The Kentucky Bourbon Trail has the slogan “Where the Spirit Leads You.” It’s true. The Kentucky Hills are filled with both major and independent bourbon retailers eager to share their expertise and their wares. We began our bourbon journey at Maker’s Mark, located a few miles outside of Lebanon, Kentucky. Maker’s Mark had recently opened a new welcome center and was in the process of landscaping, but the original buildings, redone by the founder’s wife, Marjorie Samuels, give the distillery a Bavarian feel. We began our tour by picking up a passport, which can be stamped at certain distilleries and returned for a t-shirt. August is a hot month and most of the bourbon distilleries cease production during the month. The time is used to repair, replace and clean equipment. But, if you are a bourbon fan, not to worry, each distillery continues to operate tastings of their selections.
The history behind Maker’s Mark is fascinating. Bill Samuels Sr. was a 7th generation distiller who threw away the family recipe and developed his own because he didn’t like the taste of the original recipe. His wife, a marketing genius, created a hand drawn label and the signature red seal. The distillery is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 to 3:30 and on Sunday, except for January and February, from 11:30-3:30. The cost of a tour and tasting is $9 per adult.
From Maker’s Mark we traveled to the nearby Limestone Branch Distillery. Opened in 2011 by Steve and Paul Beam, two brothers with a family history in distillation dating back to 1795, they began using family recipes to distill their own products. Because Bourbon has to be aged at least two years to be called “Straight Bourbon” and at least four years before it can be sold without an age label, Steve and Paul partnered with the Moon Pie company and created MoonPie moonshine, “a liquid Moonpie with a Kick.” Available in Chocolate, Vanilla and Banana, this moonshine uses the same flavoring as the Moon Pie company does in their products.
This is a small distillery so the free tour gives an up close and personal look at the distillation process. Because the process is done in small batches, it’s easy to see the equipment and understand how it is made. At the end of the tour adults are invited for a sampling of up to four products. I didn’t taste their Sugar Shine, made from 50% corn and 50% cane sugar, but it is available in flavors like Apple Cinnamon, Cherry, Blackberry and Jalapeno. The Apple Cinnamon smelled amazing. If you would like to visit, they are open until 5 PM Monday through Saturday and 1 PM until 5 PM on Sunday.
Did you know to be considered Bourbon, the liquid can only be aged in a charred white oak barrel? The barrel can only be used once for Bourbon products and then is sold to other companies to age their products. If you want to see how the barrels are made, visit the Kentucky Cooperage. Started by TW Boswell over 100 years ago, this company is still operated by his family, now led by his great-grandchildren. Free tours are available Monday through Friday at 9:30 AM and 1:00 PM.
Have you visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail? Want to learn more? Check out their website at www.visitlebanonky.com.