Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
Maker’s Mark Distillery
3350 Burks Spring Rd.
Loretto, KY 40037
Tour – Review
Please enjoy our Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour Review!
Maker’s Mark Distillery Was Once The Burks’ Distillery
To visit Maker’s Mark Distillery at Star Hill Farm is to step back into the past. Maker’s story began in 1953, when Bill Samuels, Sr. purchased the dilapidated Burks’ Distillery located near the small Kentucky town of Loretto. The original 187 acre purchase sat along the banks of Hardin’s Creek. The distillery and the Samuels family both could claim a lengthy history in the business of whiskey making.
Burks’ Distillery History
In 1803, Charles Burks and his family had settled the land in order to set up and operate a water grist mill on the creek. Not long afterwards, around 1805, Charles began to distill. While the mill operated continuously throughout the Burks’ ownership of the property, the distillery went dormant with the death of Charles and his son around 1831-1832. It was resurrected, however, by a later generation of the family in the late 1880’s. The property, including the distillery, remained in the Burks family for over 100 plus years.
T.W. Samuels & Son’s Distillery
As for the Samuels, Bill, Sr. would become the 4th generation commercial distiller in his family. His great grandfather, T.W. Samuels, along with his son, W.I. Samuels, opened the T.W. Samuels & Son Distillery in 1844. Upon the death of both founders in 1898, Leslie B. Samuels, son of W.I., took the helm. The fates were not particularly kind to Leslie. In 1909, fire destroyed the distillery, along with 6 barrel warehouses and their nine thousand barrels of aging whiskey. The distillery was rebuilt but eventually cost Leslie controlling interest in the company. Prohibition brought another devastating blow in 1920; although the company was able to restructure in 1933 after the repeal of Prohibition, just 10 short years later in 1943, the company, its brands, and trademarks (including the Samuels family name), were sold.
Bill Sr. Steps In
Leslie B. passed in 1936 and his son, Bill, Sr., had taken over the family’s stake in the business. He had attempted to secure financing in order to purchase the T.W. Samuels & Son Distillery outright, but came away empty handed. Even though he had no distillery, Bill, Sr. decided to work on a new recipe. He had always thought their family recipe was too harsh. He wanted a smoother, sweeter bourbon. Help came two ways.
First, Bill, Sr. sought out assistance from friends. Friends who just happened to be heavy hitters in the bourbon industry: Pappy Van Winkle (Stitzel-Weller), Hap Motlow (Jack Daniels), Jere Beam (Jim Beam), and Ed Shapira (Heaven Hill), to name a few. Together they helped him to formulate his new recipe. Second, Bill, Sr.’s supportive wife, Margie, put the various mash bills to the test by baking each into a loaf of bread. After sampling the lot, Bill, Sr. settled on a mash bill that replaced the spicier rye grain with soft red winter wheat. He put his new mash bill into production in 1954, when distilling commenced once again at the Burks’ Distillery.
Maker’s Mark Distillery Is A Beautiful Historic Property
Taking a tour at Maker’s Mark Distillery is time well spent. It’s a beautiful bourbon oasis that has been welcoming visitors for over 40+ years. The most popular tour at Maker’s Mark is called, appropriately, The Maker’s Mark Tour. This tour teaches the visitor about Maker’s Mark Distillery’s history, as well as about their process of making bourbon. It concludes with a tasting. The cost of the tour (as of October 2023) is $24, and must be booked online, in advance. No tour tickets will be sold onsite. The tour takes approximately 1 1/4 hours and involves about a 1/2 mile of walking. Much time is spent outside, with visits to some of the production buildings, so keep the weather in mind.
Maker’s Mark Distillery Has Many More Tours & Experiences
Recently, Maker’s Mark has added many more tours and experiences. These also all require advance online booking and include:
- Behind The Bourbon, which is a more in-depth tour than The Maker’s Mark Tour, and last 2 hours, and also includes a more diverse bourbon tasting
- The Remarkable Experience, which is a 3 hour long small group tour which covers the distillery and grounds, including a welcome cocktail and progressive tasting along the tour route
- The Oak Experience, which accommodates no more than 5 people, lasts 2.5 hours, and “deep-dives into oak education, whisky maturation and wood finishing” and also includes thieving whisky and sampling various wood finished bourbons
- Maker’s Mark Art & Design Tour, a 90 minute guided tour of the art around the Maker’s Mark campus, beginning with a welcome cocktail and concluding with a pour of a Maker’s Mark Private Selection
- The Star Hill Farm Tour, a 1 1/2 hour tour with no more than 4 people, covering Star Hill Farm, including garden, apiaries, mushroom quarry, wheat fields, livestock pastures, as well as education on Maker’s regenerative agriculture initiatives. The tour includes a Gold Rush cocktail on arrival and 3 samples of our Maker’s Mark® Private Select and Wood Finishing Series
Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour Visitor Center
Check-in for all tours begins inside the visitor center near the entrance to the distillery grounds. On the way in, or out, as the case may be, don’t miss a walk through the extensive raised bed garden. Even though autumn was in full swing, vegetables and flowers continued to abound. Maker’s requests that tour guests arrive 20 minutes before tour time. Any extra time also allows for a peek at the garden or the art and Maker’s memorabilia inside the visitor center building, or a stop at the cocktail bar.
On our initial visit, we met our guide, Christopher, inside the entrance. After a quick introduction, the tour commenced and we followed him out the back of the entrance area and down the gently sloping walkway towards the distilling campus.
Let’s Head To The Distillery
As we’ve already noted, there’s a lot of history to Maker’s Mark’s story. Christopher began our tour with some of this history as we headed to our first stop, the distillery. He pointed out that Margie insisted that for every dollar that went into making the bourbon, one dollar would go towards building and ground restoration. It definitely shows.
Fermenters & Stills
When we took our tour in 2021, visitors were not allowed inside the distillery. That has since changed, and visitors can once again get an up-close look at the stills, cookers and fermenters. In the main area of the distillery, there are 8 cypress fermenters, each with a 9600 gallon capacity. Out of view are another 52 9600 gallon stainless steel fermenters. Fermentation at Maker’s Mark lasts 3 days. Interestingly, Maker’s Mark Distillery has 3 identical sets of stills and doublers. The goal at Maker’s is to have uniformity of flavor, and therefore every time they have expanded their capacity, they simply built a duplicate version of what they already had. The 5 story high 16 plate copper column stills yield a low wine at 120 proof. The doublers then boost this up to 130 proof and the high wine is then proofed down to 110 proof for barreling.
Maker’s Mark Has Some Unique Features
Christopher reviewed the distilling process, and there were a few interesting facts fairly unique to Maker’s Mark Distillery. First, Maker’s uses a 3 roller mill set which gently crushes the grains, instead of a hammermill which pulverizes them. Second, today Maker’s property now totals around 850 acres. The distillery deliberately purchased the surrounding land in order to control and protect their entire watershed. Lastly, Maker’s Mark propagates their own yeast. While some distilleries continue this practice, even more intriguing, is the fact that their yeast strain originates from their old family distillery, the T.W. Samuels & Son Distillery.
Moving on from the distillery we made our way over to the Label Room. Considered part of bottling, this small space houses two 1934 Chandler & Price dye cutters along with some very large copiers in the back. All labels are printed and cut on site. The dye cutters have been in use from the early days of bottling. Christopher explained how packaging was all Margie’s genius, from the unique bottle shape, to the hand-torn label (originally), to the world famous and trademarked red dripping wax seal. It was said that Margie is why you buy the first bottle, and Bill, Sr. is why you buy the second.
The Barrel Warehouse
From labeling, we headed to our next stop, Warehouse A. This 3 story rickhouse was built in 1885 and has approximately a 4,000 barrel capacity. Like all rickhouses, the aroma of aging bourbon filled the air inside with a nose pleasing sweetness. Christopher relayed that warehousing has changed a bit since the old days. New structures are 7 stories tall with a 60,000 barrel capacity. Maker’s currently has 45 warehouses in 3 surrounding counties (as of 2021).
Before we left the sugary bouquet behind, Christopher explained that unlike most distilleries, Maker’s Mark rotates their barrels in the rickhouse. Barrels are stored on the upper floors first for 3 years then moved to the lower floors for the remainder of their aging. For example, in the 7 story warehouses, barrels that start on the 7th floor move to the 1st floor, while those on the 6th move to the 2nd, and barrels on the 5th floor move to the 3rd. Fourth floor barrels remain in the same position for the entire 6-6 1/2 years that Maker’s ages their bourbon.
The Limestone Cellar
With a little warehouse education under our belt, our final stop on the walking portion of the tour was the limestone cellar. This cave like building is a recent addition (2016) to the distillery campus. The cellar was specifically built to house the Maker’s 46 and Marker’s Mark Private Select barrels while they are being wood-finished. Little did we know, the Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged Bourbon was aging quietly there during our visit, as well.
Maker’s 46 was the creation of Bill Samuels, Jr., son of founders Bill, Sr. and Margie Samuels. After 35 years in the family business, Bill, Jr. wanted to leave a legacy of his own before he retired (2011) as President and CEO. Released in 2010, Maker’s 46 was the first brand extension the company had ever done. For more than 50 years, Maker’s Mark made only a single product, Maker’s Mark Bourbon. Maker’s 46 has 10 seared virgin French oak staves inserted into a fully aged Maker’s Mark Bourbon barrel. The constant year round temperature in the cellar is 50-52 degrees providing ideal conditions for the nine week wood-finishing process to complete. The cellar’s 2,000 barrel capacity keeps the Maker’s 46 flowing.
Maker’s Mark Private Selection
Also included in this 14,000 square foot cave like expanse is a tasting room dedicated to the Maker’s Mark Private Selection program. The space is beautifully modern yet has an old world feel. The room is designed so customers, through hands on experimentation, can create their very own Maker’s Mark wood-finished expression. What a fun way to spend 3 hours of one’s life! More recently, a similar area for creating Maker’s Mark Private Selections, known as the Lake House, has been built in the hills overlooking the distillery. Regardless of where it is created, Private Selections all age in the Limestone Cellar.
On To The Tasting Rooms
Our final stroll with Christopher took us out of the cellar and over to the tour tasting rooms. Our Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour came with 5 bourbon samples. In order, we tasted the Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Maker’s 101, Maker’s Cask Strength, Maker’s 46, and a Maker’s Private Selection. Christopher did an excellent job leading us through each sample and highlighting its characteristics. The tasting wrapped up in just under 15 minutes and we followed Christopher through the short hallway that cleverly leads directly into the enormous and well stocked gift shop.
The Chihuly Hallway
The hallway, however, requires special attention. To celebrate Maker’s Mark’s 60th anniversary, Rob Samuels, son of Bill, Jr. and the current Managing Director of the distillery, had an amazing Dale Chihuly glass display installed in the ceiling of the hallway between the tasting rooms and the gift shop. The Washington state born artist is world famous for his glass blown sculptures. It’s definitely a piece to stop and admire. We then said our goodbyes to Christopher inside the gift shop and thanked him for a fantastic Maker’s Mark Distillery tour!
Maker’s Mark Gift Shop
The Maker’s Mark gift shop is always teaming with eager shoppers. While the store has all the usual clothing, glassware, and of course bourbon galore, it also offers visitors 21 or older the opportunity to hand dip their own bottle of Maker’s Mark Bourbon. Purchase an undipped bottle, don the protective gear, follow the distillery expert’s instructions and you can create your own red wax drip. If shopping isn’t in your wheelhouse, then exit the gift shop left and head down the sidewalk to Star Hill Provisions. This restaurant and cocktail bar occupies the renovated Distiller’s House from the days of the Burks’ Distillery. While the restaurant has unfortunately been closed for quite some time, the cocktail business is still in full swing. Indoor and outdoor seating, which provides views of the scenic Maker’s Mark campus, are both available.
The Maker’s Mark Name
There’s only really one tidbit left to cover. How did an old dilapidated Burks’ Distillery and a family whose brand name had been sold become known as Maker’s Mark? Once again, the genius of Margie Samuels was at play. Bill, Sr. had begun distilling before his new bourbon even had its own identity. While Margie was planning the new brand’s packaging, she was also settling on a name. As a collector of fine English pewter, Margie was well aware that a pewter whitesmith would leave his mark on his best work. After musing upon the maker’s mark in her pewter collection, the idea hit: Maker’s Mark. Along with the name also came the familiar circle with a star on the border and the S and the IV inside the circle. This was their maker’s mark and can still be found on all Maker’s Mark products today.
Maker’s Mark Has Something For Everyone
Whether you’re a bourbon nerd or history buff, Maker’s Mark Distillery has plenty for either interest. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1980, and remains a beautiful place to visit today. Fortunately, Bill, Jr., heeded the stern advice of his father and did not “screw up the whisky.” Not only did he not screw it up, he played a pivotal role in forging Maker’s Mark into the world wide success it has become. Take the tour, enjoy the scenic historic grounds, have a cocktail, and leave with a little historic perspective, and some damn fine bourbon whisky, too!
We hope you have enjoyed our Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour review! Why not read about a couple of Maker’s Mark bourbons? Check out our Maker’s Mark Bourbon Review and Maker’s 46 Cask Strength Bourbon Review (2023)!
Original Tour: October 2021 Updated: September 2022, October 2023
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