I spent my Columbus Day weekend visiting one of my favorite people in the whole wide world in Lousiville, KY. Luckily for us, 98% of the Bourbon distilleries in the world happened to be in the near vicinity of us! It has something to do with the limestone in the area. The whole process is pretty awesome and I now I can easily dispute the differences between whiskey and bourbon if the topic ever comes up in a conversation (which I most likely will force into one eventually).
The Jim Beam Distillery sucked. Who builds a distillery in a dry county? They told us the good news was the tours of the distillery were starting in 2010! Awesome. After a pretty uninformative video we headed to Maker's Mark for a proper tour.
This is where all the ingredients are "mashed" and fermentation begins!
This is where the bourbon is fermented. It sits here for about 3 - 5 days. When it is done it's called distiller's beer and has about a 7 - 9% alcohol content. This giant barrel can hold over 50,000 gallons!
I didn't get a picture of the distillers (Maker's Mark is distilled twice!) but after it's done it's has an alcohol content of 80% (except the Aussies, those poor bastards can only legally get 76% max in their country)
Then it sits in these barrels for a while. 4 years to be exact. MM is the only distillery to hand roll the barrels to make sure each batch tastes exactly the same as it did way back in the day. One of the really cool things you can (and should) do is become an MM Ambassador. What that means is you basically get your name on a barrel, and in about 5 years you get to get some bourbon from your own little barrel of bourbon. Do it. It's free. And, really cool.
Then came the tasting! In order to properly taste the bourbon, the first step is to smell. You must swirl it around the cup, open your mouth and insert your nose into the cup. This helps with the incredibly potent/burn my nostrils scent that comes from the "low wine" on the left. Then, you take a sip, making sure you coat your tongue. That burning feeling on your lips and side of your mouth is to be expected (those four years in the barrel make that go away). Then the whole process is repeated with the properly aged bourbon on the right, which was deliciously sweet compared to the rubbing alcohol I had just questioningly ingested.