On Saturday I traveled to Loretto, KY for W-‘s father’s birthday where we all took the Maker’s Mark distillery tour. Like the Jim Bean tour we took last year, Maker’s Mark is also part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which I’m convinced would be a bourbon lover’s dream trip. I, on the other hand, am still a lover of the fruity drinks rather than something like bourbon, which tastes like it’s trying to burn my esophagus on the way down, but the Jim Beam tour was interesting and it was a birthday present, so I didn’t protest.
Loretto, KY feels like it’s ages away from anything, especially when coming from Tennessee and considering there’s also a time zone change mid-trip. There’s very few food options once you leave the interstate, so I recommend planning accordingly (unlike us). You know you’re getting close when you start seeing the large gated barrel warehouses on the edge of town, and from there just follow the signs to Maker’s Mark.
The distillery’s campus surprised me with how pretty and quaint it was. I was expecting a look that was more industrial, but none of the buildings gave off that impression in the slightest. Tours begin at a renovated house at the top of a hill, where guests enter through what appears to be a former sun room and then can mill around the first floor while waiting for the next tour. My favorite details were the bourbon-themed mosaics outside the bathrooms.
The tour is a walking tour, so comfy shoes are a must. The group starts by following a guide down a paved path to the bottom of the hill. The first building is where the bourbon process begins – the liquid is sent through several tubes to adjust the proof, and then it’s placed in one of the original eight oak barrels for three days. It was very interesting seeing the bourbon to-be in various states as it went from being a very bubbly liquid to more of a cornbread texture on top.
While we saw several other building, including where they make the Premium Select bourbon and the line where workers dip the filled bottles into Maker’s signature red wax (which was sadly wasn’t running while we were there), my favorite building was Maker’s smallest barrel warehouse. Located on the main campus instead of on the outskirts of town with the rest, the barrel warehouse was fascinating as the guide explained how the workers develop a technique to roll the barrels into position so the poplar corks land on top each time (a necessity so too much bourbon doesn’t leak out of the cork). We also got to see how the barrels are stacked/rotated, and the specials stamps on the side that indicate to warehouse workers if the bourbon is ready for taste-testing or not.
The final stop on the tour (prior to the gift shop, of course!) is the tasting room. We tried five different bourbons – Maker’s White, Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, and the “Tasters” variety of Maker’s Mark Private Select, which can only be found in the Maker’s gift shop. I tried each one because I’m a good sport, but I found the Maker’s 46 to be so strong that it took all of my willpower to stave off a coughing fit. My “favorite” – which I still would never drink again – was the “Taster” Private Select since it seemed a touch less harsh than the others. The one thing I did appreciate about the tasting experience was the guide’s instructions to not smell the bourbon by breathing through the nose, but rather by breathing through the mouth with your mouth outside of the glass and your nose above the glass, which is something I had never been taught before. It made for a very pleasant smelling experience.