There are many places that embody the spirit of Christmas. New York has the giant tree and ice skaters at Rockefeller Center, London recalls a Dickens-style holiday, and Aspen offers a snow-covered vista (and Mariah Carey in a red bikini).
But after a brief visit, Christmas will now and forever be associated with the small town of Loretto, Kentucky, home of the Maker's Mark distillery.
The drive to Loretto from Bardstown (the "official" Kentucky bourbon capital), is only about 16 miles, but they're both beautiful and frustrating -- unmarked country roads wind through the Kentucky hillside, making it a lovely place to get lost (and you will probably make at least a few wrong turns).
Finally, at your destination, the distillery resembles a Disney town -- possibly Bourbonville? It's a perfect setting, complete with a babbling brook.
And though it is owned by Beam Inc., the company still has a hometown feel, best evidenced by the first stop on a visit -- the original home of Bill Samuels Sr. and his wife, Margie, who designed the bottle and iconic red wax seal.
There, you'll find the house much as the Samuels left it -- large Christmas tree in the hallway, a fire burning in the hearth, and coffee brewing in the modest 1950s-style kitchen.
The grounds are all decked out for the holidays, with wreaths and giant red bows complementing the distillery's red-trimmed buildings. Even the copper stills and barrels are made merrier with the addition of a few sprigs of holly.
The company also sends out annual holiday presents to its thousands of ambassadors (a free membership that also gives members personalized calling cards and a handsome certificate suitable for framing above your bar). This year, the U.S. Postal Service was a little late in its delivery, but it arrived just in time for Christmas Eve -- a jolly nightcap for my bottle. (Nightcap -- get it?)
It's not too late to make a holiday visit to the distillery before the holiday decorations come down. The distillery is open daily for visitors 21 and older, with tours conducted until 3:30 p.m. Tours cost $7 per person (which includes a tasting).
In the meantime, here's a recipe for a bourbon ball, which also works amazingly well as a frozen drink (add ice and blend):
1 1/2 oz Maker's Mark
1/2 oz light crème de cocoa liqueur
1/2 oz hazelnut liqueur
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Shake and serve straight up or on the rocks. Top with cream and garnish with chocolate shavings.