My celebration of the holidays this year includes the best gift I can think of for my fellow Kentuckians: helping my state go green. I have been busy making appointments with Kentucky groups and businesses, helping with their endeavors to become more eco-friendly. I have been speaking with big groups such as UPS, Yum! Brands, Norton Healthcare System and the State of Kentucky, helping them make changes that will save millions of pounds of carbon emissions. One of the most exciting groups that I met with is a true legend in our state, the oldest operating bourbon distillery in the world — Maker's Mark. I was excited and pleased to learn that Maker's Mark is far ahead in the game when it comes to environmental stewardship.
I met with Dennis Potter, who is the director of distillery and environmental operations for Maker's Mark. Dennis gave me a tour detailing the different operational actions that Maker's Mark has instituted to make them environmentally sound. The crown jewel of the company's efforts is the construction of an anaerobic reactor system, which biologically turns the leftover grain solids from the distilling process into methane gas. This methane gas is then returned to the boiler system to replace part of the company's natural gas usage. It has seen a 10 percent reduction in fossil fuel use, and hopes to improve this to 20 percent. Maker's Mark is the first bourbon distillery to institute this type of energy production facility.
In addition, there are programs in place to recycle glass, plastic, cardboard, used pallets, aluminum cans, scrap metal, used oils and lubricants, light bulbs, batteries and all forms of paper. The company's goal is to become a zero discharge facility in regards to solid waste. Maker's Mark also believes that it is a steward of the land. The company owns approximately 620 acres of land, most of which is managed as a nature reserve. It recycles water from the stream that runs through the distillery, into the local water system, which enhances the aquatic habitat; the company has also teamed with the Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Division of Forest, to implement new land conservation and habitat improvement plans that include planting native grasses, new hardwoods and developing natural wetlands. Maker's Mark has worked with Bernheim Forest to develop an arboretum on site, using native trees and plants. Kentucky State University's Aquaculture Department is allowed access to their lake to cultivate and study the endangered spoonbill catfish.
Maker's Mark operates its own wastewater treatment system, which returns water to Hardin's Creek in better condition than the water in the creek. The company is currently seeking a land application permit that will allow them to take waste sludge from their system and use it as a natural fertilizer for their property and local farms. It has been so successful at reducing its air emissions that the government currently does not even require them to have an air emissions permit.
The distillery buys all of its corn and wheat directly from local farms, with zero genetically modified corn. It is always seeking new ways to reduce its use of energy, including some suggestions that I was able to make. Maker's Mark is so successful in its actions that it is currently recognized in the Kentucky EXCELL program as a master's member, the highest environmental membership possible in the state.
I want to thank Dennis Potter for his time and all of his efforts in making Maker's Mark a leading example of how distilleries and all businesses should be run. Maker's Mark, located in Loretto, Ky., offers free tours with complimentary bourbon tasting. There is a cafe and a full gift store. For more information, visit the site
or call 270-865-2099.
Photo: Maker's Mark