Friday March 30- It was another rainy day. I was unaware of the number of distilleries in the Elizabethtown area. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail weaves its way through the countryside. There are over thirty distilleries that can be visited including Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, and Makers Mark. I set my sights on Maker’s Mark.
Following Google Maps, I was led to I-65 exit 93 East on the Bluegrass Parkway (SR 9002). I exited at SR 150. The application wanted me to turn right. A roadside sign in front of me pointed left. I switched off Google Maps and followed the sign toward Bardstown.
Before I hit downtown Bardstown I was directed left on SR 49. After a long drive down a winding two lane, too long road I was directed to turn left onto SR 52. By the time I reached Loretto I was in need of gas. I knew I should have fueled up before leaving Elizabethtown. There was one gas station in Loretto. It was very busy. I paid $2.41/ gallon. Not too bad for such a remote place. Maker’s Mark was only a few more miles up the road to the left then another short drive to the entrance on the left. The parking lot sits above the distillery.
My nostrils were filled with a sweet aroma of cooking grains. One woman called it cereal. Maybe she was right. It was very pleasant.
The brick sidewalk directs tourists around a barn and across the street to the front door of the Homeplace. Entering the house a reception room awaits where you can buy a tour ticket for $12.00. I received a senior discount and paid only $9.00. I’ll take it.
I had twenty minutes before my group (group 3) would start the tour. You can walk around the back of the home to catch the view from the terrace. The home overlooks the valley where the distillery buildings spread out with paved walkways linking it all together. Whisky Creek winds through the property toward the Stillhouse. It is a picturesque site. All the buildings are painted black with red trim shutters. It is all well manicured for the tourists delight.
Coffee is available in the house. A large parlor offers a waiting room with two sofas and chairs. The public restrooms are to the left. There are two rooms in the rear with historical information about Maker’s Mark.
My group number was called and we assembled to the right of the house. Our guide was a woman named Austin. After a brief introduction we were led down the brick path to the Stillhouse. The distilling process was explained from raw grains to final bottling. The large copper stills were well polished and in use. The next room had large vats of fermenting grains. Some vats were static. Others were bubbling. The most active vat was rapidly bubbling and spitting. Each vat represents various stages in fermentation. We were welcomed to dip into the vats for a taste. I tasted three. The static vat was bland. A bubbling vat was somewhat sour. The most active vat had a sweet alcohol flavor. We were assured that the fermentation process would kill any germs from our hands.
Next we were escorted to the Quality Control building and the Print Shop. We were given more history and told about the design of the label.The label is still manufactured on the old style printing machine. We were encouraged to grab a sample label as we marched single file through the print shop.
The next stop was a Barrel Warehouse. The barrels are set in the top of the buildings and rotated down as they age. Outside of Loretto I had passed several large black buildings. These immense warehouses stock vast quantities of aging barrels.
We moved through other stops including the warehouse where Maker’s Mark 46 is made. The 46 whisky requires an extra nine weeks aging process in barrels enhanced with specifically made oak staves that flavor the regular Maker’s Mark. The back of the warehouse is built into the hillside to create a cellar with naturally maintained temperature and humidity. It was significantly cooler than the outer area. Some of the barrels contain Select blends made according to special orders of different establishments. There is also a tasting room where specialist verify the quality fo the products.
The last manufacturing stop was the Bottling Line. The bottles are filled, labeled and hand dipped to produce the signature Maker’s Mark bottles. The line workers must perfectly dip 24 bottles per minute. That’s an amazing feat.
The the tour ended at the much anticipated Tasting Room. The group was ushered into a room with glass enclosures lined with long high tables and invited to take a stool with an array of five tasting glasses of various Maker’s Mark products set before each place.The tasting started with Maker’s White, then in order Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46, Maker’s Cask Strength, and Maker’s Select. Our guide made the experience more than just swallowing samples. We were invited to raise each glass to our lips and bury our noses into the glasses before breathing in the scent through our mouths. We then rolled the liquid onto the back of our tongues savoring each sample before swallowing it. Each had a unique flavor and affect. Some were sensed on the sides of the tongue, others toward the middle or front. Some produced the release of a lot of saliva, others were dry. Everyone had their favorites. I preferred the regular Maker’s Mark. To each their own. I am not a whisky drinker but I wanted to go on a tour. It was a good experience.
For some reason we were ushered straight from the Tasting Room into the Gift Shop. On the way we were treated to a chocolate covered bourbon ball. Very good. I think they loosened us up in hopes of us buying a T-shirt, sweatshirt, or various Maker’s Mark souvenirs including the bottled products. As a special treat you could even hand dip your own bottle. I bought a bottle of Maker’s Mark, and a gift bottle of Maker’s Mark 46 for someone. They know who they are.
As I walked towards the exit I found the Star Hill Restaurant. By this time I was very hungry. The special was fish with two sides. That was my selection. I was given three large battered deep fried fish with macaroni and cheese, and coleslaw. Including a bottled water it cost $15.90. It tasted amazingly good. I finished the fish and macaroni and cheese but could not finish all the coleslaw. It was just that much food.
A field stone wall lined the walkway outside the restaurant along Whisky Creek. I crossed the stream through a small covered footbridge, paralleled the backyard of the house at the base of the hill then walked up toward the reception area to ask for better directions to Elizabethtown than Google Maps could offer. The tour guide had told us we could get such information.
The directions took me back to SR 52 west through Loretto all the way to New Haven then left onto 31E past the familiar Lincoln’s Boyhood Home to Hodgenville then to SR 61 to I-65 north exiting at exit 94 back to the RV site. Aside from a trip to Kroger grocery store my day was over.