6/21/09

90 Proof Americana

Bourbon, like jazz music and the literary short story, is a uniquely American art form. Unlike jazz and the short story however, it cannot be copied elsewhere. For a whiskey to receive the label "bourbon" it must be made in America, and 95% of the bourbon produced is made in Kentucky.

Mr. P and I took advantage of a kid-free weekend (i.e. we were completely at loose ends without boys to wrangle) to travel a section of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

I'm going to tell you about Maker's Mark because it was the prettiest. (Sorry - that's what you get when a girl writes about bourbon.)

Situated in a picturesque, tree lined hollow, the distillery is composed of a small number of neat, dark buildings trimmed in that famous Maker's Mark red.

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I learned that the reason nearly all bourbon is made in Kentucky is because of the water. Kentucky has a layer of limestone in the earth, and limestone filters iron from the water. Iron in the water turns bourbon very dark and affects the taste, making Kentucky's naturally iron-free water ideal.

The process goes something like this: Grains are crushed - corn (bourbon must contain at least 51% corn, which makes it sweeter than whiskey), barley malt, wheat, - and go into the cooker with the limestone water and sour mash water (water drained from the previous day's cooking). This is slow cooked for 3.5 hours.

It is poured into cypress wood vats. At Maker's Mark, the vats are 12 feet around and 12 feet deep (don't drop your camera) and some of the vats are over 100 years old.

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150 gallons of yeast is added to the mash. You can see the yeast causing it to bubble up.

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We were allowed to stick a finger in and taste the mash, which is yeasty (duh) and a bit sour.

It goes next to the still & the distillation tanks, where evaporation makes the air inside and surrounding the entire building smell like bread dough. The smell is absolutely wonderful and the lost portion of the bourbon to evaporation is called "the angel's share."

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This is the still. It's 30 feet tall.

The clear bourbon (it looks like water) is poured into white oak barrels where it will begin the aging process. The barrels are made in Kentucky (with no glue or nails), and are burned, or charred, on the inside. The charring is critical as it caramelizes the sugar in the oak, allowing the bourbon to draw sweetness as it ages and also giving it it's distinctive amber color.

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The free tour ends with a tasting. You get a shot of "white dog," which is what they call the newly distilled, yet to be aged whiskey. Moonshine, basically. And a shot of aged Maker's Mark bourbon.

White Dog & Bourbon

The cough is part of the finish. I'm sure of that. *cough* *dabs eyes*

Maker's Mark is a handcrafted small-batch bourbon maker. The small size of the building where the still and the fermenting tanks are located is surprising when you consider they supply the world - 20 countries - with Maker's Mark. Each bottle is even hand labeled and hand dipped in that red wax.

They even let you dip your own bottle! In each case of Maker's they "slam dunk" two bottles, meaning that instead of dunking just the neck of the bottle, they plunge it in all the way to the label. Slam dunked bottles are apparently sought by collectors and if you ever see one you should buy it.

I slam dunked my bottle.

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She's explaining what to do and I'm paying strict attention since the wax is 350 degrees!

Maker's Mark Red Wax Dipping

Slam dunk!

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And I did it! No 3rd degree burns!

The Bourbon Trail tours are fascinating and free. The distillers each have secret recipes, some dating back hundreds of years, and have made an art of distilling, mixing, and aging bourbon.

And back at home I have proudly displayed my bottle on the bar. It has a "foot" - a puddle of red wax at the base. And P got me some mint julep mix, so guess what I'm going to be sipping on the deck this evening!

Maker's Mark & Mint Julep Mix

Note 1: The blurry pictures are blurry because the focus on my camera only works about 1/3 of the time. It's so frustrating I can't even talk about it. Conveniently, it makes me need a shot of bourbon.

Note 2: This post was not in any way sponsored or compensated. I'm sharing our fun learnings with you because I love you.

CHEERS!

15 comments:

Pop and Ice said...

I've never tried bourbon, but if you tell me about your favorite mix, I'll give it a try. Unless it's supposed to be enjoyed *neat*. Or over ice only. I drink very little (weak alcohol constitution - inherited from Mom), but I know some of the terms which delights me this morning for some odd reason. I've got some left-over champagne and hopefully some OJ for an early morning nip. Maybe then I'll be able to go back to sleep.....

Amy said...

Pop and Ice - If you are not a drinker, which I'm not either, you're going to need ice. Crushed ice will get melty quicker and enable you to drink bourbon easier.

The mint julep mix is sweet and once my ice starts to melt I enjoy them, but it is a strong drink (if you're not a drinker).

I suggest a Whiskey Sour - easily Google-able recipe.

Michelle Smiles said...

Sounds like fun!

I'm not a whiskey/bourbon drinker unless it is mixed in something so I probably wouldn't do the tastings (and as a result would end up being the driver). Everyone loved me on the tours of the places that made scotch in Scotland because I gave my samples away.

Amy said...

Michelle - Mr. P was reading last night about Scotch making and I told him I'll taste anything if we can just GO TO SCOTLAND!

Stacy (the Random Cool Chick) said...

What a cool tour! I'm pretty sure I've never tasted bourbon before (whiskey I've tried when my friends pulled a switch on me once and got me a whiskey shot as a joke instead of a tequila shot...) Sounds like I'd prefer the taste of bourbon over whiskey (I tend to lean towards things on the 'sweeter' side...) :)

I'm pretty sure the cough is definitely part of the finish... ;)

Allyson said...

What a neat post! I didn't know any of that! Thanks :)

Rachel said...

AWESOME!

I did not know about slam dunking but I did know the rest ;-) Since Dad is a Kentucky boy and all.

Maker's Mark is delish! YAY for you! Love the pics and the tutorial from your eyes!!!

de said...

Certainly looks like fun.

And here I am, so thirsty! I forgot I was going to fix a drink before reading this.

Michele Renee said...

What a fun weekend! I have always wanted to tour the place, or the George Dickel one. I almost felt like I was watching an episode of Three Sheets! (on which they've gone to KY before).

Belle said...

I love Bourbon. Whiskey Sour is good too. Very refreshing.

Amy said...

Michele Renee - Three Sheets? Never heard of it. Do they need hosts? It's not hard at all to get me to three sheets. heh.

Mama Kat said...

That looks like so much fun!! Remind me to replace the kiddos with bourbon one of these weekends!! ;)

Jessica Miller Kelley said...

As a Kentucky girl, I love this post! Matt and I went to Maker's Mark in July 2005. Matt dipped a bottle (in the photo he looks like a mad scientist!) and saved it "for a special occasion." That occasion turned out to be our engagement four months later. We both autographed the label that night and the bottle is still on display in our china cabinet!

Meredith@MerchantShips said...

Did you absolutely love Bardstown as much as we did? The charming downtown, the Catholic history--I would move there in a minute if my husband's job changed!

Burgh Baby said...

I think you saved me a trip. Your pics and story totally worked just dandy for making "a visit." HUZZAH!

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