Monday, September 17, 2007

Visiting Maker's Mark in Loretto, KY.

On Saturday the 15th we went to check out the Maker's Mark Distillery. It is a registered National Landmark and they clearly spent a good amount of time lovingly restoring the site. The tour was thorough, though a bit quick because they had to account for the increased crowds due to the Bourbon festival. That said they were very accommodating by allowing people to wander the grounds as much as they wanted. It really was a very good tour, its too bad I do not like their bourbon very much. There is a bit a quick overview of Maker's Mark after the pictures we took on the tour.

(Visitor's Center.)(Where they boil the grains to make Mash.)(The yeast hard at work in cypress fermenters.)(Small section of the column still.)(Aging gracefully on the hill.)(The tasting room.)

Maker's Mark is a hand crafted small batch type of bourbon whisky distilled in Loretto, Kentucky.

When the famous T.W. Samuels family of distilling sold their distillery and their trademarks in the 1950s, those members of the family who wished to continue in the business began to search for a small distillery to purchase and continue the trade on a smaller scale, emphasizing high-quality production over high-volume production. They soon found an older distillery in Loretto, Kentucky that had not been operational for several years but was just the right size for the proposed operation. The Samuels decided to come up with a new recipe for their bourbon in order to make it smoother, but since the aging process for bourbon takes years, could not take the time involved actually to distill and age many batches of bourbon of varying ingredients.

A unique solution to this problem was decided upon. Loaves of bread containing the exact proportion of the grain contents of each proposed recipe were baked and the one judged to be the best-tasting was adopted. Interestingly, the one selected contained no rye whatsoever, which was replaced by more barley and wheat. Accordingly, on February 25, 1954, Bill Samuels Sr., a sixth generation Kentucky distiller, burned his family's 170-year-old bourbon recipe. The first bottle of Maker's Mark was sold in 1958 and featured the dipped red wax seal.

Unlike most bourbons, Maker's Mark is not aged for any specific period of years; rather it is bottled and marketed when expert tasters agree that it is ready. Also, the barrels are moved from the lower to the upper floors of the warehouse and back down during the aging process to benefit from the differences in temperature at the various levels. This practice was once common in the distilling industry, but has been largely abandoned due to the high labor expense.

Maker's Mark is sold in unusually-shaped squarish bottles which are sealed with red wax. In the United States, only one variety is marketed, bottled at 90 U.S. proof (45% alcohol by volume). There is a higher (101.5) proof brand, sealed with gold wax, previously marketed in the U.S. but now sent only to selected export markets. The seal on the bottle says "S IV". This mark indicates that the Samuels family (generation #4) is now in charge of the distilling process.

Maker's Mark enjoys something of a cult status in certain circles. For years it was marketed with the tag line, "It tastes expensive ... and is."

The Loretto, Kentucky distillery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974, and designated a National Historic Landmark on December 16, 1980, listed as "Burks' Distillery". It was the first distillery in America to be so recognized, and the only one where landmark buildings are actively used for distilling. Maker's Mark distillery is on the American Whiskey Trail.

Today, Maker's Mark is owned by Lincolnshire, Illinois-based Fortune Brands, which acquired it from distillery giant UK-based Allied Domecq in 2005 (as well as Courvoisier cognac, Sauza tequila, Canadian Club whisky, Laphroaig single-malt Scotch and Clos du Bois wines) in a joint bid with French rival Pernod Ricard.

Interestingly, Maker's Mark is one of the only American made whiskies to be spelled in the traditional form, "whisky," as opposed to "whiskey." Technically, in United States law, the official American spelling is "whiskey," but an exception exists to allow it be spelled without an "e." Maker's Mark does this as an homage to the creators Scottish heritage.


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