These rules and regulations help guarantee a consistency and level of quality when it comes to bourbon. There are certainly stylistic and flavor differences between labels, but the rules set some minimum standards for all distillers. What the rules fail to convey is the sense of history and pride you get from touring one of the bourbon distilleries in Kentucky.
The distillery where Woodford Reserve is crafted is a great example. Brought back from the dead in 1996 thanks to a renewed interest in quality bourbon, it is in Woodford County about an hour outside of Louisville. Nestled amidst major thoroughbred horse farms, the site was first used for a distillery in 1812 by Elijah Pepper. The facility changed hands several times before it became the Labrot & Graham Distillery. Brown-Forman acquired the company and in 1973, during a long slide in bourbon sales, abandoned the distillery. Twenty years later, Brown-Forman was looking for a location to house a new premium spirits brand, and the company reacquired the property. It’s now the Woodford Reserve Distillery.
Maker’s Mark Distillery is tucked away in the Kentucky countryside near Loretto, about 60 miles south of Louisville. Maker’s Mark is part of Beam Inc., which produces Jim Beam, Sauza Tequila and Cruzan Rum, but it is still heavily influenced by the Samuels family. Bill Samuels Sr. purchased the distillery in 1953 for $35,000. His wife, Margie, designed the iconic bottle using a papier-mâché model and used her calligraphy skills to create the label. The first bottling of Maker’s Mark took place in May 1958. If you visit the distillery, you might even be lucky enough to get the chance to dip a bottle of Maker’s Mark in the iconic red wax—each bottle is still dipped by hand.
A trip to Kentucky’s bourbon country, whether you actually visit or do some armchair traveling is a step beyond beer.
What They Drink
Maker’s Mark master distiller Greg Davis drinks Maker’s with three ice cubes in the winter and six cubes in summer. When he is out on the town, he orders whatever signature drink the bartender makes with Maker’s Mark.