Kentucky Bourbon Trail Part 4

Next morning dawned bright and blue... the temperature however, hovered at a brisk 31 degrees and a heavy frost covered my windshield; a pesky northeast wind did not help matters.

The 'Kentucky Thorourghbred foal

Even so, this was a far better scenario than the last two days of downpours! The road to Perryville was, to say the least, scenic (always pronounced "sken-ik" by my sister) as we wended our way west.

As yet, I have allowed it to remain unmentioned, but perhaps one of the most impressive features I have seen -- at least in this part of Kentucky -- is the limestone walls that grace both sides alongside many of the roads... for miles at a time.  There is plenty of limestone in Kentucky, to be sure.  But keep in mind that all of these had to be erected by hand.  The amount of labor necessary is mind-boggling to say the least.  The resulting look and feel though, is stunning and impressive.

The Battle of Perryville

The ride to Perryville took only about an hour or so and the entire way was one vista after another, the farms of Kentucky sprawling on either side of the two-lane road.  We soon reached the small town and followed the signs to the site of the historic and bloody battle.

Along the road to Perryville

The bright sun and green grass almost covered two things on this March day: the biting wind with its resulting frigid chill, and the eerie sense that there were screams and desperate cries that accompanied the roar of cannon and flash of muskets still carrying across the valleys and gently sloping hills of the Perryville battlefield today. 

There was even a group of ROTC cadets that had camped the previous night and were reenacting a portion of the battle.  Cadets and instructor alike were wearing the Union Blue of the federals; as they received the command to "fix bayonets", I felt a chill run through me... and it definitely was not the cold of the March air. 

There are more than seven miles of trails, marked with signs and explanations, and I would have preferred to walk.  But the wind and cold were more than I could deal with, so we drove along a gravel road to reach the top of a hill with several gun emplacements, where I read an account of what happened on October 8th of 1862 at Perryville.  I was appalled, especially at the staggering loss of life: 13% of some 58,000 soldiers present.

Education and Reenactment at Perryville

Never having been much interested in the Civil War, I thought that perhaps I would be unmoved by the site, mostly empty but for the few old cannons and a small museum where lots of memorabilia: swords, musket balls, mortar shells, doctors' implements, flags, maps and much more were exhibited.  I couldn't have been more wrong. 

This is our history, and it is as important as any you will ever encounter.  For here is an example of a disagreement in which we didn't just agree to disagree. Brothers fought brothers... and killed each other over a concept that, at its best, is just innately wrong.  By some estimates, over 650,000 men lost their lives in the Civil War -- 2% of our entire population at the time.

The pristine battlefield at Perryville

As I left the battlefield, I couldn't help but wonder about about that war and the time during which it was waged.  Over one hundred years later, we apparently still haven't learned how foolish we can be.   And Perryville is a place that, like many other similar sites, is eying development in the near future.  I hope that Perryville says no.  It is definitely a place that you should surely visit soon... just in case Perryville doesn't prevail.  Read this article:, or Visit Perryville for an annual reenactment of the battle, and then see how you feel about history and the Civil War:

Confederate monument marks the site of a mass grave

Maker's Mark Tour

Our last stop on the trip was Bardstown, Kentucky.  But just about twenty minutes to the south of it -- and not far off our intended path -- was another land-mark (pardon the pun...), and I just couldn't resist the temptation of a visit so I could compare Maker's Mark to the other distilleries which I had toured and bourbons I had sampled.  Located in Loretto, Kentucky (population about 650) on the banks of Hardin's Creek, Marker's Mark is arguably one of the prettiest spots at which to locate a distillery. 

Brown-painted buildings (to signify the amber color of their bourbon) and red shutters (signifying the red wax seals on the bottles) with cut-outs in the shape of a Marker's Mark bottle add to an almost quaint setting that is immediately friendly and inviting.  From its humble beginnings as a grist mill/distillery in 1805, Maker's Mark is proclaimed to be the oldest working bourbon distillery in the nation, also receiving the distinction of being named a National Historic Landmark in 1980.

Picturesque Maker's Mark

Whisky making has been in the blood of the family since 1784, when Robert Samuels, a Scottish-Irish Immigrant, arrived in Kentucky and started making Whisky -- mostly for himself and friends.  In  1840, T. W. Samuels (Robert's grandson) built a commercial distillery at Samuels Depot in Nelson County, Kentucky and used a recipe that would be passed through six generations. 

Somewhere in the late 1940's to early 1950's, Bill Samuels Sr. (Robert’s great, great, great grandson) decided to (1) reopen the distillery that had been closed by Prohibition, (2) move it to Loretto, (3) produce a new and distinguished bourbon and (4) set fire to the six-generation old family recipe (the new version he discovered in the kitchen -- not the distillery -- by baking bread using the gentler flavored red winter wheat instead of rye). 

Bill's wife came up with the idea of placing a symbol -- a "mark of the maker" -- on the bottle as a tribute to the excellence of the maker and character of the new-recipe bourbon.   And thus the name, Maker's Mark, was born at the distillery of the same name in 1953.

The Mark of a Maker (of fine bourbon)

The tour of the facility was similar to others we had taken, but as is the case with all bourbon distilleries, each has one or more twists in the process that set them apart from competitors.  Maker's Mark is no different. 

Although they too use cypress wood fermenting barrels (originals with some planks over 100 years old) and copper distilling apparatus, they use an old style roller mill to crush the grain, they propagate their own yeast, use limestone spring water from their own lake and -- from their own web site -- "red winter wheat from specially selected small farm cooperatives, all of which are located within the limestone geology near the distillery. This wheat gives our whisky its soft, mellow taste."

Our tour guide has her hands in the mash

Maker's Mark prides itself on being a small distillery that makes small batch bourbon... totally by hand.  Even the bottle's label was originally penned by hand by Bill's wife (an amateur calligrapher).

At every step in the process, it can truly be said that this bourbon is hand made, right down to hand-dipping every bottle produced.  And at the end of the tour, we had the opportunity to sample the results of Bill's special recipe.  And I truly liked its mellow taste.  So I bought a bottle in the gift shop and hand-dipped it myself, sealing the top with the trade-mark red wax found on all bottles of Maker's Mark.

Putting the finishing touch on a bottle of Maker's Mark

There is another distillery (Heaven Hill) not far away in Bardstown that one can tour. Actually, there are many interesting things to do and see in Bardstown and the immediate surrounding area.  But it had been a very busy four days for us and our preference at this point was to take some time to unwind and digest what we had seen and done.  We stopped briefly at the Old Talbott Tavern -- perhaps the oldest western stagecoach stop in America -- and the Jailer's Inn Bed and Breakfast right next door, part of which was still in operation as a jail... as recently as 1987! 

The Tavern supplied us with what was to be my last bourbon "tasting" on our trip; the remainder of the day and evening proved uneventful, as our scheduled dinner on My Old Kentucky Dinner Train fell far short of our expectations. We retreated to the General Nelson Inn in town and, as had been the case for the last several nights, fell quickly asleep.

Old Talbott Tavern

The drive back to the Chicago area seemed short; conversation turned repeatedly to our many stops and event-filled days. I now know that I must return to Kentucky; there is so much more to see and do.

I wish to leave you all with one final observation that was reinforced at every place we visited, at every stop we made: Kentucky is without a doubt populated with some of the nicest, most sincere, gracious and polite people anywhere I have ever been. They are the main reason that I would go back at the drop of a hat. My advice? Discover the beauty, excitement and hospitality that are the distinctive trademarks of the great commonwealth of Kentucky; plan your trip today.

Special Thanks to:

  • Marge and Chris at the Kentucky Department of Tourism, without whose hard work and help this trip would not have been possible.
  • Niki and Mary at the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • Angela at Buffalo Trace Distillery -- your enthusiasm and zeal must be contagious!
  • Steve at Woodford Reserve
  • Nicole at Maker's Mark for the great tour
  • Amy and Zack at Red River Outdoors for your patience with rookie climbers
  • The entire state of Kentucky for a great time!