Going to Bourbon Country without a visit to the nearby distilleries would be like going to Disney without smuggling booze onto the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride. If you’re not going to do the fun stuff, there’s really no reason to be there (if you think those animatronic pirates are entertaining without the hooch, there’s something seriously wrong with you). Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam both have operations within easy driving distance of Louisville, and both are worth the trip out of town. If you still need incentive, two words: free samples.
The drive will take you through some beautiful Kentucky vistas. We saw plenty of horses, but the grass was sadly green (maybe it turns blue a different time of year). The Maker’s Distillery was our first stop, and boy is it secluded. A bunch of twisty roads lead you to their visitor’s outpost. Step out of the car, and you’re greeted with a whiff of their famous Bourbon. Some people say that the smell of the ocean relaxes them. We finally understand what they mean.
The site offers tours throughout the day and there’s plenty of interesting intel along the way. You’ll find out that the entire production run of Maker’s Mark goes through this location, you’ll get the opportunity to dip your own bottle in the infamous wax, and at the end of the tour you’ll get the chance to sip some of the precious juice. How the spirit company manages such consistency of flavor when dealing with thousands of barrels is beyond us. They have a small café on site where you can ponder questions like this (and subversively open your commemorative bottle).
If Maker’s is a quaint taste of Kentucky, Beam is the behemoth of the Bourbon Trail. The distillery is only 20 minutes outside of Louisville, and they bottle all sorts of spirits on site. We had to wear safety goggles on the tour, and we don’t think it was just for effect. The bottling machines speedily pour, label, and cap the product. Shrink wrap machines get everything in order to go out. We weren’t able to taste anything on the line, but no matter. This place is the Wonka’s factory of the liquor-verse.
Beam has a visitor's center where you can taste some of their small batch labels (Bakers = yum) and watch a video detailing the history of their bourbon production. The spot’s visitor experience isn’t as Disney-fied as the Maker’s Distillery. The business at this location is producing a lot of product, visitors come second. It’s still worth a drop-in, and the team in charge promises some upgraded goodies for tourists, coming soon.
After a long day of distillery tours, some Bourbon on the rocks is just what you need. The drive back to the city is short, and there are plenty of places to check out. Bar suggestions coming soon, we have to jog our memory by sniffing some Knob Creek.