If you are new around here, I should tell you first and foremost that I am a fan of bourbon. I’m not an expert, though I’ve learned quite a bit in my fandom. I’m not a journalist, though occasionally I share a press release. I’m not 100% impartial, though I try my best to recognize my biases and account for them in my writing. I’m a fan. And much like I wear my favorite college team’s gear, I’m also a member of various bourbon fan clubs.
Clubs like the Maker’s Mark Ambassador program.
It was 2011 and I was on my first trip to Kentucky. Somehow, I had convinced my (then) non-bourbon-drinking wife that this was a great place to visit on our spring vacation. We did the entire Bourbon Trail (plus Buffalo Trace). This was back when tours were free and the entire trail consisted of only 6 stops. We visited Four Roses when its gift shop was the size of a closet, Wild Turkey before its current distillery was built and Jim Beam before they actually gave tours of more than just an aging warehouse. Back then, the only distillery that really seemed to understand the fan experience was Maker’s Mark. They took us on a tour that included the distillery, gave us a tasting and told us about the Ambassador program.
The Ambassador program, was described to us thusly:
Sign up on the computers in the giftshop.
Get in a queue to have your name engraved on a copper plate that is affixed to an aging barrel.
When your barrel comes of age, you’ll be invited to the distillery for a private tour and have the opportunity to buy a couple of bottles of Maker’s made from the contents of your barrel.
In the mean time, they will send you Christmas presents every year.
My wife and I both signed up (she was a confirmed bourbon drinker by the end of our weeklong trip). And the above is basically what happened. But along the way, we ran into a few snags. In our “welcome packet” were a few forms to allow us to sign up new Ambassadors. Unfortunately a computer snafu resulted in our information being replaced by the new signups. Which by the time we had it straightened out resulted in our first Christmas gift going to someone else and a two year wait to get our names on a barrel. It was only finally resolved by a polite email to Bill Samuels Jr.
And then we were finally officially Ambassadors. We were getting cool gifts like an “Maker’s Ugly Sweater” for our bottles, a Maker’s Santa hat for our bottles, silly gift boxes, bottle mistletoe, and most recently socks with little Maker’s bottles on them. We were invited to Ambassador meet-ups at local liquor stores. We got emails detailing everything from the proof-lowering snafu to the release of Maker’s 46, Cask Strength, and Private Select.
Along the way, I started writing more. I got serious about being serious about bourbon. I started to feel like maybe I’d grown past the Ambassador club. But then, I got the email that our barrel was ready. I was like a kid on the night before Christmas. It was as if I was back in 2011 and everything was fun and I wasn’t nearly as jaded. It reminded me that I was a fan of bourbon first and someone that talks about it second.
So we took our trip to Kentucky and visited Maker’s Mark. We didn’t take the tour, because we’d been on so many over the years and it looked like it was just the regular group tour, but we did buy and dip our bottles. They had our names and Ambassador number on the label. The trip was fun. The visit was fun. The dipping was fun. We had fun. And to me, that’s what being a fan is all about.
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