Up Close With... Maker's Mark Distillery
At the end of the distillery tour at Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Ky., a T-shirt in the gift shop reads “Every 50 years or so, we like to shake things up a bit” and bears the logo for Maker’s 46, the distillery’s first new product since it began production in 1953.
Maker’s 46 is a bourbon whiskey made from original Maker’s Mark, which is a brand of Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Deerfield, Ill. The product begins with Maker’s Mark, which has been aged an average of five years and nine months. The bourbon is emptied from barrels and 10 seared French oak staves are affixed to the sides of the barrels. As the bourbon ages for an additional three months, the staves help enhance the natural caramel and vanilla flavors in Maker’s Mark and imparts spiciness in Maker’s 46.
Prior to the release of Maker’s 46, the distillery had been focused solely on production of its original bourbon, says Kevin Smith, master distiller at Maker’s Mark.
“Now 50 years later, Maker’s Mark was still making just one product,” Smith says. “We got ourselves to a point and [Maker’s Mark President] Bill Samuels Jr. was worried that someday his tombstone would read ‘At least he didn’t screw it up.’ So we set out to create something new, and we’ve taken that history and dropped it onto another thing.”
Arriving at the Maker’s 46 recipe took two years and 125 experiments, Smith says. Samuels began the task with the direction that the iteration of Maker’s Mark had to be “yummy, and have no back of the palette or bitter notes,” Smith says.
“Over the years whiskey consumers’ palates have moved toward bigger and bolder flavors,” said Samuels, in a statement. “So I wanted to craft a contemporary interpretation of Maker’s Mark that matched with current tastes, but I didn’t want to mess up what my father had created or disenfranchise any of our loyal fans.”
Samuels insisted on developing the new bourbon the way his father had developed Maker’s Mark – with a focus on taste. In 1943, fourth generation bourbon-maker Bill Samuels Sr. sold the family distillery, which had manufactured a “blow your ears off” frontier-style bourbon under the T.W. Samuels brand. In retirement, the elder Samuels began to get restless, and his wife encouraged him to return to his passion of making bourbon.
In 1953, Bill Samuels Sr. purchased the vacant Happy Hollow distillery in Loretto, Ky., and set to work creating a new bourbon. Similar to the development of Maker’s 46, the product originally lacked a bottle shape, its trademark wax sealing and even a name, Smith says. The elder Samuels began the process of creating bourbon by baking bread and determined that rye, which traditionally had been included in bourbon, should be replaced by red winter wheat. Maker’s Mark is made with 70 percent corn, 16 percent wheat and 14 percent malted barley.
Maker’s Mark is produced in batches of less than 19 barrels at a time at the Loretto facility. The distillery dates back to 1805 and was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest operating bourbon distillery in the world. The Maker’s Mark Distillery maintains much of the same traditional processes and does as much by hand as possible, including hand dipping the bottle’s trademark wax seal.
Maker’s 46 begins with bourbon produced and aged in the same traditional Maker’s Mark process. In contrast to limited-edition small batch bourbons, Maker’s 46 uses a finishing process, Smith says. The finishing process was developed in collaboration with Independent Stave’s Brad Boswell, who is a fourth generation barrel maker. Boswell is known as a “Wood Chef,” and he offered several options of barrels, planks and staves that were air-dried, toasted or charred.
Boswell’s Profile 46, which is the reason for the finished product’s name, incorporates 10 seared French oak staves. The searing process releases the caramel and vanilla flavors from the wood while limiting the amount of tannin, which adds bitterness. The resulting bourbon has an intense aroma and a spicier finish with rich caramel and vanilla flavors, Smith says.
Maker’s 46 is priced around $10 more than traditional Maker’s Mark. The distillery released an initial 15,000 cases of the new bourbon in late June. This fall, Maker’s Mark will release an additional 10,000 cases. The distillery intends to continue producing Maker’s 46 as demand warrants, Smith says.
“I think it’s a great time to be in the bourbon business, and a great time to be a bourbon drinker,” Smith says. BI