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Maker’s Mark • Loretto

Distillery Hours – Monday – Saturday • 9:30 A.M. – 3:30 P.M. EST, Sunday (March through December) • 11:30 A.M. – 3:30 P.M. EST. General admission is $7 for adults. Summer shut down will be from August 12 to September 9, 2013 (similar times in other years; check website for more details). Full tours will still be available, but bourbon will not be in production.

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What makes Marker’s Mark different from other distilleries?

  • According to Guiness World Book of Records, Maker’s is the oldest operating bourbon distillery, operating since 1805.
  • They hand dip every bottle with their signature red wax.
  • There is no rye in the mashbill. Instead they use corn, red winter wheat, and malted barley. This is why their bourbon is sweeter than some others.
  • They are a “small batch bourbon,” which they define as “a bourbon that is produced/distilled in small quantities of approximately 1,000 gallons or less (20 barrels) from a mash bill of around 200 bushels of grain.”
  • Marker’s Mark is one of the few distilleries left that hand rotates the barrel positions in the rickhouse to produce the desired flavor.

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A Brief History

The land on which Maker’s Mark resides has long been a distillery.  T. William “Bill” Samuels Sr. purchased what was known as “Burks’ Distillery” in 1954. The distillery was in poor repair and, with his family, Bill revamped the whole place and created a distinctive new bourbon- Maker’s Mark. They priced their distinctive red wax dipped bottles (Bill’s wife Margie’s idea) at a higher price than other bourbons and marketed it with the slogan “It tastes expensive… and is.” Though the company was sold to several different companies through the years, the Samuels family continued to oversee it’s production. Today, Bill’s grandson Rob is CEO and president.

In early spring 2013, Maker’s Mark (in response to a huge new demand for bourbon) decided to reduce the strength of it’s whiskey from it’s traditional 90 proof to 84 proof. The idea was that they would be able to increase the available stock. There was a huge negative reaction from customers. Radio stations and newspapers across the Bluegrass featured some negative reviews of the new “watered down flavor” as well as the consumer reactions. Only 12 days later, the company rescinded it’s position and now bottles only at the original 90 proof strength.

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The Tour

We really enjoyed our Marker’s Mark tour. The tour group met in an old farm house, decorated in 1950s style. We then walked the grounds. Each building is painted in the distinctive red and black color scheme. All the shutters have a bourbon bottle cut out as decoration. The only building that is not red and black is the Quart House, one of the oldest liquor stores in the United States and a National Historic Landmark.

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When we visited, the distillery was in shut down and repairs were being done. Despite that, we were still able to see the giant tubs for cooking mash and their 5 story continuous column still. We toured a rickhouse; it was like all the other’s we had previously seen on the Trail, complete with Angel’s Share smell. Marker’s Mark is one of the few distilleries left that hand rotates the barrel positions in the rickhouse to produce the desired flavor.

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After the bourbon is aged perfectly, it is emptied from the barrels and bottled in the distinctive square bottles. Each bottle is hand dipped in red wax. We were able to watch the process from start to finish. The people on the line were very efficient. I doubt I could dip as fast as them! (If you want to try your hand at dipping, you can buy and dip your own bottle in the gift shop.)

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My favorite part of the tour was the Tasting Room. The tour guide said it was new; it is very cleanly designed. Each person to tour was given a taste of four bourbons – Maker’s White, Maker’s Fully Matured, Maker’s Over Matured, and Maker’s 46 (double oaked bourbon). It was nice to taste them each and compare them to each other. Honestly, of all the bourbons I tried on the tours, I liked Maker’s Mark the best. It is sweeter, less spicy and easy to drink. For those who are trying to acquire a taste for bourbon, this is the place to start. Overall, we really enjoyed this tour. The grounds are lovely, the tour was informative, and the bourbon was tasty. It is clear that the employees of Maker’s are passionate about their product and that they recognize that quality is more important than quantity.

Other posts in the series:

Bour·bon – /ˈbərbən/

Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Four Roses Distillery

Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Wild Turkey Distillery

Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Woodford Reserve

Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Jim Beam

Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Town Branch

Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Heaven Hill

Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Maker’s Mark