grounds mark this National Historic Landmark
Serene grounds mark this National Historic Landmark

Be forewarned, should you decide to go, if you want a taste, you’ve got to take the tour, and if you are lucky enough to snag Aggie as your guide, you are in for a treat.

Quart House, designated America’s oldest remaining “retail package liquor store”
Quart House, designated America’s oldest remaining “retail package liquor store”

President Lyndon Johnson’ specifications, dubbed the “Bourbon Laws”, are the gold standard today for classifying whiskey as bourbon:

  • Grain mix must be at least 51% corn
  • Must be stored in new, charred white oak barrels
  • Must be no more than 160 proof (Maker’s Mark is 90 proof)
  • Aged at least 2 years
  • No added ingredients to color or flavor it
  • Must be made in America

Maker’s Mark is a 4th generation distillery, with an interesting family story and some very unique qualities.  William Samuels Sr. is credited with the original Maker’s Mark recipe, determined to use red winter wheat instead of the rye that most other distillers were using.  During the planning stage he didn’t have time to distill and age each batch for tasting, so instead opted to make a loaf of bread from each recipe.  The bread baked with no rye was the hands-down winner, hence no rye in this bourbon.

S IV ~ Samuels 4th-generation Distiller
S IV ~ Samuels 4th-generation Distiller

The Maker’s Mark trademark name was created by William’s wife Margie, who also designed the signature label.

It was a very hands-on process when production began in 1954, and remains so to this day.  Its uniqueness can be summed up by four W’s:

  • Water – pure limestone spring water, absolute best for making bourbon
  • Wheat – replaces rye used by most distillers
  • Wood – 150 to 200-year-old cypress barrels to store the sour mash
  • Wax – distinctive hand-dipped red wax seals

Maker’s Mark uses the same old roller mill they always have to slowly crush the grains, which are then mixed with limestone-laden water to begin the distilling process.  This grain and water mix is placed into 150-year old cypress barrels to begin the fermenting process, breaking down into a sour mash.

Fingers in the sour mash?  Just all part of the tour.
Fingers in the sour mash? Just all part of the tour.

Fast forward to laying the whiskey to rest, where it is poured into white oak barrels that have been charred on the inside for 40 seconds, to open the pores in the wood and caramelize the natural sugars.  These barrels are now ready for the rickhouse, a warehouse several stories tall, where they are stored for aging. Maker’s Mark is one of the few distilleries that hand-rotates its 500-pound barrels from the upper to lower levels of the rickhouse during the aging process to even out differences in temperature on the various floors.

In the rickhouse
In the rickhouse

After three years a tasting committee samples the bourbon to determine which barrels are ready to be rotated down to a more humid, cooler floor of the warehouse, to reside for the rest of the aging process.

And now for the moment most have anticipated during the tour, the tasting room.

Bourbon tasters
Bourbon tasters

After all this schooling on the distilling of bourbon, I have worked up a thirst and my curiosity has been peaked.  Not bad, but have I become a spirits’ convert? Nope, give me a glass of red wine any day!  Terry, however, enjoyed it so much a bottle of their special Maker’s 46 came home with us, but not before he sealed his own bottle.

Terry gearing up!
Terry gearing up!

For those who have ever played cards with Terry, dealing blackjack in Vegas is not in his future (hehe) but he may be onto something with this dipping gig. 😉

Terry's dip of perfection
Terry’s dip of perfection

Some of Maker’s Mark profits go to Habitat for Humanity and the preservation and development of new public parklands.  Now that is something I can raise a glass to!

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74 thoughts on “Right on the Mark…at Maker’s Mark

  • Looks like a great tour to take, and what beautiful landscapes to photograph. I think I would not be able to open a bottle that I have sealed, myself; like a trophy! Glad to see you are taking the opportunity to do this kind of touring while in the area. Enjoy!

    • Luckily the wax running down the bottle remains intact even after opening, so Terry’s masterpiece was still intact. 😉 I enjoyed learning the distillation process, as I did when we toured tequila distilleries in Mexico, but whiskey – not for me!

  • Fantastic, Sounds like it was a spirited day. It’s a pity that you couldn’t go to some of the places, but this seems to have made a good substitute, especially for Terry 🙂

    Thank you for sharing this with us LuAnn

  • So glad to hear you guys are back on the road again. I’ll bet it felt really great to get going. – Karen & Collins

  • Oh Yay, Terry and LuAnn on the road again,
    “On the road again –
    Just can’t wait to get on the road again.
    The life I love is making music with my friends
    And I can’t wait to get on the road again.
    On the road again
    Goin’ places that I’ve never been.
    Seein’ things that I may never see again”

    Old Willie Nelson said it all.. it really made my heart smile to see Terry enjoying himself.. but only one bottle Terry? maybe the second one was needed to master the sealing…
    LuAnn the photos and the way you write,.. smile.. I’ve missed your rovings and I’m pleased that you’re on the way to wherever and we get to come along.. I’m afraid I have to agree with you on the whiskey, in my drinking days I could not drink whiskey, it tasted to me as if I was drinking after shave…

    • “Goin’ places that I’ve never been. Seein’ things that I may never see again”. For those of us with the need to wander, there is so much beauty in this world, which I hope you and Linda get to experience in style soon :). We are doing some workamping along the way as well, which I may write about at some point, but for now, we are relishing exploring some of the small communities in Kentucky. And yes, aftershave is an apt description of whiskey in my book ;), but the distilling process is rather fascinating.

    • I am not a whiskey gal myself, but the grounds at Maker’s Mark are lovely and the distillation process very interesting. First on our list was seeing some of the horse farms, Cumberland Falls, and although we have already seen a few caves, Mammoth Cave as well, if our government officials ever come to their senses.

  • We love touring any type manufacturing, even if we don’t part take in the product. I believe it was the Jack Daniel’s whiskey tour we did when in the area. It was great fun seeing just how small these processing facilities area. Hope you complete the trail and get a shirt at the end! Love Terry’s masterpiece:)

    Have you toured the Corvette factory in that area? That was a fun time, as well. It was neat watching the owner get to be the first to turn the key on their new car as it came off the line.

    Enjoy your relaxing, slow tour. That really is the way to do it.

    • While on the tour, we struck up a conversation with an older gentleman in his 80’s who had completed the trail and was doing it again, and said he had gotten the shirt. Doubt we will be doing that as I don’t think I could go through that many whiskey tastings (lol). We want to see Mammoth Cave NP, if it opens, and I want to see fall colors, some of the horse farms, and Cumberland Falls, to name a few. We picked up the KY Visitor Guide and I’ve flagged lots of sights, much more than we will see, I’m sure. The Corvette factory is on the list, so we shall see. 🙂

    • It is good to be on the road again. I am looking forward to seeing some of the horse farms this state is known for, as well as Cumberland Falls, Abe Lincoln’s birthplace, and Mammoth Cave NP, if those guys and gals in government would come to their senses. 😉

    • Thanks for the tip Nan and stopping by. I will add that to the list. I went over to your blog and commented on your latest post but not sure the comment was accepted.

    • Terry did enjoy it and loves to sip on a good bourbon, which is beyond me. 😉 He didn’t want to open it after dipping it, then realized the seal could still be preserved (silly boy).

  • Terry sealed his own bottle, he looks really happy 🙂 My hubby would be so jealous if he read your post… Kentucky looks beautiful. Thanks for touring Maker’s Mark!

  • We’re glad to see you having a fun exploring time once again. We need to a see a photo of you also once in a while, Lulu.

  • Sounds like a tour John would enjoy! So glad you are out on the road and sometimes we need to explore those places closer to us. We are in Nashville for a week, we so want this shutdown to be over with, I had plans for several COE parks and Smokey Mountain NP but will make different plans if this keeps going.

    • It’s got to end soon, doesn’t it? We hope so too Janie as we are planning to see Mammoth Cave NP and Abe Lincoln’s birthplace, both shut down. Hope one day to sit around the fire with the two of you again, tipping a glass and sharing stories. 🙂

  • LuAnn thanks for the “tour” Chris has owned stock in this company for many years so it’s fun to get a bit of a personal take on the operation. I am sure you will enjoy whatever adventures you discover near “home” until it’s time to hit the road for the western states again. At least you are on the road again 🙂

    • Thanks Ardythe. Interesting that Chris owns Maker’s Mark stock. It was such a fascinating tour, I’m sure more so thanks to our tour guide. It is good to be exploring again. 🙂

  • Definitely a place to visit if ever in the area. Makes it extra special to know that some of their proceeds go to great causes.
    Cool that Terry got to seal his own bottle!

  • It’s lovely to see you both out and about again 😀
    Terry was in his element !! The local Spanish dialect call whisky “Wikky” which took me a while to understand what they were talking about. Ralph xox 😀

  • We’ve spent a lot of time in KY so your tour made me a bit homesick. Neither of us are whiskey drinkers but had to try the samples at the end of the tours. Being from Ohio myself, I understand your desire to see the surrounding states… so much to see!

    • Thanks for stopping by Sharon and for the comment. We are looking forward to a slow pace for awhile. Hope the nostalgia my post evoked for you has some good memories surrounding it.

  • You are an awesome tour guide (and great writer). Along with the excellent narrative and photographs is the inclusion of Terry and your own experiences (fun)! In addition,,the inclusion of all the historical references (so important for understanding the richness of life as an American – the yesterday part of things) make this an outstanding “read” LuAnn! Finally, sharing with us the information that Makers Mark is “Paying it Forward” by giving some of their profits to worthy projects is the icing on the cake! Thank you, LuAnn! 🙂 xo.

      • It was rather interesting. I am looking forward to exploring horse farms and seeing some fall colors. We are doing a bit of workamping right now as well, something I may or may discuss in a blog as I have some mixed emotions and, like everything else in life it seems, there is a story behind it. It is dreary here today and this is our “Friday”, so hopefully we can have some fun these next couple of days.

      • Ah, mixed emotions. Wouldn’t it be nice if “like in cooking” there were recipes available so we could always mix our emotions in just the right way. (sorry, just me being whimsical – a nice thought though, huh?) Sending the brightness of sunshine your way for today and the next few to come, LuAnn! xx

      • Mixing our emotions in just the right measurements…now that would be wonderful, but maybe a bit boring at times. 😉 Big hugs coming your way Penny.

  • I read your latest posts and had not had the opportunity to express my best wishes and solidarity, I guess is not easy to face cancer but there is always a new dawn and I am happy to see that you are enjoying it! blessings to you

  • Hey! LuAnn, I didn’t know that Rob could sing, but I must say old Willy Nelson says it all. Lovely to see you two having fun again, enjoy……..AND Terry, enjoy the whiskey ……..

  • LuAnn, please pass on to Terry that you’ve hit on something near and dear to my heart … bourbon. As you may or may not have picked up, I grew up in KY and most of my family is still there today. I visited Maker’s Mark long before there was a Bourbon Trail and thanks to this great post I get to see recent photos. On our most recent trip to KY, we managed to squeeze in visits to Town Branch Distillery (Lexington), Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, and Wild Turkey (all near Frankfort). Also, I see that you have more travel planned for KY and your ideas for destinations are spot on. I grew up 12 miles from Mammoth Cave, and Terri and I went to Cumberland Falls on our honeymoon. Now that sanity has prevailed in DC (well maybe), hopefully the parks will be open and you can make it to each of these. Both are pretty cool. And BTW, the Woodford Reserve tour is also very nice. ~ James

    • James, we will probably do the Wild Turkey tour and are definitely planning to go to Cumberland Falls and Mammoth Cave. I want to tour some horse farms as well. We are planning to be in KY through Dec, as we are also doing some seasonal work, which we committed to before all the craziness of the summer started. After the holidays we are then going to be on the move. Thanks so much for the tips James. 🙂

    • I will pass that on to him James. We are also planning to go to Wild Turkey, Mammoth Cave and Cumberland Falls. We will be in Kentucky through most of December, also doing some seasonal work, a commitment we made prior to the craziness of the summer. I want to visit some horse farms as well, and have a few more sights on my list. Thanks so much for the other tips James. 🙂

  • I’d choose wine over whiskey. But yeah Luann, you need to scoot over and have Terry enjoy the trip.:D Look, he’s so happy!!! Now, that’s your joy from trip. 😉

  • I am a wine person too, but am game to try other stuff on and off. Seems like a great start to your travel plans Luann. Happy to come along on your fascinating trips 🙂

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