A brief history of bourbon: From Wikipedia: " Bourbon is a type of American whiskey (some spell it without an "e") distilled and made primarily from corn. The name comes from an association with Bourbon County Kentucky. (I discovered that there is no bourbon made in Bourbon County Ky) Just as Champagne has to come from a specific region of France, it can only be called bourbon if it comes from America. The region of Kentucky where so much is made has to do with the pure limestone spring water available there. The invention of bourbon is often attributed to a pioneering Baptist minister and distiller named Elijah Craig and while the evidence is not conclusive, it makes an interesting story.
There is a sign from the main (? two lane country) road telling you you're there. Maker's Mark has made bourbon for six generations, since 1840. One generation back from the current one, decided to abandon the recipe and start from scratch. One of the main changes was to replace the rye in it with a soft red winter wheat which is one of the main elements that make it distinctive.
As you enter the tour center, to the right is an old fire engine. I doubt it would have been any good extinguishing a fire as all that bourbon in flames would have been an inferno to rival the Hindenburg.
Another of their black and red buildings. Not part of the actual bourbon production.
One of several facilities where the bourbon is stored and aged. There is only one facility that actually makes the bourbon. Maker's Mark is not aged for a particular number of years like other bourbons which tell how many years it has been aged in oak barrels. Instead, Maker's Mark has a tasting committee of 16 men and women that oversee the aging of the bourbon and when it is ready, it is released for sale. Thus every bottle of Maker's Mark should taste the same. They don't sell different qualities of bourbon, they only sell one, the one that is correct.
This is the "mash" that is made when the ground grains are mixed with water and the yeast is added. They have their own yeast which part of which is very old. They leave part of the yeast batch to start the next. Again, it is the pureness of the local limestone water that has attracted so many bourbon producers to the area. You can see the bubbles breaking through the surface as it actually ferments.
Here is where the distillation takes place. Maker's Mark actually distills it twice, once at 120 proof and then again at 140 proof. This again makes for its unique taste. (No, it is not 140 proof in the bottle, it is 90 proof. The proof drops along the process.)
Each batch of bourbon consists of only 19 barrels at a time.
Here is how the distilled bourbon is transported.
This is a cut open oak barrel used to age bourbon in. It is charred on the inside as part of the flavoring of the bourbon. The barrels are used only once. After that they are sold for various purposes ranging from furniture to beer storage. (There is a bourbon beer in Louisville that gets its taste from the bourbon barrels it is stored in.)
The barrel staves are air dried outdoors for 9 months with a minimum of one summer. (I.E. if the 9 months doesn't cover a summer, they stay out longer.)
Here is an interesting barrel with a difference. There had been a desire to make a slightly different bourbon but they wanted to maintain the original recipe. So they began experimenting with other ways to produce a different taste. After 45 tries, number 46 produced the tasted they desired. It's achieved by pouring the bourbon out (into a separate temporary storage container. At first it sounded like they poured it out!!) when it had reached a certain point in maturity. Then these pieces of wood, French Ash I believe) are inserted into the barrel and the original bourbon is poured back in. Then it continues the aging process, being checked until it is ready for sale.
Maker's 46 is a slightly lighter and sweeter taste. (Don't let the word "sweeter" steer you wrong, sweeter is a comparative word. It is not "sweet", especially like southern ice tea!
If you want, you can apply to become part of a group that will have your name put on a barrel of Maker's Mark and when it is ready, you can purchase a bottle (or more) from your barrel.
Here the barrels are in storage as they age. The barrels are moved around as they age so that the barrels rotate. Their position in the storage "barn" (those large black and red buildings) indicates where they are in the process.
The barrels are as important as the bourbon. Following are photos of the tools they use (currently). If you come here expecting to see tons of modern stainless steel machinery like a modern manufacturer, you will disappointed. While there are certainly modern aspects to the process, there is also an great deal of old fashioned equipment and methods.
My apologies for "hot spots" caused by the flash. This was a public tour and not a private photography session and as such, you have to work quickly with what you have. If I had caught an earlier tour rather than the last tour of the day, I could have gone back and worked on some of these photos.
After the tour, you can dip a bottle of your own into their wax to seal it. Note: you must be 21 to enter this area and do this.
And yes, they have a sample of the two bourbons (which is why you have to be 21 to get into this area). (And you wondered how I knew the difference in the taste of the two bourbons). Note: the samples are small but still beware that law enforcement know samples are given out and caution should be used driving in the area.
Maker's 46 is just coming out to market as I write this. It can be found in certain areas but has not reached nationwide availability yet.
The tours are free and thoroughly enjoyable for all. Find one of the advertising brochures for times, directions, and other information.