On Monday (4/6/15) I left early so I could arrive at Makers Mark Distillery before the first tour started.
I’ll be the first to confess that I don’t have any super strict preferences when it comes to alcohol, but ever since my cousin, Wally, turned me on to Makers Mark it’s been my liquor of choice.
Each of the three distillery tours I went on stressed the level of craftsmanship that goes into creating their bourbon. And it’s true. The diligence they put into perfecting their process is impressive.
I’ll just say that the actual affect all that tinkering has on my personal enjoyment of their whiskey is still up for debate.
What really draws me into distilling is the science behind the process.
Here are the basics:
- Corn (~70%), rye (~15%), and barley (~15%) are ground up and soaked to draw the starches out. Hot water is used to break those starches down into simpler sugar compounds.
- After cooling, yeast is added, and over ~3 days the yeast “eats” some of the sugar and yields a solution of ~10% alcohol. At this point it’s practically beer.
- Alcohol vaporizes easily when heated so it evaporates first during the distillation process. The condensed vapor now has a higher concentration of alcohol (~45% alcohol)
- Then its stored for ~6 years or longer in freshly charred 50 gallon wooden barrels, during which time the flavor character and color are developed. Before being aged the whisky is called “White Dog” and it is colorless and smells a little like vodka or gin.
Pretty simple – but the devil is in the details.
Wild Turkey uses a #4 char, Makers Mark uses a #3 (less burned). Makers Mark turns their barrels at some point during the aging process, Wild Turkey does not. Wild Turkey has been using the same sacred yeast strain since the 60’s and they keep a cryogenically frozen emergency culture of it somewhere remote like Kansas just in case something happened to their stock in Kentucky.
I’m happy with the way things worked out with my improvised Bourbon Trail tour. Between the three distilleries I saw a wide range in techniques and overall production capacity. Makers Mark had the most thorough tour, showing every single step of the process from crushing grains to bottling. Wild Turkey had the most knowledgable tour guide. Willett had a friendly bourbon tasting environment, and it was fun to see what a “mom and pop” distillery was like.
Thanks to Stuart over at Wild Turkey, I got my Kentucky flag swap taken care of too!
West Virginia is on deck.