In Whiskey Bourbon Heaven

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My first time in Kentucky! Great place to start, right?!

This is Part Two of the epic family road trip! The subject of this post is actually where the idea for this cross-country vacation originated. And it all began seven years ago…

Papa Kyle has been a long time fan of Maker’s Mark and seven years ago he signed up to be a Maker’s Mark Ambassador. The coolest part of this program, besides the gifts you receive over time, is that you get your own batch of Maker’s Mark with your name on the barrel. It takes about 6-7 years for the bourbon to be ready, which is why my family had to wait so long to take this awesome trip to Maker’s Mark.

And thus it is time to begin the adventures of our last day of vacation.

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This was some awesome castle we drove past in the countryside of Kentucky…upon further research I learned it’s the Martin Castle built in 1969 and now operates as a bed and breakfast. Btw, it’s also for sale if anyone’s interested!

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The start of the Maker’s Mark property. These are the warehouses where the good stuff is stored during its imprisonment in the barrels.

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The pictures do not even begin to showcase the expanse of the property and the number of warehouses we could see!

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Hallelujah!

We began our Saturday driving to the Maker’s Mark Distillery, which is tucked away in rolling hills outside of Loretto, Kentucky. The Maker’s Mark tour is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and is my favorite distillery on the trail! Well it’s the only one I’ve been to, but it was a wonderful tour. The property is beautiful and feels like you’ve stepped back in time. You start the tour by learning about the history of the property and the history of Maker’s Mark and its creators, the Samuels family (more on that below). Then we toured various buildings of the distilling process, including where they ferment the corn. We could even taste the three stages of the fermenting process! None of them tasted very good haha. Next you enter the barrel rooms which is pretty impressive. And this is just a small, small portion of the barrels! Unfortunately I wasn’t really listening to the tour guide at this point because I was too distracted with taking sweet Instagram pictures and awing over the historic atmosphere of the barrel room. It felt so old-timey and it’s very cool that Maker’s Mark chooses to produce their bourbon traditionally. Pretty awesome.  But I don’t want to tell you everything we were told anyway because I want you all to go on the tour and enjoy it for yourselves!

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Walking into the visitor’s center for our tour.

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This is their security at the front door.

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The tour has begun!

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It definitely did NOT feel like we were on the property of a major and well-known corporation; instead, I felt like we were on the property of a quaint family-owned business… which is partially true.

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One of the original historic buildings of the distillery.

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This is the original family’s home that now serves as Maker’s Mark banquet hall.

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The scenery here is breathtaking!

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Incredibly picturesque.

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This 19th-century distillery is a National Historic Landmark due to it being the oldest operating distillery and on its original site.

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Do you notice the shutters have the distinctive Maker’s Mark bottle cut outs? It’s the little things!

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Where the magic happens!

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Maker’s Mark is marketed as a small batch bourbon, which means it is produced in quantities of “approximately 1,000 gallons or less from a mash bill of around 200 bushels of grain.”

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The mash bill of Maker’s Mark is a foundation of red winter wheat rather than traditional rye.

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These copper stills are an “important part of the double-distillation process; they remove impurities to create a more refined sipping whisky.”

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The corn ferments in this room in cypress tanks that are literally irreplaceable, and some of the planks are more than 200 years old. Today, stainless steel tanks are commonly used, but Maker’s Mark keeps it traditional and historical with the continued use of their cypress tanks.

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We could taste each stage of the fermenting…it progressively tasted worse lol. The first stage tasted like cereal, but then it got more sour.

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I love the charm but also the uniformity of the property!

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The distillery has a moat!

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Fun fact: all bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon.

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Maker’s Mark rotates the barrels from the upper to the lower levels of the warehouses during the aging process to even out the differences in temperature.

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Rotating the barrels ensures that all the bourbon has the same quality and taste since the upper floors are exposed to more severe temperature variations.

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Fun fact: Maker’s Mark is one of the few American-made whiskies to be labeled using the Scottish spelling “whisky”. The majority of American distillers spell it “whiskey”.

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“Due to the charring of the oak, the natural sugars of the wood are released into the bourbon, enhancing the already wonderfully mellow taste of Maker’s Mark.”

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It felt like we stepped back in time in the barrel rooms.

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I’m lagging behind the group to take pictures. 🙂

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Almost every brand of bourbon is distilled in Kentucky…and Maker’s Mark is the best!

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Three varieties are marketed: the original, Maker’s 46, and a mint julep flavor. At the distillery only you can also buy Maker’s White.

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Maker’s Mark is aged between 5-7 years and their tasting panel tastes each batch no less than five times during the maturation process and they decide when the bourbon is ready.

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This is where Maker’s Mark is bottled, labeled and sealed with wax.

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Maker’s Mark is bottled at 90 U.S. proof (45% alcohol by volume).

Our second to last stop on the tour was the tasting room. We tried three different kinds of Maker’s Mark. The first one is their Maker’s White, which is produced from the original Maker’s Mark recipe but isn’t quite a bourbon. The “white dog” is not put in the charred oak barrels and aged for 5 ½ to 7 years as the original Maker’s Mark is, omitting that woodsy, sweet finish. This makes it almost like moonshine, but don’t call it that! They get mad lol.

The second taste is the traditional Maker’s Mark. Enough said. And lastly is the Maker’s 46. This one is aged longer inside the barrels of seared French oak staves, creating a bolder flavor. My only complaint with the tastings is I wish they had chasers for the wimps like me haha. I had to use my Maker’s Mark as a chaser for the Maker’s 46. Whew it was strong for me!

But we left the tasting room with a bourbon chocolate so all was well in the world. The last stop of the tour, like any tourist attraction, was the gift shop. But this was a pretty incredible gift shop. Not only can you buy bottles and hand-dip the wax seal yourself, they have tons of Maker’s Mark merchandise you won’t find anywhere else; such as Maker’s Mark coffee, glassware, platters, bar tools, artwork, really cool bar stools, shirts, and the list goes on and on. This is also the only place you can purchase the Maker’s White.

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The Tasting Room

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Maker’s White, Maker’s Mark original, and Maker’s 46

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We are ready!

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Best part of the tour?

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I’m using the original Maker’s Mark as a chaser for the Maker’s 46…I’m weak.

The property is breathtaking and it’s a fun tour! We ended our time at Maker’s Mark with lunch at their charming café. And now it is time for your history lesson portion of the post! As I said above, Maker’s Mark is located on a historic 19th century distillery. Though Maker’s Mark itself is not that old, beginning production in 1954, the Samuels’ family has a long whiskey makin’ history.

Robert Samuels began distilling in Kentucky in 1784, and each generation after followed the family business. But then came Prohibition, and the Samuels family’s distillery was shut down. Once Prohibition ended the distiller reopened, but was then shut down again during World War II. Bill Samuels, Sr. seized this opportunity to revolutionize the family whiskey. He scraped the family recipe and pioneered a new one using winter wheat instead of rye, which gave his bourbon whiskey a smoother taste. The story goes that Mr. and Mrs. Samuels baked many breads from various recipes and based their bourbon recipe off the favorite bread, which included the winter wheat. Since Mr. Samuels was the first one to remove the rye and make their’s with a winter soft wheat, he changed how bourbon is made; therefore, Mrs. Samuels said that makes him a craftsman and that is why the name “Maker’s”.  She was a collector of pottery and pottery has a mark to show the authenticity.  So she created their mark which is a star for “Star Farms” which is where they lived, the S for “Samuels” and the IV for 4th generation of Samuels, and the red seal.  Ta-da, you have the “Mark”.

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Samuels and his wife bought and restored the old “Burks’ Distillery”, built in 1889, outside of Loretto. He began production on his new bourbon in 1954 with the name Maker’s Mark. Mrs. Samuels was integral in the marketing. She created the name and the label, designed the unique squarish bottle, and created the dripping red wax seal that becomes part of Maker’s Mark distinctive signature.

By 1959 Maker’s Mark is ready and goes on the market as a small-batch bourbon whiskey. With the help from a front page article in the Wall Street Journal in 1980, Maker’s Mark has grown into the popular choice for high-quality bourbon.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Maker’s Mark and tour the Kentucky Bourbon Trail I highly recommend it. The landscape of Kentucky is breathtaking and it was a lot of fun to learn the history and see the process. It’s Disneyland for adults!

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Papa Kyle bought two bottles from his barrel and dipped the wax seal himself!

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Dad’s own personalized Maker’s Mark!

After Maker’s Mark we returned to Louisville, and Kord and I went zip-lining in caverns! Mega Caverns is the first and only underground zip lining tour in the world, and is located in Louisville. Since I’m a big fan of zip lining and I was stoked to learn about this place! The caverns began in the 1930s as a limestone quarry and continued as a mine for the next 40 years. It then sat empty and unused for awhile, until it was purchased in the late 1980s to develop into high security commercial storage and office and warehouse space. It is also home to the largest recycling center in the state of Kentucky. Mega Caverns occupies 100 acres of this subterranean limestone complex and started in 2009 after one of the owners got the idea while zip lining on vacation in Mexico.

The zip line tour at Mega Caverns is completely underground and there are six different zip lines, and three of them are suspended about 90 feet above the cavern floor. We had to walk across suspension bridges that were quite slippery due to the damp climate of caves. And with only headlamps to guide us, it was definitely an awesome and unique zip lining adventure! There were six people, including my brother and I, in our group plus the two guides. One guide would go first to set up the line, and the other was the caboose. We all went one at a time, except for the last zip line where you could race against your partner. Our guides’ charismas were really put to the test because there was a larger group in front of us that was lagging a bit. Our guides were great at filling in the waiting time with fun facts, trivia, history, urban legends and ghost stories of the caverns. Overall it was an awesome and fun experience and I recommend it to anyone…except maybe those afraid of heights. http://www.louisvillemegacavern.com/index.html

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I really wish I could’ve captured better pictures to show you all how awesome this place is! Hopefully you can see a little bit in these very dark photos. 🙂

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Kord is ready for the next zip line!

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We had red and white lights on our head lamps. We used the white when walking, but switched to red at each zip line so we wouldn’t blind the guides.

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The longest line is 900 feet, and the cavern is a cool 58 degrees year round.

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The group in front of us gearing up to zip line.

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This is the long suspension bridge about 90 feet above the cavern floor.

After zip lining, mom and dad picked us up (am I back in middle school? lol) and we went back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. Mom chose a charming and delicious locally grown ‘farm-to-table’ restaurant called Harvest in the artsy district of downtown Louisville. The area reminded me a lot of the Crossroads district in Kansas City. http://www.harvestlouisville.com/

And this wrapped up our amazing road trip across the beautiful states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. I left very early on Sunday and the rest of the Brooner clan drove back to Kansas City. We had a fabulous vacation spending time with our family and venturing to new territories and new adventures. To me vacations are always bittersweet because no matter how great they are, they must come to an end, and as soon as I’m back home, I’m anxiously planning my next vacation.

So until next time!

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