The Maker’s Mark Distillery
The place where the Samuels family distills Maker’s Mark bourbon whisky (the company spells the spirit the Scottish way, sans “e”) is an old wood-frame distillery in Loretto, Kentucky which looks like a barn, built by architect George Burks in 1889. Near the distillery is the old Quart House, where customers used to come re-fill their quart bottles.
When T.W. (Bill) Samuels, Sr. bought the property around 1950, it had lain dormant for years. Samuels, a sixth-generation Kentucky distiller, set about rehabbing the old building and getting it into shape to turn out his dream, a small-batch Kentucky bourbon known for its smooth and easy taste. His new bourbon’s tag line: “It tastes expensive… and is.”
The distillery refurbishing underway, Samuels began to build his bourbon but soon ran up against reality: because aging just one batch of bourbon can take six years, he didn’t have time to distill, test, taste, and select from different recipes. Samuels’ solution: he and his wife, Marjorie, baked loaves of bread, each containing the exact grain content of a different proposed Maker’s Mark recipe, and asked neighbors to taste each loaf; the bread judged best-tasting would be the model for Samuels’ bourbon, which would be distilled with the exact proportions of grain found in that loaf. The winner: a bread made with barley and red winter wheat, instead of rye. In keeping with tradition, Samuels celebrated his new distillation by burning his family’s 170-year old bourbon recipe.
The first bottle of Maker’s Mark Kentucky bourbon whisky was sold in 1958 and featured the company’s trademarked red wax seal. In 1974, the distillery was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1980 it became a National Historic Landmark. Today it sits along Kentucky’s historic Bourbon Trail. It is one of the few distilleries left to rotate barrels between high and low shelves during the aging process to take advantage of the differences in temperature found at each altitude.
While not technically a “watering hole,” the distillery does offer tours which include a stop in the sampling room.