Ever wondered where the bourbon in those holiday bourbon balls comes from? I won’t create a cliffhanger here. It’s likely from Kentucky, and probably from somewhere near Bardstown—“The Bourbon Capitol of the World.” Bardstown is just south of Louisville, a geographic location known for its limestone-filtered water and families that have bourbon in their blood. The Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam distilleries, among a handful
of others, are in the area. I know this not because I’m a big boozehound, but because I graduated from high school in Louisville and return regularly to visit my parents. The bourbon industry is unmistakably a part of Kentucky culture. Billboards are everywhere, and the distilleries now contribute to Kentucky’s tourist economy. There’s even something called the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which lays out a plan for bourbon tourists to follow in exploration of this drink’s history. Of all the distilleries I’ve visited, Marker’s Mark is the best.
When I went on the Maker’s Mark tour, a cute Kentucky gent led us through, sparkling-eyed and with a serious Southern drawl. He walked us into the welcoming house, explaining how bourbon is made from corn (around 70%), wheat (and/or rye), and malted barley. The main ingredients are mixed together and then put into massive barrels, where the mixture ferments. At this stage, it’s called sour mash. It stinks and bubbles in a lively way:
The mash is then distilled and put into charred oak barrels for aging. During this process, it gains color and flavor from the wood. Distilleries have elaborate methods of rotating barrels, and some have identified “sweet spots” in their storage buildings—areas that produce the best bourbon.
If you’re touring Maker’s Mark during the week, you’ll see the workers individually hand-dipping bottles into the red wax that seals the cap. And if you visit during the holidays, you’re in for a treat. Wreaths and red bows add to the already festive atmosphere.
But no matter what time of the year you visit, be assured that at the end of each tour, you’ll get a complimentary drink!
Maker’s Mark Distillery
3350 Burks Spring Rd.
Loretto, Kentucky 40037