Day one we rolled into Louisville around midnight...Wayne the Train Hancock on the radio, skyline passing by to our right as we hit the bridge into Kentucky. We met up with some friends at Nachbar, out in Germantown, and celebrated our arrival with glasses of Very Old Barton 90 proof and Old Fitzgerald 86 proof...which were followed by a few more glasses of Old Heaven Hill bonded and white label...which led to sopes and carnitas at 5.30 AM...all of which made our 10 AM appointment at Maker's Mark seem impossibly close and unachievable.
We made it to Maker's Mark by about 11.30. Now, in all honesty, I've never been a huge fan of the brand; on the nose I often find too much char, and the palate seems to crest early and then fade rather quickly. I also have little patience for those who order Maker's just because that's all they know; that's the marketing. You like the wheat, great, there're plenty of interesting wheated bourbons out there; give 'em a try. That being said, I have nothing but respect for what the brand has done for the industry; essentially creating the whole category of "premium" bourbons. At least it gets people drinking bourbon...
The folks over at Maker's Mark were the very soul of hospitality. The grounds were immaculate, and the operations remarkably streamlined. All the employees I saw seemed to be content enough with their jobs, especially our exceedingly excitable tour guide. At the end of the tour we were invited to taste the white dog, or pre-barrel distillate, and the final product. Side note: one of the main reasons we wanted to tour the distilleries was for precisely this reason: to taste the white dog. It's an amazing spirit; the corn sings out loud and clear, the rye or wheat dances around that, and all is backed by the clean cereal notes of the barley. I'd never had anything like it before our first trip to Kentucky, and now was looking forward to seeing the intricacies of everyone's white dog.
I was excited as we nosed the Maker's dog, it was far more complex and layered than I was expecting...but oh, was the palate disappointing! A big giant hole, right in the middle of the palate, barely showing the wheat I was looking for. The tour guide casually mentioned that they'd diluted the dog with water down to about 90 proof, although to us it tasted closer to 75 or 80. After the session was over I approached the guide and politely expressed my disappointment in the watered-down dog...at which point she offered to run us back to the still to taste the real deal as it flowed from the doubler! Holy crap! A few minutes later and there we were...sipping 138 proof dog from a metal dipper...and there it was! A beautiful spirit, aromatic and fresh, the wheat notes fairly sparkling big bowl of crisp, heady cornflakes. The palate was everything we were hoping for, as well; full-bodied and lush, viscous and to the point, with a gorgeous, lingering finish. Definitely above and beyond.
We split after spending a little money in the gift shop, and swung by Jim Beam for what proved to be the flat-out lamest tour on the trail. Starting with a video that reduced the incredible history of a colorful family to 7 of the blandest moments of my life, we were then ushered into the tasting room and offered a sixteenth of an ounce each of the Black label and Bookers...and then bade farewell. They say that they're overhauling the tour, and within three years there'll be something to do there...but they could have tried a little harder.
Back to Bardstown then, and a stop at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History...we got there about forty minutes before closing and were frantically rushed to see everything. I sould spend hours there and still not be satisfied. When you go, check out the wall of 50-mL old bourbon bottles, as well as sundry old liqueurs and rums and such. Also on display are dozens of old bottles dating back before Prohibition, many with the original whiskey still inside.
One note: it is basically impossible to get into trouble in Bardstown on a Monday night in June. The liveliest place we could find was a bright and empty sports bar called Cricket's; nice place, but hardly the crowd we were looking for...So back to the hotel to smoke Cubans and pass around a 375 of Maker's we'd picked up and hand-dipped at the distillery.
Next Time: Heaven Hill, Mike's Feed Store, almost Wild Turkey, Bourbon's Bistro, Basa, 732 Social, Nachbar.