Saturday, May 22, 2010
Day 142 Drink: Maker's 46 Bourbon
Maker's Mark Distillery is tucked away in the Kentucky countryside near Loretto, about 60 miles south of Louisville. On Friday I was lucky enough to spend a few hours with Bill Samuels Jr., tour the distillery and taste the soon to be released Maker's 46 Bourbon.
Samuels is a pretty interesting character. While Maker's Mark is part of Fortune Brands, he clearly runs the distillery as the family business. He almost did not go into making Bourbon. Armed with a law degree from Vanderbilt, he had already accepted a corporate job and needed to be convinced by a friend to go back and put a year in at Maker's Mark. His father, Bill Sr., purchased the distillery in 1953 for $35,000 and his mother, Marge, had designed the iconic bottle using paper mache and used her calligraphy skills to create the Maker's Mark label. The first bottling of Maker's Mark took place in May 1958.
According to Samuels, his father set out to create a mash bill to "make a Bourbon for people who didn't like Bourbon."
"Traditional Bourbon finishes on your tongue back of the center and along the sides. He wanted Maker's Mark to finish on the tip of your tongue," Samuels says. "You couldn't do it with rye as the flavor, corn had to be the flavor brand. He also tried a number of different wheats to get it right."
Maker's Mark started to build a following, but as Samuels puts it "back in the 60s no one cared about Bourbon." The distillery was producing about 45,000 cases a year and then the Wall Street Journal did a front page story about the company in August 1980. That changed everything.
"Maker's Mark was Dad's hobby," Samuels said. "It was a hobby until people decided it wasn't a hobby." These days, fans flock to visit the historic distillery and sign up for the Maker's Mark Ambassador program to get their name on a barrel.
Samuels says these fans love Maker's Mark, but always ask when the distillery is going to expand its range like other distillers. Over the years the company has tried a few specialty products -- and it does sell a pre-mixed Maker's Mark Mint Julep product for Kentucky Derby fans -- but the original Maker's Mark has pretty much stood alone.
Samuels recounts going to master distiller Kevin Smith with a story about having dream that he had seen his tombstone and under his name it said "He didn't f@%# it up."
"So I asked Kevin, 'Do you think we could create a product so I could have a better epitaph?'" Samuels says. Working together and keeping the idea away from the sales and marketing staff, the pair went to work on what Samuels calls "the first new product from the distillery in 52 years."
Maker's 46 Bourbon gets its name from the unique process that went into creating the finished product. Smith and Samuels worked with "wood chef" Brad Boswell, who experimented with different levels of toast on French white oak staves. Ten of the staves are inserted into barrels with mature Maker's Mark Bourbon and put back into the lower floors of one of the company's rack houses for two to three months. During testing, the barrel Samuels and Smith agreed was the best had satves from Boswell's 46th "recipe." Samuels says they were looking to add wood flavor and spice, without more tannins.
Victoria MacRae-Samuels, director of operations, took me and Noah Rothbaum from Liquor.com on a behind the scenes tour of the distillery. The facility runs full out seven days a week and is a hands on operation. MacRae-Samuels also gave us a comparative tasting of Maker's Mark and Maker's 46.
Maker's 46 Bourbon is a bright amber color with a warm wood and slightly praline-like nose. The 94 proof spirit displays considerably more wood character than traditional Maker's Mark. Small bits of spice come forward in the finish. You can certainly detect the base Maker's Mark character and that should appeal to core fans. But, this drink leans more in the direction of what most people associate with Bourbon's standard flavor profile, so it should draw new fans to the distillery. They new brand will be released in July.