Bourbon and Kentucky kind of go hand in hand. I recently spent a beautiful fall afternoon with a bunch of friends touring the Maker’s Mark bourbon distillery and enjoying an exhibit of fabulous art glass designed and created by Dale Chihuly.
Bourbon in Kentucky
Ninety percent of the world’s bourbon is made within a hundred mile radius of where I live. It’s all because of the water. Limestone runs under our soil, and it makes our water extra special. If you buy bourbon made in any other state, it isn’t really bourbon. As an aside, the limestone puts calcium into our water, and that’s why our horses have such good bones for running, but that’s a whole other story. Maker’s Mark is probably the most famous bourbon in the world, and it is made in a little village called Lorretto, KY.
It is nestled in beautiful rolling hills, and the day we went was one of those perfect fall days. Dale Chilhuly has a traveling exhibit. I saw it a few years ago at the Botanical Garden in Brooklyn, NY, and this year it came to Kentucky.
It is a fabulous display of colorful glass in all shapes and sizes. Maker’s Mark owns two of his creations, so having a special exhibit was a great pairing.
If you are local, the exhibit runs until Nov. 25, and you can see it in the daytime or illuminated at night.
The Bourbon Process
Our trip included a tour of the distillery, which was fascinating.
We were able to see how bourbon is made from its very first day to when it comes out of the bottle years later. When the mixture is in the big vat, which measures 12 feet in diameter and is 12 feet deep, it produces heat and bubbles like crazy. It’s the yeast at work. We were allowed to taste it, and to me it tasted like vinegar.
Maker’s Mark is different from many bourbons because they use corn, wheat and barley. Most bourbons use rye instead of wheat. They say this is why their bourbon is so smooth.
After going through all of the processes, it is then put in an oak barrel that has been charred on the inside for 90 seconds. This burned wood is another thing that makes bourbon what it is. If the barrel isn’t charred, it isn’t bourbon. Then they store it in a building that is NOT environmentally controlled. The barrels experience the Kentucky weather for real. If it’s hot and muggy, which it is a lot in the summer, then the barrels feel that. If it’s an extremely cold winter, they feel that to. The barrels stay on the top level of the building for three years because heat rises, and they need that heat. Then the barrels are moved down over the years, and tasted. Eventually, it will be determined by the tasters that the bourbon is ready.
I found it all to be just fascinating. We saw them dip the bottles in their signature red wax, and they even gifted each of us a bottle to dip on our own. How cool is that!!! If you want to know more about the bourbon and Maker’s Mark, then read this.
There is a Bourbon Trail here in Kentucky, and people come from all over the world to visit the distilleries, do a tasting, and enjoy beautiful Kentucky.
If you are ever looking for a way to spend a few days with your significant other, visiting the Bourbon Trail would be a great trip. You might not get to see the Chihuly exhibit, but you will be able to see this display which is part of Maker’s Mark’s permanent collection. And by the way, if you have ever been to the Bellagio in Las Vegas, they have entire ceiling covered with it.
At the end of the tour, we were given a flight for tasting. I am not a big hard liquor drinker, but I appreciated the effort that is put into making a quality product that people enjoy all over the world. People who love bourbon say it is smooth.
I hope you enjoyed this tour, and if you are ever near a Kentucky distillery, stop in for a tour. Thank you all for spending part of your day with us. We really appreciate each of you.