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