Travel

A visit to Maker’s Mark Distillery

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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.

Mash
Mash
Pots

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
Tasting

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 thoughts on “A visit to Maker’s Mark Distillery

  1. Dani says:

    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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. tbm3fan says:

    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.

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  5. 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.

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    • 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.

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  6. analogphotobug says:

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

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    • 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.”

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  7. Heide says:

    “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!

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    • 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!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Heide says:

        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? :-)

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  8. 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.

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    • 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.

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  9. Clare Hennessey says:

    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.

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  10. Nancy Stewart says:

    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.

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  11. Pingback: Bourbon – jfbonnin-logbook

  12. DougD says:

    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.

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    • 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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