America’s Native Spirit

Scotland has its Scotch whisky and Canada is sometimes associated with rye whisky, but America’s traditional whisky is bourbon, made here since at least the late 1800s. In 1964, Congress declared bourbon whisky to be "America's Native Spirit." To be called “bourbon,” the beverage must be made in the U.S. from a mixture of grains that is at least 51% corn – the rest is usually malted barley and either rye or wheat.

95% of all the world’s bourbon whisky is made in the state of Kentucky because the natural limestone there filters the underground water and removes iron that would harm the sweet taste and color of the final drink.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail The “Kentucky Bourbon Trail” map shows how to find the most important distilleries where you can take tours and taste the bourbon.

It’s like going wine tasting in California’s Napa Valley.
Maker’s Mark distillery We visited Maker’s Mark distillery because it was convenient, but the beauty of the property and buildings there was a pleasant surprise.

Its whisky is special because they use red winter wheat instead of rye, making the bourbon less bitter.
The tour was really great, lasting about 1½ hours while we walked all around the large property and visited various buildings to learn about the entire process of making and bottling bourbon.
Tasting the mash After the grains are ground and mixed with water, the mixture (called “mash”) sits in large vats like this for about a week while the sugars ferment and change to alcohol.

We all dipped our fingers in various vats to taste the mash at different stages of the fermentation.
Then the mixture is distilled by boiling it and collecting the alcohol vapor from a tall column like this one.
Bourbon aging The distilled alcohol, which is initially colorless, is aged in these barrels for around 6 years.

To be called “bourbon,” the barrels must be made from new oak that has been charred inside (with fire), giving the whisky its distinctive flavor and color.
The facility has dozens of huge buildings to store the barrels while the whisky ages for many years until it is ready to be bottled.
hand-dipping in hot red wax Each finished whisky bottle gets a unique seal by hand-dipping in hot red wax.
After all the learning and observation, everyone was ready to taste samples of five of their different bourbon products.
A final view of their beautiful property.