So, this weekend was a lot of fun for me down here in Kentucky. In addition to my trip to the Patton Museum on Saturday, on Sunday I took a beautiful scenic drive from Ft. Knox to the hills just outside of the small town of Loretto to tour the Maker's Mark distillery.
On a side note, Maker's Mark is perhaps my favorite bourbon. I absolutely loved getting to see how it's made. To start things off, Maker's Mark is made at the oldest distillery in the US. Bourbon has been distilled on site since 1805 when it was owned by the Charles Burks family and known as the Burks Mill distillery.
It is also home to the Quart House, the first retail bourbon/whiskey store in the America. It's called the Quart House because farmers would bring their quart jugs to the small building where they would be filled up straight out of the barrel.
After the grains are ground up, cooked and the limestone spring water and liquid yeast are added, the mash ferments in open vats for three days. It's called the "beer process" because at the end of the stage the bourbon more closely resembles beer. The sweet smell of beer in the room was strong, but very pleasant.
From the vats, the mash is run through one of the two giant 38 foot stills outside the building. Then the bourbon goes through a two-stage distilling process that produces what is called "White Dog" - basically moonshine. It comes out of these two copper stills at 130 proof. The dog definitely has some bite.
From there, the White Dog is put into charred, white-oak barrels and allowed to age for 5 1/2 to 6 years until the Maker's Mark tasters determine it's ready for public sale. Once the bourbon is distilled, the only thing added is limestone spring water. That's what brings the final product down to a more easily consumed 90 proof.
After the tour we got to taste both the White Dog - cut down to 90 proof - and aged Maker's Mark. I was surprised by how smooth the White Dog was. While not nearly as pleasant as the finished product, it still had the beginnings of the smooth, almost sweet flavor of regular Maker's Mark. It was by no means the harshest bourbon I've ever tried.
It was quite a good time, and I recommend it to anyone who likes bourbon, or just enjoys learning about a uniquely American drink.