By Richard Thomas
The squarish bottle and red wax seal of Maker’s Mark are one of the iconic images of Kentucky bourbon, and in many ways “Maker’s” spearheaded both the revival of craft bourbon-making in Kentucky and the whiskey’s still-growing popularity in the international market. So, it should come as no surprise that many visitors to Kentucky are willing to make the journey out to Loretto to see the Maker’s Mark distillery, which offers one of the best distillery tours on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
The problem with most of Kentucky distillery tours is the simple fact the big distilleries are big bourbon-making factories, and they look the part. Such distilleries lack a historic atmosphere, and the sheer scale of the production process overwhelms the artisinal side of bourbon-making.
These are not problems for Maker’s Mark. Some of the touches ring false, like the wagon full of whiskey barrels. However, most of the buildings on the property, from the Stillhouse Tower to the Bottling House to the Distiller’s House, are very authentic and represent architectural styles that are very much a fixture of the central Kentucky countryside. If you don’t see enough barns and farmhouses on your way down to the distillery, try to take a more scenic route back to Louisville or Lexington on the way back, and you will see exactly what I mean. On the inside, the whiskey still and many other features of the distillery have accoutrements that would not be out of place at a Cracker Barrel. That might seem contrived, but keep in mind that Bill Samuels, Jr. opened Maker’s Mark back in 1954.
Unlike many distillery tours, a free tasting sample is not part of the tour at Maker’s Mark. Instead, the distillery usually gives visitors a bourbon ball sample.
Perhaps the best part of a Maker’s Mark distillery tour is that it’s free. Tours are scheduled to start every hour on the half-hour mark from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm Monday through Saturday, and on a more limited schedule on Sundays. Visitors are allowed to dip and seal their own bottle of Maker’s Mark in red wax, although that entails purchasing a bottle at gift shop prices and the option is open only to visitors aged 21 or older. Also, the distillery does not allow visitors to dip and seal bottles on Sunday, since liquor sales are banned on that day.