Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail: A Pilgrimage To The Maker’s Mark Distillery

maker's mark bourbonI’m not much of a bourbon connoisseur. In fact, before a recent road trip to Kentucky where 95% of the world’s bourbon is made, I had no idea what distinguished bourbon from regular old whiskey. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do, so I decided to visit the Maker’s Mark Distillery, reputedly one of the best stops on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

The distillery is a 25-minute drive, along a windy country road that dips and turns along a pastoral landscape from Bardstown, a distinctive small town named the “most beautiful small town in America” by USA Today this year. Along the way we passed some pitch-black Maker’s Mark warehouses that resembled a disused prison complex and one of them reassured us that we were just three miles away from some sweet Kentucky bourbon.
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The distillery is set across a large complex that makes for a nice walk on a sunny day. There are a host of buildings, each painted dark brown and adorned with shutters the same shade of red as Maker’s Marks distinctive red wax bottle seals, which are hand dipped on the premises. (You can buy and dip your own bottle in the gift shop.)


maker's mark distilleryThe tour used to be free, but it now costs $7, which is still a bargain considering the fact they offer guests a chance to sample three bourbons and learn about a product that’s a deeply entrenched part of Kentucky’s culture.

The Samuels family, which founded Maker’s Mark, and scores of other Scotch-Irish distillers, fled to Kentucky from Pennsylvania after George Washington imposed a whiskey tax in 1791, sparking the Whiskey Rebellion. The whiskey tax went uncollected in Kentucky, then a frontier state, as no one had the will to enforce the law or prosecute those who ignored it.

Our tour guide, Jacqueline, told us that a nearby lake served as the base for the product.




“Why are there so many successful bourbon distilleries in the state of Kentucky?” she asked. “Here in a six county radius, we happen to sit on top of a very rich limestone shelf, that limestone filters our water making it iron free and calcium rich. Perfect for distilling whiskey with.”

maker's mark distillery fermentation roomAnd what makes bourbon different from regular whiskey?
To call it a bourbon whiskey it must have at least 51% corn, in the recipe – Maker’s Mark uses 70%. It must also consist of only grain, yeast and water, with no artificial flavors or colors; it has to be aged for at least two years in new, charred, oak barrels; and it has to be distilled at no more than 160 proof, barreled at no more than 125 proof and bottled at at least 80 proof.

Many of the technical details went over our heads, but we enjoyed having the opportunity to dip our hands in the vats in the fermentation room and were stoked to have a chance to sample three of their products: the 90 proof Maker’s White, which is only available at the distillery (thank God), regular Marker’s Mark and Maker’s 46, which Jacqueline described as “bourbon on steroids.”


We were instructed to taste the Maker’s White first and for good reason – the stuff is nasty.

“I like to look at all your faces as you’re tasting the Maker’s White,” Jacqueline said. “I can tell if you’ve had moonshine before, you know the Maker’s White isn’t that bad.”


maker's mark liberal conservativeBut the Maker’s Mark and the Maker’s 46 were complex, with long, sweet, smooth finishes that lingered on the front of the tongue for a long time. I felt like I was still tasting them well after my insides were already warmed and my mouth felt a little numb, as though I’d just gotten some Novocain at the dentist. But on the way out, rather than getting a toothbrush and some floss, we were given a nice piece of chocolate – a sweet ending to our introduction to the world of Kentucky bourbon.



[Photos by Dave Seminara]

Boozy bliss from coast to coast: Spa treatments with alcohol, perfect for St. Patrick’s Day

spa treatments with alcoholIt doesn’t matter if it’s five o’clock or not because it’s always happy hour when you’re at the spa. In recognition of St. Patrick’s Day, many spas are incorporating alcohol into their treatment menus. It might sound odd, but wine, beer and whiskey spa treatments all have proven therapeutic benefits for your skin.

“Spas with local vineyards or nearby distilleries are taking advantage of what’s around them to create memorable experiences for their guests,” said International SPA Association President Lynne McNees. “Many people might not equate the spa with alcohol, but 23% of spas are incorporating local or indigenous elements into their treatment menu.”

You may not even have to travel to enjoy these unique treatments. Check out a list of our favorite unique treatments from coast to coast. Use them to celebrate that next week’s holiday-o-booze (um, we mean St. Patrick’s Day) or simply to unwind after a long work week:

The Atlantic Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale, FL
The Citrus Suds Body Treatment includes a full citrus beer scrub, scalp massage, hair treatment that utilizes a beer extract, six-pack beer bath and an application of citrus lotion. Beer yeast is rich in elements that increase skin elasticity, improves acne by suppressing sebum and has been shown to have antibacterial properties. An 80-minute is $222 through March 31, 2011.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, Sonoma, CA
When you’re surrounded by wine country it’s hard not to incorporate a little vino into your spa menu. The Chardonnay Olive Oil Sugar Scrub offers stimulating exfoliation that moisturizes while promoting new skin growth. The invigorating products used in the treatment are all hand made in the Sonoma Valley and incorporate olive oil, sea salt and lavender to awaken the mind, body and senses. A 45-minute treatment is $129.

The Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, Washington, DC
Book this “ritzy” hotel’s signature Champagne package for a bit of boozy bliss that will simultaneously infuse your skin with antioxidant-rich Champagne and Chardonnay extracts. Our favorites? The Champagne Indulgence Manicure & Pedicure, an extended spa service that includes a rich scrub and soothing body butter. The 50-minute treatments range from $65 to $95.

The Spa at Chateau Elan, Braselton, GA
The 55-minute Chateau Antioxidant Winery Facial is offered for $90, and uses grapes loaded with antioxidants to replenish the skin by smoothing the tissue and stimulating the circulatory system. Their signature treatment the 110-minute Chateau Winery Ritual offered at $250 features a wine bath that infuses the body with grape seed antioxidants and a De-Vine Mudwrap. The wrap combines crushed grapes and French clay to pull out toxins while moisturizing the skin with vitamins E and C.

VH Spa for Vitality + Health at Hotel Valley Ho, Scottsdale, AZ
The 90-minute Chardonnay Antioxidant Body Treatment features products made from wine grapes, grape peel and grape seed. The ingredients are full of natural antioxidants that restore vitality to your skin. The treatment begins with a full body Chardonnay sugar scrub followed by a customized massage and finishes with a Chardonnay body butter application all for $185. The spa also offers a Whiskey and Black Pepper Facial for $100 through May 2011. The 60-minute facial features phytomalt, a malt extract from Scotch whiskey, that’s full of sugars, minerals and vitamin B6 giving it excellent hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties.

Abroad in Prague?
We covered this great beer treatment at a The Augustine in Prague earlier this year.

Can’t travel? Recreate the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or French wine county at home:
FarmHouse Fresh® recently introduced their Bourbon Bubbler professional body scrub. The scrub contains coarse brown sugar, Kentucky whiskey and rice bran oil. A 12 oz. jar of the scrub retails for $34 and can be found at spas around the country. Caudalie Paris’ Vinothérapie® Spa in a Bag limited edition kit includes a Merlot Friction Scrub, Vine Peach Shower Gel and a Vine Body Butter. When used together this regimen will help you regain a toned and firmed body. The kit retails for $56 and can be found online and at spas.

[Image via Flickr user e_calamar]

Bourbon, beer, wine, and equines in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region

My desire to take advantage of flight deals and see new places often takes me to destinations I might not have otherwise considered. An $89 round trip flight from Chicago to Louisville, for example, is how I ended up discovering that there’s a lot more to Kentucky‘s Bluegrass region than horses.
Louisville
The Louisville airport is larger than Lexington and receives more daily flights, which means for most people, it will be cheaper to fly into Louisville than Lexington. The two cities are an hour’s drive away from each other, so you can easily see both over a long weekend, no matter which airport you fly into. Louisville is the larger of the two cities- actually it is the largest in Kentucky. It’s not a major city though, and if you come expecting a Bluegrass Chicago, you may be disappointed.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of things to do in Louisville though. Boxing fans will want to visit the Muhammad Ali Center and baseball lovers can’t miss the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. The West Main area, also known as museum row, is home to several impressive art, history and science museums. Fort Knox and the Belle of Louisville (the oldest Mississippi-style steamboat still in use in the US) are also popular attractions.

In Louisville, I stayed at the 1888 Rocking Horse Manor. A totally restored historic house just south of the downtown area (an easy 15 minute walk), it features its original stained glass, antique furniture, free wi-fi, and a cooked-to-order breakfast included in the rate. The furnishings look a little like they came from your grandma’s house, but the hosts are helpful and friendly, the breakfast (and soft, chewy cookies available all day) is delicious, and the house is full of hidden nooks and crannies where you can escape and relax. Rates start at around $85 per night.

To find Louisville’s trendy scenesters (yes, they do exist), head to Proof on Main, a lounge/restaurant in the 21C Hotel. The menu features artisanal small plates (like bison bone marrow or grilled fennel relish) and eclectic main plates like roasted beet risotto and Amish chicken that start at $15. The drink list emphases the local Bourbon. The $10 Woodland Cider (bourbon, clove and apple cider) was excellent and you can take your drink into the adjoining museum and browse the modern art installations while you sip.

For a more casual meal, check out the pub grub at Bluegrass Brewing. They serve all the standards like burgers, pizzas and salads, plus local specialties like the Hot Brown – a giant sandwich of turkey, tomato, bacon, cheese and Alfredo sauce. After a few Bourbon Barrel Oatmeal Stouts, it’s just the kind of food you may need to avoid a morning hangover.

Lexington
Lexington is pure horse-country. The airport is just outside of Keenland, where you can place your bets and watch athletic Thoroughbred horses speed around the track. True horse enthusiasts (and anyone with kids) should head to the Kentucky Horse Park, a working horse farm, event grounds, and museum dedicated to all things horse. The park is home to over 100 horses (less in winter) and often hosts horse shows and competitions like the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event. Admission is $15 for adults and well worth it. Plan on spending at least 3-4 hours onsite. The farm offers horseback and pony rides (as do several other farms in the area). Many racing and breeding farms also offer tours (by appointment) to visitors.

The Bourbon Trail runs between Lexington and Louisville and features eight distilleries producing Bourbon, which is the United States’ only native spirit and is produced only in Kentucky. You can visit one or two (I highly recommend Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark) or head to the Whiskey Heritage Center to try multiple brands in one spot.

If Bourbon isn’t your drink of choice, you can also visit several wineries in the area – there are over a dozen within an hour’s drive of Lexington. At Wildside Vines, about 20 minutes west of the city, you can sample eight of their award-winning wines at no cost. Be sure to try the creative dessert wines like Blueberry and Blackberry.

For a fun night on the town, try the Cheapside Bar and Grill, a local favorite tucked away on a side street in the downtown core. It’s always packed, the daily drink specials are a great deal, they often have live music on weekends, and the Kentucky Bourbon Ale is strong and cheap.

There are many familiar chain hotels in the downtown area and further out of the city, you can stay the night at several working horse farms that offer accommodation. For $55 a night, you can also try the Motel 6. It’s a five minute drive (or $10 taxi) out of the downtown core. It’s basic but clean, and with the money saved, you can afford a few more bottles of Bourbon or Kentucky wine for souvenirs.