Apr 14, 2020

On the Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark

My first post revisiting our trip last summer on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was devoted entirely to the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont.  The second post of the series will be devoted to two more brief stops along the way – the first being the Heaven Hill Distillery and Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, and then the Maker’s Mark distillery near the small town of Loretto.  

After we left the Jim Beam distillery, Punky and I headed to Bardstown where we checked in to the historic Talbott Inn (more on that in a future blog post), got our bearings and determined we could fit in one more stop along the trail before closing time.  I found it a little odd that even at the height of a tourism weekend, many visitor’s centers along the trail close at 5 p.m. or even earlier.

Fortunately, Heaven Hill was just minutes away on the south edge of Bardstown.  All it took was a drive past My Old Kentucky Home State Park and historic site, then south on Ky. Hwy. 49 past the state park’s campground and once the woods clear …

 … you’ll see rows and rows of rickhouses in the fields and on the surrounding hillsides.  With all this bourbon being stored and aged around you, the name Heaven Hill seems fitting.    

Still, the sheer quantity was a little surprising, until we got inside and realized just how many bourbons both well-known and hard-to-find are made under the Heaven Hill banner. 

Compared to the Jim Beam grounds, which looked somewhat like a combination of a palatial estate and a bourbon lover’s theme park, I was a little taken aback to see such a … well … ordinary, almost office-like building housing the Heaven Hill visitor’s center.  But in this case, looks were definitely deceiving. 

It turns out that we just happened to be visiting during a major expansion project that promises a much more elaborate bourbon heritage center when completed.  But even with major portions closed off due to construction, it was still a worthwhile stop.  Pioneer’s Row, for instance, offered a concise history of each major Heaven Hill brand.  Good reading and shopping.   

And the checkout counter at Heaven Hill was probably the one that looked the most impressive of any we saw on the entire trail. 

We continued our tour of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail the next morning and … somehow … got up early enough through a bourbon-induced fog to be at our first stop of the day right when the grounds opened.  The drive took us further south on Ky. Hwy. 49, a narrow two-lane road much like most state highways in Kentucky, the ones that hug the hills, curve on a whim and occasionally give you the feel of a rollercoaster ride.  As such, the 16 miles to Loretto took almost 30 minutes.  And three miles beyond Loretto – or another 15 minutes’ drive – is where you’ll find the Maker’s Mark distillery.  

If any place on the bourbon trail can adequately be described as being in the middle of nowhere, Maker’s Mark would be it.  But thanks to its remoteness, it’s also easily the most scenic and beautiful stop we saw in two days on the trail.  The green home in the background is the master distiller’s home on the site, and this picture simply does not even remotely capture the beauty of the grounds.    

Ironically, for such a remote place, the Maker’s Mark visitor’s center got crowded quickly enough.  We were very fortunate to be among the first few to pull into the parking lot and walk up to the entrance.  Flowers lined the walkways all over the site, which added floral notes to the sweet mash scent easily detected in the breeze.   

As we watched the first tour group take off from the visitor’s center down the valley to the distillery, a historic landmark itself …

… I kept thinking how picturesque the site also known as Star Hill Farms was. It almost felt like walking through a botanical garden or arboretum.  

Before we left, we briefly toured the master distiller’s home, which is almost as beautiful on the inside as it is one the outside.  My favorite part was the custom-built bar.  That sure looks like a bar worthy of a master distiller to me.  I might have taken more photos, but crowds seemed to be gathering in front of almost anything picture-worthy by this point.  Oh well, we had more stops on our itinerary anyway. 

Clearly, Marker’s Mark is a spot on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail where you should plan to spend some time and do a full tour.  Unfortunately, we had not prepared to do either, and time was not on our side.  But seeing the grounds alone was worth the trek.  We left determined to return someday, while also committed to devoting enough time to the next stop where Punky’s favorite bourbon is made.  Onward to Lawrenceburg, Ky., where Wild Turkey was calling us. 

No comments:

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...