In the middle of the state of Kentucky sits one of the most famous bourbon distilleries in the world and it’s open for visitors! Every drop of Maker’s Mark bourbon is produced on this very spot. Only by taking the Maker’s Mark Distillery tour, do you get to experience the very workings of a wildly successful bourbon brand.
If you are in Louisville for business or a keen bourbon tourist on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, it’s worth taking the hour ride just to explore the gorgeous countryside, while also learning how the Maker’s Mark bottle got its iconic wax seal.
N.B. Lush Life podcast listeners – this post goes hand in hand with my virtual Maker’s Mark Distillery tour!
Taking the Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour
The tour begins with a jaunt across the property past the oldest liquor store in the country – the Quart House – and into the Still House. Locals rode their horse and buggies right up to the shop, filling their empty bottles with this magical liquor.
A little Maker’s Mark her-story – Bill Samuels may have created the recipe of the bourbon itself in the 1950’s, but it was the marketing brilliance of Bill’s wife, Marjorie Samuels, that put Maker’s Mark on the map. She thought of everything from the name, to the Maker’s Mark bottle design, to the iconic wax seal. More about her later!
One step inside the Still House and you’ll swear you are in a bakery, not a distillery. That oaty aroma emerges from the still as it brews and distills Bill’s carefully planned recipe. The mash bill, as the recipe is called, is heavy on the corn (70%) with hints of malted barley and red winter wheat. None of the usual rye to give it bite. Bill preferred his silky smooth.
The Bottle everywhere!
As you’re walking through the property on the way to the rickhouse, you can’t help but notice that all the buildings are designed in a similar style. Dark brown, wooden panels cover each structure, all with similar red shutters with a singular cut out design.
Taking a closer look at that design, you see it’s the Maker’s Mark bottle! The iconic Maker’s Mark bottle design was Marjorie’s idea as well. Bored by the look of every other bourbon bottle in the market at the time, she patterned it on French brandy bottles instead.
One step into the rickhouse, the name of the structure that houses bourbon while waiting for it to mature, and you can get intoxicated just by inhaling the whiskey, perfumed air. On a romantic note, this airborne spirit is called the Angel’s Share. Now it’s clear why angels always appear to be smiling! While encased in its virgin American Oak barrels, Maker’s Mark Bourbon develops its color and, more importantly, its heavenly flavor.
Each and every label of Maker’s Mark is stamped and cut in this little outbuilding, using machines that are as old as the brand itself. You get to see it as it happens.
Marjorie also designed the label. The name of Maker’s Mark came from the English habit of marking silver with an identifying stamp of the maker, thus Maker’s Mark, the star is for the name of the property Star Hills, S is for Samuels and the IV is to recognize Bill as the fourth generation of distillers.
It’s hard to believe that, in this one room, the bottling process for Maker’s Mark bourbon happens – from empty bottle to packed up and ready to ship out! Every bottle is hand dipped with the Maker’s Mark signature red wax, making sure that no bottle is the same as the next.
Yes, that was Marjorie’s idea. A biochemist by trade, she formulated the wax so it would drip down the bottle and then harden immediately. Her portrait sits right in front of the dipping area in recognition of her genius!
We made a detour into the vault where Maker’s 46 is laying in wait. Bill Samuels, Jr., the son of the original Bill Samuels, created the first product from Maker’s Mark in over 50 years. Taking cask strength Maker’s Mark right from the barrel at 108 to 114 proof, he then opened the barrel and placed ten seared virgin French oak staves (or planks) into that barrel. After only nine weeks, a completely different flavor profile emerges and Maker’s 46 is born ready to be enjoyed.
Finally time to taste everything! Samples of Maker’s Mark Bourbon and Maker’s 46 and a few other specialty Maker’s bourbons you can only find at the distillery are set up and waiting for you. In addition to the two you’ve heard so much about – there are glasses of Maker’s Cask Strength; White Spirit, literally the liquid that comes right out of the still; and also their Private Select bourbons.
Private Select bourbon differs from year to year. Fully aged Maker’s Mark is finished off with different wood staves to create unique flavors. Don’t miss buying a bottle and taking it home – once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Lush Lead – You can hand dip any bottle you purchase. Just make sure you leave time.
Dale Chihuly & Maker’s Mark
Art lovers – don’t miss the artist Dale Chihuly’s fabulous glass pieces. The Amber and New Oak Chandelier, 2017 is in the entrance kiosk above the ticket desk. The Spirit of the Maker, installed in 2014, is on the ceiling of the passageway which links the tasting room to the shop.
Here are some Southern gentlemen I met while on the porch waiting for the Maker’s Mark Distillery tour to begin. They were Maker’s Mark ambassadors, assigned a specific barrel when they signed up, they will receive. Once it’s ready, they can purchase a bottle and receive a one-of-a-kind Ambassador bottle with their name on the label!
If you want to read more about the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, I suggest this great book:
Thanks so much to www.kentuckytourism.com for organizing this trip. All my opinions are my own!