Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Not for nothing does my Twitter profile include the word boozehound. I love cocktails, experimenting with ingredients, and the Thin Man movies.

What’s that I smell? I do believe it’s happiness.

So, it wasn’t much of a stretch, when planning a road trip from Indiana to South Carolina, to include a stint in bourbon country. What I didn’t realize when scheduling this journey to follow a business trip to Indianapolis was that my first weekend in Kentucky would be Derby Weekend. As such, I decided to go well past Louisville that first night, ending up in Bardstown, 40 miles south of Churchill Downs and self-proclaimed bourbon capital of the world.

Bardstown is a historic town in the heart of bourbon country and is a great jumping off point for touring the countryside. At one time, there were over 20 distilleries in this area. It is also reputed to be the place where Stephen Foster wrote “My Old Kentucky Home” and certainly strolling through the historic district makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time. Or maybe that’s just the mint juleps from the Old Talbott Tavern talking.

To give you an idea of how seriously Bardstown takes its bourbon, I present the menu from the Old Talbott Tavern.

While there are a number of distilleries with tours, my sister and I decided to visit Maker’s Mark in Loretto and I’m glad we did. Not only was the setting beautiful, but the tour was extremely interesting and we even got to chat a bit with Bill Samuels, Jr., who recounted incredible tales of life under Prohibition, his godfather Jim Beam, and how his mother designed the bottle of Maker’s Mark.

Every bourbon has its own recipe, but what makes it bourbon is that the grain content is more than 51% corn and the whiskey is aged in new, charred-oak barrels before bottling. Also, by various trade agreements, bourbon is a uniquely American product. Maker’s Mark uses corn, barley, and winter wheat (instead of rye) to make their signature product and each bottle is still hand-dipped on the assembly line. You can even dip your own bottle in the gift shop (yes, of course I did).

The dippers get into the Derby spirit.

On the day we were visiting, rather than have separate tour guides, everyone manned a different station around the large campus to answer questions and provide information. I was amazed at the science that goes into production, from the physics of storing barrels in warehouses without electricity (risk of fire), to the chemistry of fermentation and distillation, to the math of anticipating production years in advance.

Maker’s Mark is double-distilled in copper pots. The Still House was noisy as hell but smelled absolutely delicious.

I’ve always been a fan of Maker’s Mark, and to see the love and care they obviously put into this product made me happy to be one. If you find yourself anywhere in the vicinity, I highly recommend a visit.


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