Monday, June 8, 2009

A Detour on the Bourbon Trail

Last week's travels once again were in Kentucky. Neal Odom and I were traveling together making sales calls in the Central and East Central part of the state. One afternoon we found ourselves near the little town of Loretto and decided to drop in on one of the state's historical sites.
The entrance to the Still Room can be seen above. The first site is of the copper tanks where the distilled product goes.
The first step in creating Maker's Mark is to run the carefully selected grains through a roller mill. Then, the crushed grains are added to a pressurized wash tub which is seen above. This begins the process of converting the sugars and starches to alcohol.

From the pressurized tanks, the slurry of grains is then transferred to the open wooden vats seen above. This is where the first fermentation occurs. It is interesting to see the bubbles forming on top of the slurry from the gases produced in the fermentation process. Each batch contains a small amount of the previous batch which acts as "seed" for the new liquor.

From the open vats, the slurry is then pumped to a 5-story tall copper distillation column. This is where the 12% alcohol slurry is distilled to a higher concentration. The distillation column sits to the right of the tanks in the photo above. Most of it is out of sight as it goes up through the floors of the Still House.

The distilled liquor is further refined and the proper amount of water is added to reach the final "proof" for the fresh bourbon. It is perfectly clear until aged in specially made white-oak barrels which are seen above. There are numerous warehouses storing the barrels of liquor in various stages of aging.

Today, the finished product is bottled on site in the signature bottle dipped in red wax. In the earliest days, it was transported by wagon.

To learn more about the little distillery at Loretto, Kentucky, go to the Maker's Mark website linked here (warning, you must be 21 to enter).