Maker’s Mark is one of the perennial favorite Bourbons today. It is one of the original small batch Bourbons. Very few distilleries will tell you what they mean by “small batch,” but Maker’s Mark will. For them, small batch means 20 barrels or less at a time.
It is produced in the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky, and the operation and brand are owned by Beam-Suntory. There are several trim levels of Maker’s Mark, but the core product is aged approximately six years using their unique barrel rotation program, to ensure that the casks age evenly.
They are also unique in that their mash bill contains no rye. Sometimes producers do this to save costs of the more expensive rye, or because rye is famously hard to work with.
But like a few other premium shops, Maker’s Mark does it intentionally because their formulation requires more smoothness and less spice. So in their case it is a true, intentional characteristic that is deliver at a 45% ABV.
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Listed as “Burk’s Distillery,” it is the first distillery in the United States to be designated a National Historic Landmark.
The brand was built upon a reputation for quality from day one. During the 1960s and 1970s they used the marketing tag line, “It tastes expensive … and is.” And they are one of the handful of premium American Bourbon makers that uses the Scottish spelling of “Whisky” (without the "e") on their products.
Citing the difficulties stretching supply to meet burgeoning demand, they announced in 2013 that they would add more water to cut the strength from 45% ABV to 42% and that they were sure no one would notice. The change was ill received by the public and they reversed the decision less than a year later.
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The original “Burk’s Distillery” was constructed in 1885 just outside of Loretto, Kentucky. T. William “Bill” Samuels bought the operation in 1953 for $35,000. Samuels wanted to make quality, so he used the sales of the existing stockpiles of what he considered inferior Whiskey, to finance a revamp.
The first bottle of the new flagship brand “Makers Mark” was bottled in 1958, and dipped into the red sealing was that has become the company’s trademark. The Makers Mark line was one of the first to carve out a space in what we now call the “premium Bourbon” market.
It was a risk at the time since Bourbon was still largely viewed as a product for those who could afford Scotch or Cognac. But the gamble paid off and their products have been very well-received by the market.
Members of the Samuels family still work at the company, even though the facility and brand have been bought, sold, merged, and acquired many times. It is now owned by Beam-Suntory. Everything remains at the original location on the appropriately-named Burk’s Spring Road.
Man: Hello and welcome to whisky.com, where fine spirits meet. And today, I'm at the Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. And here, we have the great Bourbon that is known for their square bottles with the red wax seal on top. Let's see how this Bourbon is made.
So I'm here at the delivery for all the grain. The mash bill for Maker's Mark is not a secret. It's 70% corn, 16% soft winter wheat and 14% malted barley. And Maker's Mark use...doesn't use any enzymes. It just uses the enzymes that are in the malted barley to break off the starch molecules into the sugar that is laid to be fermented and turned into the great Bourbon. The cool thing about Maker's Mark is that they use their soft winter wheat from this region here. So all of the soft winter wheat comes within 60 miles off the distillery.
So once the grain is unloaded, we have it from the silos in here. And we have the very specialty of Maker's Mark, and that is the roller mill. Usually, a distillery uses hammer mills, but this roller mill makes it a bit more coarse. And you have chunks in there. And especially to be able to junk chunks [inaudible 00:01:46] that you have the proteins, and all the bitter parts of the grain are inside these chunks. And the flowery stuff that is soft and pleasing for the taste is being released. So this is what makes the Maker's Mark also very unique. And all the different grains have a different setting, so they also mill their malt and their wheat inside this malt mill.
Now, we're at the mash [inaudible 00:02:19] where the cooking is carried out. And here, Maker's Mark also has a very special process because they don't want the bad parts out of their grain, but only the good parts to make a good Bourbon. And what they do is they have the chunky corn and they don't pressure cook it. And they only cook it at 100 degrees Celsius. And that means you only get the starch out of the corn and not the proteins that are bitter and would make their product worse. So you cook the corn at 100 degrees Celsius. Then you add the soft winter wheat at 70 degrees Celsius. And in the end, you add the malted barley at 60 degrees Celsius.
And another very important ingredient is the yeast. The Maker's Mark yeast strain is over 120 years old. And Maker's Mark focuses a lot on the yeast strain to keep it pure. And this here is a tank for growing the yeast strain. And inside, we have malted barley, water and we also have hops. You know, hops from Beer? And when you smell that, actually the whole room smells of hops, then it really reminds you of Beer. And it actually tastes like Beer. And what this hops does is it keeps out all the bad bacteria, like vinegar, all the stuff that's just floating around here in the air, and keeps the original yeast strain very pure for them later to have a good fermented product.
So we're here at the fermenters, where the alcohol is produced. This here is a fermenter made of Cyprus wood. Very traditional, but it doesn't have that much effect on the flavor. And this here is a batch that has just been built and you can see that because you have a lot of foam in there. And if you taste it, let me taste, that is still very sweet. So this here is a second day batch and you can see that because you have a lot of bubbles going up and forming these little worms. And this means that the alcohol is being formed. And while the alcohol is produced, you have CO2 rising, and that's where the little bubbles come from. When you try this, it's already a bit sour. That means it's almost done.
This here is the third day. And you can see that the batch is done. You sometimes get a little bubble rising, but we're now looking here at a product that has about 8.5% alcohol. And what is interesting is that we have the Maker's Mark cooling their Beer because if you have the Beer rising to a too high temperature, the yeast is forming flavors that are not pleasant for the Maker's Mark. And that means you have flavors like spices and peppers and Maker's Mark tries to get a flavor profile that is at the very front of your tongue, which is a bit sourness or sweetness and all the other flavors that Maker's Mark tries to get into their soft Bourbon Whiskey.
Now, we're at the distillation part. And because Maker's Mark has prepared their Beer, their product, so well, they don't want to distill every last drop out of it, so they use a very...not a high column still. It only has 17 layers and is four and a half storeys tall, so you don't distill it, like, very, very much, like a Vodka, so you have all the flavors left. Also, it's pure copper, so there are a lot of catalytic reactions going on and you have a very, very good product.
There's also a specialty. At the very top of the still, you have a tube with a hat on it and that creates a reflux and a room on the top that even makes the distillate a bit smoother. And what we're looking at here is not a very, very strong distillate. It only comes out at 120 proof. This is 60% alcohol. And yeah, I'll have a try. So this here is the low wines. And you can still smell and taste all the...all of the mash or the Beer. It's very... You're gonna... You have some kind of corn and some wheat in there. It's not as sharp as I know it from other distilleries. Okay.
This here is now the high wines. They go into the doubler at the bottom. And then you go into looking at 130 proof. This is 65% alcohol. And let's have a try. Here, I find some fruitiness in here behind all that alcohol. And also, it's a bit oily and, I don't know, dry. It's almost like you have a coat on your mouth. So let's have a bit of a try. Only for sipping. But still, the flavors are also quite strong. It's not just the alcohol. It's a huge, strong flavor. I'm excited to try the Whiskey then.
So now, we're here at the warehouse. And Maker's Mark has four storey tall warehouses. Some of the new ones are now seven storeys tall. The special thing about them is they are naturally respirated. There is no artificial climate control. There is no heating, no cooling. And the other thing is that they dilute down their spirits to 55% alcohol that is 110 proof because they don't want everything from the bell. Because if you have that strong solvent, the alcohol is a strong solvent, you get everything from the bell, also some bitterness. And Maker's Mark doesn't want that, so they dilute it down to 55% alcohol. And another thing that they have is the warehouse rotation.
Warehouse rotation is they do it like that. They start off with all the barrels at the very top. And at the top, you have about 10 degrees Celsius, higher temperatures, so you have a lot of breathing of the casks. The alcohol gets into the staves, solves the vanilla and all the oak flavors and gets back into the casks. And when the cask is sitting...has sat there for three years, then it comes down here at the lower levels for another two and a quarter years to four years. And how you determine that length is that the people go round, take samples and they know the flavor profile they want to have for the Maker's Mark Bourbon. So this time period is in variable length depending on how good the Bourbon already is.
Maker's Mark is very keen on their...very focused on their process, and that's why they also focus on the raw material of the cask. And here, the staves have a special process and that is, they are matured for nine month out in the weather. And that is because, if you mature the wood for nine month, then you get most of the tenance [SP] out of the wood. This would make the whiskey bitter. So by washing it out through the weather, you don't have this bitterness and you get a softer and greater Maker's Mark Whiskey.
When we're finished with the maturation of the Maker's Mark, we can either bottle this as a normal Maker's Mark or we have the Maker's Mark 46. And that is a special maturation within the casks. And inside these casks, we have these staves that are being seared or toasted. This is French wood, means it's a bit different than White Oak, but it's also...the searing and the toasting gives you these vanilla notes. This is only a maturation for a few weeks, and it gives the Maker's Mark 46 a special, unique flavor that is very nice.
We're now in Warehouse A. And this ceiling is made of blown glassware by David Chihuly. He did a lot of art work for hotels in Las Vegas. And this art work has some angels made into it, so that represents the angels' share or how the guys at Maker's Mark call them, "The Angel's Breath." And also, the guys at Maker's Mark have a cool program called "The Ambassador Program." You can go on to makersmark.com and become an ambassador. Then you'll have your own barrel with your name written on it. And when the barrel is ready, then the guys will send you an email and you can come here to Maker's Mark, have your own barrel emptied and then you can dip your own bottle to have it made from your own cask.
And there's another trademark of Maker's Mark, and that is the wax seal. So this is about 200 degrees Celsius. So I'm just gonna dip it in.
So I'm gonna have the normal stamp. If you're an ambassador, you get your own personalized stamp. So my own...Well, my own Maker's Mark bottle.
So, I'm standing here with Greg Davis. You're already here at the distillery for five years and you're the master distiller?
Man: In the distilling business for 25 years, so there's a lot of experience. And you're gonna help us and talk about the process and how quality integrates in that.
Man: And thank you for having us.
Greg: It's always great to have you guys here. You are our number one European market.
Man: Okay. Cool.
Greg: So what we have here today, when we talk about Bourbon, there's a few things that just kinda make it interesting. What defines Bourbon? When we think about this, you gotta remember your four safety words: Kentucky, straight, Bourbon, Whiskey. Meaning that it's distilled here in Kentucky, aged here in Kentucky and bottled here in Kentucky. So, we all...all the distilleries were founded for a specific reason and we focus on the quality triangle, as we like to say. So what is that? That's the water. Then that's gonna be your formula. Meaning for us at Maker's, that's 70% corn, 16% soft red winter wheat and 14% malted barley.
Then we're gonna talk about how we're gonna prep it, how we're gonna cook it, because just selecting the grains is not enough. It has to be in your process. And it has to be in your process through the entire way, all the way from the beginning with the water to the bottle.
And then we talk about fermentation. Those, from there up, are your keys, your quality. From there, you can build and expand and, if so desired, you can experiment with. But you have to have your quality up front. And these are your four key things.
Next, we can talk about distillation. And when you think about it, at Maker's Mark, we use 100% solid copper column stills. We distill it at low proof, one of the lowest proofs in the industry. That's because we're getting it full body and full flavor. When we talk about age and talk about maturation with our Bourbons, what we're after is, we're not after something that's related to the time, we're after the taste profile. In Maker's is a mouth-watering, flavor forward finish. And so what we're gonna do today is we're gonna take the Maker's Mark to fully mature.
Man: [inaudible 00:17:48].
Greg: Yes. Now, when we smell, what I'd like for you to do is actually part your lips and you're gonna gently breathe in through the nose and exhale through your mouth. But, to kinda give you an idea of just all the great aromas that are there with Maker's Mark, if you'll start your nose at the top of the glass and work your way in gently...and then down, you can pick up...it's kind of a... there's a light, bright fruit ester. And then as you get down and in and almost on top of it, you get that real nice vanilla...
Man: Yeah. I'm amazed about the fruitiness.
Greg: And then when we taste, taste what's comfortable for you. Don't cheat a single taste bud. And then after you swallow, do a nice, long, soft, smooth exhale.
Man: All right.
Greg: Because what we're looking for is... Remember your [inaudible 00:19:16], talking about that?
Man: Yeah. We were talking about that.
Greg: Where do you feel your taste buds firing off? Where do you feel the flavors?
Man: I don't know. I have the... Okay. I have the vanilla, yes. The caramel you have with almost every Bourbon but here, I have a fruitiness. I kinda like that. Oh. That is nice. So...
Greg: So you kinda... Are you feeling it just kinda coat, just kinda nice general coat coming through here? [Crosstalk 00:19:46].
Man: Yeah, definitely. Definitely.
Greg: With the focus really kind of right in there.
Man: Mm-hmm. Right in the middle, as you said.
Greg: Welcome to Maker's Mark.
Man: Yep. That is... It's [inaudible 00:19:56]. Just... It's not everywhere.