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Bardstown, KY — the Bourbon capital of the world

| Back in 2002 when I signed up to be an Ambassador for Maker's Mark, I was mocked for falling into a marketing campaign.

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My official Ambassador card

Fast forward to 2009. Instead of being besieged by marketing, I've been showered with gifts. And "my" barrel of whisky is now mature and ready for bottling. Mockery has been replaced by respect, and Bob and Carolyn and Jim and Angela made the pilgrimmage with me to Loretto, KY, to fetch some of Kentucky's finest. Of course, the other distilleries would beg to differ, but hey, it's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Bardstown is a charming little town nestled in the hills south of Louisville in the heart of bourbon country. They take their bourbon seriously there. A brochure leads you to eight distilleries where you can tour and taste.

They also take their history seriously. Bardstown is home to one of the premier Civil War museums in the country, and numerous plaques mark events of note. It's not every day that you see a marker for the first successful amputation of the leg at the hip!

We sampled local cuisine: fried green tomatoes, fried dill pickles, and Kentucky Burgoo (a savory stew that at one time was made in huge pots with whatever meats and vegetables were available and simmered overnight at a great "stirring," according to my Joy of Cooking cookbook.

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Downtown Bardstown
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Fried dill pickles
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The highlight — and purpose — of the trip was a visit to the Maker's Mark distillery in Loretto, a wide spot in the road about half an hour from Bardstown. The distillery is an historic landmark and by all accounts offers the best tour on the trail. You get to see the entire bourbon-making process from the grinding of the grain to fermentation of the mash to bottling and boxing for shipment.

Here's a video of the fermentation vat. It's alive!

As an Ambassador I was treated like a king. In fact, the proclamation I received addresses me as "O Exalted One!" I got to label bottles from my batch of bourbon and dip the bottles in the distinctive red wax. They even furnished little metal medallions to hang on the bottles.

When I left the Maker's Mark distillery, I proudly carried my two bottles of bourbon in a stylish black tote bag, anticipating the envy of all the passengers on the return flight home. That fantasy was crushed when Jim pointed out at breakfast that the bottles would have to be put in checked luggage, since they were definitely more than 3 ounces of liquid. Argh!

Make no mistake: there was also some serious bourbon tasting back at the Old Talbot Tavern, where you can order a 5-shot sampler from a list of about 40 bourbons.

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Serious sampling
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"My" bottles from "my" barrel
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As I expected to carry my bourbon home
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As it actually happened

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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