Maker's Mark and Jack Daniels

Jack Daniels Distillery

For me, one of the highlights of the Kentucky Bourbon trail is the Maker’s Mark Distillery. 

Makers has been my go-to Bourbon for years now – and it was a cool experience to visit the distillery and take the tour.  Since then I’ve become an ambassador and have my name on a Barrel aging there, so in a few years I’ll have a palette of makers I guess. 

I remember my grandfather drinking a lot of Jim Bean and Old Grandad when I was young.  The story goes that when I was a baby and they wanted to stop me crying, they would give me a spoonful of bourbon and honey. Maybe that’s when I first started developing my love of bourbon.  When I was fresh out of high school everyone drank Jack and coke.  We weren’t old enough yet so we’d find one of the old bums that hung around by the train tracks and have them buy a bottle for us.  We just had to give them enough for a pint or a couple Jumbos of malt liquor. 

For a lot of years I was a fan of Wild Turkey, and when I started Bartending around 1991 that was still my drink until Jim Beam came out with the small batch bourbons – Basil Hayden, Booker, Bakers, etc.  Right around that time I also had my first Makers, and it just became the one Bourbon I liked best to drink straight. I still also drink Basil Hayden – and I really like the Caribbean Cask Rye and Port Wine Cask limited edition versions they’ve come out with recently.

I guess the older I get the less I like to mix drinks.  Maybe because I drank a lot of cheap liquor when I was young that you had to water down, or maybe because after all of these years I finally have fine-tuned my palette. But a nice snifter of Makers is just about the perfect drink for me.

A brief history of Makers: Back in 1953 Bill Samuels bought Burks' Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky, for $35,000.  He came up with the recipe for his bourbon by baking different kinds of bread – and when he came up with a loaf he liked, he then used that combination of grains for the bourbon.  I think his mom came up with the idea for the red wax on the bottle.  Supposedly there was an early advertisement that went something like “Makers Mark – Tastes expensive and it is”.  They were clearly ahead of their time when it came to advertising.

Bourbon usually takes up to 7 years to mature but Bill first bottled his red seal in 1958 – 4 years after he bought the distillery – so maybe he cut a few corners to get things moving, but who cares and I was not even born yet.

If you hop on over to the Whiskey trail you can also visit the Jack Daniels Distillery – which has a more interesting history than Makers.  And I have to admit – after visiting Jack Daniels I have much more of an appreciation for the Whiskey.  I won’t bore you with all of the details here – you can read up on them via Wikipedia or the official website.  But needless to say you can go anywhere in the world – from a dirty old man neighborhood back alley joint to some little island tiki bar on a beach where they don’t even have plumbing and you will see a bottle of jack on the bar.  It’s great and there’s a good reason it’s the top selling Whiskey in the world!

A brief history of Jack: Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel, was born in 1850, around 16 he was taken in by a local moonshiner and he began to learn the trade. When he got an inheritance, he started his own distillery and the rest is history.  When you visit the distillery, you can see the safe that jack supposedly kicked, injuring his toe, and then eventually died of blood poisoning from infection.  Seems he was always forgetting the combination.

There is a process they use called charcoal mellowing – or as they like to call it “The Extra Blessing.” – the clear 140 proof Jack Daniels is filtered through 6 feet of sugar maple charcoal which takes up to 5 days.

They make their own charcoal there, and the building where they store the charcoal for filtering the whisky is interesting – the walls are covered with celebrity signatures from over the years.  Various country music stars, and even all 3 Beastie Boys signatures are there.  I was not allowed to sign my name on the wall.

Moore County, where the Jack Daniel's distillery is located, is a dry county, But I was able to buy a bottle of white dog which is unaged clear corn whiskey.

Many other distilleries on the Bourbon and Whiskey trails – but they are far enough apart that it makes visiting more than one or two a day difficult.

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