This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.
Back in the 1950s, the bourbon industry was still very much recovering from prohibition in America which had ended less than two decades earlier. Nearly all distillers were focused on the arduous (and, some would say, idiotic) pursuit of making ends meet in a business model that demanded they invest fortunes to produce a product that required years and years of maturing before any return was realized.
And the distilleries at the time reflected this single-minded pursuit. Like the whisky they were making at the time, distilleries were harsh, intense, and largely unappealing – as unattractive a place to spend time as any noisy, dangerous and intense plant in the post-war industrialized world.
And yet one individual had a bigger vision for what a bourbon distillery could be. What if, instead of just a site where you produced and manufactured bourbon whisky, a distillery was a welcoming, charming place where you could host visitors and show, with pride, the fruits (or rather, whisky) of your labor. Her name was Margie Samuels.
While Margie’s husband Bill was busy perfecting the family’s soon-to-be-famous bourbon recipe (that was rich, warming and inviting and very much unlike the other bourbons available at the time), Margie was busy realizing her vision to create a charming, welcoming hamlet in the middle of the Kentucky blue hills. Instead of uninspiring and ugly plant buildings, she created a Victorian-styled “village” to house the distillery and all the associated buildings, perfectly framed by lush Kentucky farmland that provided a bouquet of colors across the seasons.
Margie designed the distillery with pathways and trials to allow a relaxed and enjoyable experience; far from “efficient” point-A-to-point-B routes, these gently curving and meandering trails encourage visitors (usually from hurried city life) to slow down and get on “Kentucky” speed.
She also ensured the distillery buildings could accommodate guests inside so they could see up close the making process themselves: the 100,000-gallon Cyprus wooden fermenters where “the distiller’s beer” gently bubbled, the gleaming copper distillation tanks where the distillate gurgled, or the cool rackhouses where the bourbon peacefully rested its quiet years of maturation.
Today, there are over half-a-million people visiting bourbon distilleries each year with nearly all distillers realizing the importance of showing their homeplace with pride. But it all started with Margie, the industry’s first “tour guide”, whose vision for her distillery in the 1950s still stands as a welcoming beacon to visitors from around the world today – now enhanced with lakeside tasting rooms, beautiful art that complements the distillery’s natural settings, and quiet innovation gardens along with her grandson, Rob (who now heads the distillery), to welcome you.
This magical place is the Maker’s Mark Distillery at Star Hill Farm in Loretto, Kentucky and you’re invited to visit anytime.
Stir, strain and sip your way through this Bourbon Masterclass | Cocktail Hour, hosted by Gents Cafe together with Maker’s Mark.
Educational and entertaining, this online experience will take you on a journey into the fascinating world of Bourbon, garnished with inspiring stories around it, as you learn how to make a selection of bourbon-based cocktails to help you expertly serve friends and family – or even just yourself.
This free Masterclass is limited to 50 spots – reserve yours and get ready to be transported into a Private Club with other like-minded gentlemen. All from the comfort of your living room.
P.S. Don’t forget the jigger and the mixing glass.