A funny thing happened last Friday morning. I posted on Twitter a picture of this year's Keeneland Maker's Mark bottle. Needless to say though my brethren in KY who followed me knew exactly what I was talking about and offered words of encouragement for spending almost 4 hours in line to get the bottles signed (seriously from around 3:45 AM to about 7:30 AM I was at a racetrack waiting to get 5 guys to sign my bottles), my friends from elsewhere thought I had lost my mind and was drinking at a fairly early time (that may or may not happen). I had to do a little bit of explaining about what my rightful purposes were because I forgot, sometimes things can be lost in translation even between those who only live a few hundred miles apart. I figured I would create this blog to explain some "KY thangs" in order to create less confusion for future purposes because there is a real good chance that everything in this article will somehow be incorporated into an epicly awesome tweet later on. So without further ado I will try to explain some of my habits from KY.
If you have ever attended college or even worked in Central Kentucky then there is almost a 95% chance you have been sick sometime during a Spring or Fall meet and the only way to cure your illness was by visiting the track. Keeneland is a horse racing track located on the outskirts of Lexington that is only open two months out of the year, April and October. It can be best described as a classier version of it's bigger cousin, Churchill Downs (I only say this because the only time I have been to Churchill was during the Derby and it was horrible!! but then again I was sitting in the infield). If the race track loosks somewhat familiar that may be because it has been used in such movies as Seabiscuit and more recently Secretariat due to the lack of modern renovations that have been done at the track compared to other horse racing tracks such as Pimlico, Belmont, and Churchill Downs.
Keeneland is also a few miles away from the famed Central KY castle. Why do we have a castle in KY, the question is "Why not?"
Almost everyone who attends a race follows the dress code, suits,button ups, and slacks for men, dresses and goofy hats for women. People actually tailgate at Keeneland for the races, that is how serious us Kentuckians take our horse racing (and apparently drinking too). Even though I have changed state residencies, I still made it a point to return for one day of racing this past weekend and even hit an Exacta (correctly placing first two horses). *Note some people who bet on the horses bet due to names, buy a program and bet on the jockey or trainer. The winning % of both are located in the programs *
MAKER'S MARK BOTTLES
Above is my current collection of Maker's Mark collectible bottles. The White (Rich Brooks), Blue (John Calipari), and Gold Wax (Keeneland) bottles are all Keeneland edition of Maker's Mark. Each year for the past decade (give or take some years) Keeneland and Maker's Mark team up and create a special edition bottle that proceeds from the sale of the bottle will go to a charity (usually from UK). Whoever the featured person/group on the bottle is, will usually be involved with the bottle signing at Keeneland a week after the bottle goes on sale.
The other bottles are just collectible bottles that I have bought over the past two years (still a rookie). The best way I can describe the special edition Maker's bottles are they are like baseball cards for adults. Some of the other cooler bottles that have been done are one for Breast Cancer Awareness, a Harley Davidson bottle, and a Mardi Gras edition. While standing in line to get this year's Keeneland bottle, one gentleman said he had met a guy who had over $19k invested in Maker's Mark bottles. Which speaking of....
That man who is dressed real funny looking (not me, the other guy), that's Bill. As in Bill Samuels, who until this past weekend was the CEO/President of Maker's Mark (it is in transition of being passed on to his son). Seriously, how many CEO's of a worldwide known product such as Maker's Mark take the time to mingle with everyone regardless of stature on a daily basis? The picture was taking this past weekend at Bill's retirement party (where again all ticket sales from admission went to a women's shelter in Louisville) that is lieu of what is known as Thoroughbreds and Redheads weekend (Keeneland Friday, Maker's Mark party Fri. night, Ambassador day Saturday). I have met Bill Samuels several times and each time he has been extraordinarily friendly and will talk your leg off. The business model he has created at being easily accessible to his customer base is pure marketing genius.
Ain't no party like a Maker's Mark party....
Since that last paragraph may appear jumbled, due to my excitement of how cool that night/picture was I will try to explain my crush on the Maker's Mark product. First, you too can become a Maker's Mark Ambassador just by signing up on their website and it's free. Each year you get a cool little gift for Christmas, this year was an ice tray that made globe shaped ice cubes/ball for your "sippin glass." The other advantage that being an ambassador entails is access to special Maker's Mark events. Last year I was one of the first 75 who responded to an email and was invited to the first ever Maker's Mark Cocktail Challenge where world renowned bartenders from different countries came to Lexington to prove that their drink recipe was the best in the world, and being one of the 75 meant I got to sample the different concoctions and vote on who would take home the title of being the best bartender in the world. As mentioned earlier, each year Maker's Mark has an "ambassador homecoming" where the distillery is open just to ambassadors and you can do such things as dip your own special edition Ambassador bottle on the factory line, eat free Moonlite BBQ (great BBQ from Western KY), and again, meet Bill. Lastly, the best thing about being an ambassador is getting your own bourbon barrel. That's right, they put your name on a bourbon barrel and when your barrel has aged the 5 years they let you know and you go to Loretto KY with your golden ticket (just like Willy Wonka) and get a special Maker's Mark bottle that was made just for you...how awesome is that?
My name on this barrel is so far the highlight of my life
One more thing to touch on regarding Maker's Mark is they are easily accessible through social media. Those who are in my tech621 class know I have sent several tweets to Maker's Mark, and each time they have responded back and every once in a while I ask them a random question and they still refuse to block me and will talk to me instead. So in conclusion with Maker's Mark, their accessibility that Bill has laid out is genius and makes people want to be a part of their product.
Bourbon country is the area of the map that you see above. 96% of all the world's bourbon is produced in the state of KY. Remember all bourbon is whisky, but not all whisky is bourbon.
To be bourbon the spirit has to meet the following conditions:
- Only Whiskey produced in the U.S. can be called bourbon
- It must contain at least 51% corn
- No artificial colors or chemicals are allowed
- Can not come off the still at higher then 160 proof and go into the barrel at 125 proof max
- Must be aged in a new charred, oak barrel
- It must be stored for at least 2 years
Okay enough of my history lesson...also..Bourbon is the only spirit to be classified as the "official alcohol of the U.S." by Congress
The barrels that are listed on the map (though rather small) are 6 of the most prominent bourbon distilleries in the state of KY and are what as known as the bourbon trail (Maker's Mark, Heaven Hill, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, and Wild Turkey). You can get a passport and visit each of the distilleries and get your passport stamped. Once your passport is completed, send it in and get a free shirt for all your troubles (it really is a sweet shirt).
That beautiful picture there is Buffalo Trace distillery. Though it is no longer on the bourbon trail, it is still one of the most prominent distilleries in the nation even laying claim to the title "Oldest continuously operating distillery" (that's right no prohibition for that place). I will probably start referring to that place a lot because well...that's where I'm getting married at next year so I had better include at least one reference to this place so my fiancee doesn't kill me : )
So even though there are a few more places that need to be included on the list (Austin City Saloon, Red River Gorge, Hall's beercheese, Ale 8) I figured this would be a pretty good start for the time being to keep people from think I'm going crazy when I mention one of these places.