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I first drank bourbon in college: Jim Beam, mixed in plenty of Coke. “Cheap and effective,” one of my roommates said as he poured me my first one. For both reasons, it became my drink of choice.

I tried Jim Beam straight once, just a few sips. Brr. What a rough ride that was on my palate and down my throat, burning all the way. “That’ll put hair on your chest,” as my grandfather used to say. I concluded that bourbon was best used for mixing.

Then one day a buddy brought a bottle of Maker’s Mark to share. He poured a healthy ounce into my cup and bade me sip. I didn’t want it straight, but I also didn’t want to be unkind, so I sipped. I was surprised, and then delighted: this stuff is good!

After I graduated I switched to beer. Imported beers were a big fad then, and I fell right in. So it went for the next 20 years. I wasn’t a big drinker, but when I wanted a drink I ordered a German altbier or an Irish stout.

In my 40s my digestion started playing tricks on me, and I discovered that a gluten-free diet eased my symptoms. Beer was out. But I remembered Maker’s Mark, and so when I wanted a drink that’s what I reached for. It was as good as I remembered.

At some point I heard about the Maker’s Mark Ambassador program. Just for signing up you get a lot of marketing emails. Far more interestingly, you also get annual Christmas gifts (last year it was socks imprinted with Maker’s Mark bottles) and your name (with 29 others) on a freshly sealed barrel that will, in time, become Maker’s Mark. When your barrel matures, you can visit the distillery and buy bottles from it.

My barrel matured last October, so Margaret and I made our way to Kentucky recently to tour the distillery and buy my bottles.

At the Maker's Mark Distillery
At the Maker's Mark Distillery
At the Maker's Mark Distillery

What a beautiful place the Maker’s Mark distillery is! Our tour guide told us that Margie Samuels, wife of original distiller Bill Samuels, saw that bourbon tourism might one day be a thing and made sure the distillery buildings and grounds would create a lovely and engaging experience for the people who would one day come.


The tour itself taught me all about how bourbon is made, something to which I’d given scant thought before. I took two more distillery tours this long weekend and learned that there isn’t much variation among distilleries, except in the type and proportion of grains they use in their recipes, which they call mash bills.

In the rickhouse

My favorite two stops on our tour was to the warehouse, also called a rickhouse or a rackhouse, where the bourbon is aged; and the tasting. They gave us sips of the moonshine that ages into all Maker’s Mark products, and of each of the bourbons they sell.

At the Maker's Mark Distillery
At the Maker's Mark Distillery

People from all walks of life joined us on our tour. Who knew that bourbon could bring together Americans from so many different backgrounds? Perhaps a healthy pour, toasted together, is what this country needs to find unity again.

Ambassador bottle

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38 responses to “A visit to Maker’s Mark Distillery”

  1. Dani Avatar

    Jim, I’m so glad you were able to take the tour! We did the tour when “my” barrel came due a couple years ago. The grounds truly are lovely. My bottle remains unopened but I’ve been thinking lately that it isn’t doing anyone any good just sitting in the cabinet. Might have to remedy that.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I signed up to be an Ambassador because of you! Thank you! It was fun to visit and buy the bottles.

  2. traveller858 Avatar

    Jim, thanks for putting a little more information about your Maker’s Mark visit and your ambassadorialship. Barry.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. J P Avatar

    Jim Beam and I had a terrible argument early in my freshman year of college and it was about a decade before brown liquor would cross my lips again.

    Although I tend to be a scotch guy, bourbon is a nice place to visit occasionally. And this tour looks like it would be a great destination.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I had a similar terrible argument with Southern Comfort somewhere during college and still won’t touch the stuff. I’m otherwise an equal opportunity whiskey sipper.

  4. Nancy Stewart Avatar
    Nancy Stewart

    Very interesting …. verbally and visually !!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Just wait: tours of the Willett and Heaven Hill distilleries to come right here on the blog!

  5. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    The nuns!
    Also, that whole buy the bottle with your name on it is pure marketing genius.
    The tour looks fun.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The nuns were hilarious! The whole whiskey tourism thing in Kentucky is genius.

  6. Stuart Templeton Avatar


    Looks like a great tour – Margie Samuels obviously had a lot of foresight.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It was a great tour! I want Margaret to sign up as an Ambassador on her own so we can do it again.

      1. Stuart Templeton Avatar

        That’d be great!

  7. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    Another single malt guy here, I’ll get a bourbon once in a while though it tends to end up mixed in baked beans more than anything. Used a lot of Beam at Ohio State, mostly in cocktails (like you) or in cooking. Still I envy you and would love to tour some distilleries in Kentucky, my brother and his friend did that for their bachelor’s parties. As an aside, have you seen the bourbon documentary on Netflix? Worth checking out.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I didn’t know there was a bourbon documentary on Netflix! I’ll look it up.

      I feel fortunate, as a bourbon lover, that I live 3 hours away from most of the distilleries. It’s easy for me to dip down there for a weekend.

      1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

        Yeah makes me miss living in Ohio, I definitely had a few missed opportunities there!

  8. tbm3fan Avatar

    For you it was Jim Beam and for me it was Jack Daniels. Sometime in the late 90s I got introduced to Maker’s Mark and that was all she wrote. There is a Jack Daniels bottle, sitting on a shelf, for the last 25 years now untouched. I enjoyed it so much that I always packed two bottles to bring with me to the Philippines where a bar owner would store it for my bourbon and water over a two week vacation. Along the way I experimented and also found that I like Woodford Reserve very much.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That poor lonely JD bottle! I like Woodford too.

  9. Michael McNeill Avatar

    Nice post. Whiskey/Whisky (as probably everyone knows nowadays) originates from the Gaelic word uisce, meaning water. Water of life we always knew it by and a ‘hot toddy’ was a popular drink in the depths of winter here in Ireland for men and women of a certain age. From what I can see, the Young Ones like their JD – I tried it a few times, but it wasn’t for me.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m not much of a JD person either. I do like my Irish whiskeys; of the common ones, I like Tullamore Dew the most I think. Happily it’s about $20 for 750 ml here making it a good buy.

      1. tbm3fan Avatar

        Being Irish ancestry I just happen to have Tullamore Dew, Jameson, and the oh so fine Bushmills Black Bush.

        1. tbm3fan Avatar

          Should note I do like the fact that Black Bush uses a cork for the bottle.

  10. analogphotobug Avatar

    Ok The Nuns were fun. But What’s up with them? Just taking a Distillery Tour or was there something more to it?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The nuns were just there for the tour! They played their roles to the hilt, especially when one of them described very nicely the flavor notes of Maker’s Mark, but then paused and said, “Not that we would know anything about it, of course.”

  11. Heide Avatar

    “Perhaps a healthy pour, toasted together, is what this country needs to find unity again.” I quit drinking years ago — but for that, I’d make an exception. What a fun post, Jim!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve relied a little too much on bourbon to get me through the tough stuff of our lives these past few years — I’m cutting way back. But wouldn’t it be awesome to raise a national toast to unity!

      1. Heide Avatar

        I know of which you speak, Jim — I do remember your post on how the occasional drink can morph into a daily habit. But national unity would indeed be worth a toast.

        Gosh. Maybe we should start a National Toast Night to mix drinking and politics? What could possibly go wrong? :-)

  12. Olli Thomson Avatar

    Great story. I hope you’re enjoying the bottles. I’ve never made it to Makers Mark but we did visit Jack Daniels many years ago only to discover we couldn’t get a drink because it was a dry county. I prefer Scottish malts myself but we did have a bottle of Makers Mark and a couple of bottles of Bushmills on the table at the weekend for our late St Patricks Day dinner.

    Did you have any issues with taking photographs there? I recall that when we visited Islay some of the distilleries were very rigid about taking pictures (I’m looking at you Ardbeg) while most were happy to let us all shoot away anywhere.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is amusing that JD is distilled in a dry county. I do enjoy a good scotch, but the prices over here drive me to bourbon. All of the distilleries we visited encouraged photography.

  13. M.B. Henry Avatar

    What a cool visit! And such nice pictures too.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you!

  14. Clare Hennessey Avatar
    Clare Hennessey

    I have to agree, regarding Southern Comfort. It was some 45 years ago that I was savaged by a bottle of said liquor. Another great post, many thanks Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, that stuff is potent. More potent than its proof.

  15. Nancy Stewart Avatar
    Nancy Stewart

    Having worked at a convent for many years, I can attest to the fact that the nuns tip the old bottle occasionally. Beer, wine,etc. Especially when there’s a big game or holiday.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sure! Having a drink isn’t a sin. Drunkenness is. There’s some distance between the two.

  16. […] A visit to Maker’s Mark Distillery […]

  17. DougD Avatar

    Sounds like good fun. I’ve never had Maker’s Mark, being imported it’s the same price here as Scotch.

    Interesting comment about most things being the same but the ingredients. I’m having “Scotch Night for Gentlemen” with some friends on Friday night, and I’ve found in my pre-research that the reason Canadian Whiskey is mostly terrible is that they only use rye, not barley as with Scotch. Beats me why, you’d think there’d be a market for something you could sip straight up.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wow, here MM is above cheap but below mid-priced. Amazing what importing will do.

      Yeah, Canadian whiskey can be pretty rough. There are some premium brands on the shelves here but I haven’t tried them.

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