Immersing in the agriculture and natural elements of Maker’s Mark
By Sarah Carter Levitch
Photos courtesy of Doe-Anderson
Nestled near a hillside on the lake at Star Hill Farm, the water source for Maker’s Mark whisky is a new tasting room, intended primarily for the custom barrel program, aka Maker’s Mark Private Selection. Jane Bowie, director of innovation at Maker’s Mark, mentioned, “the reason Bill and Margie Samuels purchased this particular piece of property was for the water source. Everything starts with the water.”
The building’s architecture reflects the natural elements of Maker’s Mark. Architect Keith Summerour pointed out, “the stone is limestone from Star Hill Farm. The oak, the siding and the beams are reclaimed from rickhouses at Maker’s Mark. The Maker’s almost black signature brown is the color of the steel. We used a lot of glass because the room is looking out onto the lake, the water source for the distillery. The bar is pewter, which is the metal of the Samuels family. The arches are reminiscent of how things used to be built before modern construction and the shape of a bourbon barrel. We tried to make you feel, even if it was intuitive, part of the geometry and materiality of a place.”
To construct the land, Summerour added, “we used sustainable thought processes and materials in the construction and design of the building. The building is partially submerged in the ground so that it doesn’t have a lot of visual footprint from the hilltop above it, where there are two large rickhouses. As you come down the drive and start to see the lake and the building, it has a green roof. That green roof is populated with a grass called little bluestem, which is indigenous to the Kentucky region.”
The limestone cellar tasting room complements the exit, and the lakeside tasting room provides an experience more immersed in agriculture than the distilling process itself. Summerour noted that visitors are “pulled away from the mechanics of the distillery, put into this natural environment surrounded by white oak, and made to feel as though the outside and inside are merging with the large, opening doors. Everything you see has some aspect of bourbon making, from the beginning to the end, which you are participating in by creating your own special bourbon flavor. I think that reinforcement on a basic level makes one feel almost like when you hear words used in a wine tasting to describe the flavor’s earthiness or origins. The architecture is attempting to do that.”
The lakeside tasting room serves as the womb of whisky flavor for the Maker’s Mark Private Select program. Bowie explained: “Customers come to the distillery, they spend a morning or afternoon learning about where all the flavor comes from to make Maker’s taste like Maker’s, and in the tasting room they create a taste vision for their own expression of Maker’s Mark. We have created five different wood staves, making 1,001 combinations, and each stave is designed to change the taste profile of the whisky. For example, our Baked American Pure stave is virgin American oak baked in a convection oven for 22 hours. When you finish Maker’s Mark with it, it pushes the whiskey into this bright, sweet, vanilla taste camp.”
Bowie continued, “It’s a blending exercise, and we dive into each of the staves and put a profile together with the customer. For people that love whisky and Maker’s Mark, it’s the ultimate experience because you’re getting to craft your own taste vision. It gives people a lot of freedom of expression in the whisky.”
Throughout the tasting room are subtle features accentuating this freedom of expression, the first being the bar. Bowie noted, “one of the things we were missing from the first tasting room was a bar, so we purposefully built a bar into this one. We found that a lot of bartenders that come down to make their own barrel want to see how the whisky tastes when they make a signature cocktail.” Summerhour added, “If you look at the bar shape, the light above it looks like a racetrack, which is a tribute to The Maker’s Mile, a race that’s run at Keeneland.” Keeneland was the first customer for Maker’s Mark.
Tucked away in the lounge area is a library of Maker’s Mark Private Selection Bottles. Summerhour explained, “Those bottles represent a library of bottles that various partners have created in the food and beverage world. You can look at a bottle, and it might say The Astor Hotel in New York, or it might say The University Club Chicago. It gives the purchasers a piece of real estate on the Maker’s campus. I think it’s really special for someone to think that a bottle from their barrel is sitting there, waiting for the next year.”
Then there is the lake, a serene backdrop for the creative experience of the Private Select program, where all the pieces of Maker’s come together, from the agriculture to the finishing flavors. Bowie concluded, “The lakeside tasting room is magical, and it is a way to let people connect with the land, which is what gives us the whiskey.”
Maker’s Mark Distillery
3350 Burks Spring Rd.
Loretto, KY 40037