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.