Side Trip To "The Bourbon Trail"

Robby and I awoke at 5 a.m. to leave Caitlin's house in Ohio heading back to Louisiana.  He had decided the night before that we would drive straight through the 18 hours it would take to get there.  I wasn't too excited about that, but prepared to do just that as we drove away that morning before the sun ever rose.  We hit the Kentucky state line and were making progress on our trek home when suddenly Robby pulled over at a Rest Area.  When he returned, he had a map and some brochures in his hand.  Curious as to what they were, I asked him and he informed me that we were going to take a little "The Bourbon Trail". 

Although David had gone to medical school in Kentucky and we had heard about The Bourbon Trail, Robby and I had never had the opportunity to drive down through it and visit any of the distilleries there.  It was a bleak, rainy day and we decided to stop and smell the roses along the way home instead of racing to get back. 

Our first stop was The Jim Beam Distillery, which had only opened in September.  Not wanting to wait on the guided tour, we decided to take the free, self-guided tour...

Now, I'm not a whiskey drinker but I AM a lover of history and how things are made and finding out about the whole story behind the making of bourbon and the families who did it was quite fascinating to me.  This is the barrel room, where they age the bourbon in oak barrels.  There is no heat or air in these buildings, the temperature of the changing seasons help the bourbon to age naturally.  In the warmer months, the bourbon expands into the wood of the barrels and in the cooler months it goes down.  All of this enhances the flavor of the bourbon.

Next, we drove to The Maker's Mark Distillery, where we arrived just in time for the last tour of the day.  This is where we really learned a lot about the history of the family who made this bourbon and the details of making the bourbon, itself...

Maker's Mark Bourbon was made by the Samuel family.  

All of the distilleries are located in remote areas.  The reason for this is because they were built to have access to creek water.  Robby and I drove through the hilly, back roads of Kentucky for a while before we came to The Maker's Mark Distillery.  It was well worth the trip, though; the grounds were beautiful.  We learned that this was due to the fact that Bill Samuel's wife, Marge, insisted her husband set aside a dollar from every bottle of bourbon he sold be spent on the beautification of the grounds.

The small building in the front of this photo is the Quart House.  Years ago, the bourbon would be made here and people would pull up in their buggies with their quart jars to have them filled with the beverage; the first drive-thru liquor store, perhaps?  In the background you can see the old family homestead.

                                       We were told how the mash was created here...

And then taken into this room to hear about the three stages it went through before it was deemed ready for storing in barrels.  We actually got to put our finger in this grainy liquid and taste it.  I was a little wary of doing this but Robby insisted I do so.  Thankfully this barrel was still in the sugary stage (whew!).

     Next, we went into the bottling area.  Here we got to see the bottling process in action.

It was also very interesting how they dip the tops of the bottles in red wax.  There are three people hand dipping the bottles and we were told that each person can dip about 24 bottles per minute.  Another interesting thing we were told was that if you ever see wax that runs down to the middle of the bottle, it is called a "Slam Dunk".  Every now and then, they will dunk the bottle down further into the wax.  When you find one of these bottles, BUY IT; it is a collector's item!  Marge Samuel was also responsible for the red wax idea.  She told her husband that there needed to be something that set their product aside from the rest.

                                               Here, the labels are being put on the bottles.

And, of course, there is some history behind that label too.  The name "Maker's Mark" was also an idea that was created by Marge Samuel.  She picked up a piece of her china, turned it over and showed her husband the mark on the bottom of it.  She told her husband that was called the "Maker's Mark", put on the product to show who created it.  They decided to use this for their bourbon product.  Also on the label, the "S" stands for the Samuel Family, the IV is the fourth generation of the family and the circle with the star comes from Marge's family who had a farm and branded their cattle with this symbol.  Pretty cool, huh?!

This is their barrel room, where the bourbon is stored in oak barrels for 3 years.  The barrels are rotated during this time and then there is tasting that is done to determine when the bourbon is ready for bottling.  That is usually anywhere from 5-6 years.

                                                   And then it was time for the tasting...

Since I am not a bourbon drinker, this part was not my favorite part of the tour.  I did, however, like the chocolates made with bourbon they gave us on our way out!

This was a pretty awesome "Side Trip" and afterwards we drove all the way to Memphis, Tennessee, where we stopped for the night.  We drove in the next day and, although we were sad to have left Caitlin, we were glad to see home.


  1. Now I want to go on that tour! Interesting facts and I'll start looking for that center drip of wax.

  2. how fun and interesting!!! I think I would like the tour and a shot!