This past week, yours truly ventured out to Kentucky to visit a true bourbon legend, the Maker’s Mark distillery. I was there to sample Maker’s 46, Maker’s Mark first ‘new’ product for since 1958.
My journey with the 46 began with a ride with Marker’s Mark President Bill Samuel’s Jr. out to the Loretto distillery from nearby Bardstown. Being a great storyteller, area native and Bourbon royalty, Mr. Samuels made the countryside come alive with Bourbon history. After all, he hails from a family of no less than 7 generations of distillers, five in Kentucky and Scotland before that. As we drove through the hills, we talked about business and bourbon. He told me of his childhood in Bardstown, growing up the only son in the fraternity of bourbon baron’s his father hung out with. Pappy Van Winkle gave Mr. Samuels his first drink back in 1952, bourbon of course. I was also treated to his first hand account of how his father created the original Marker’s Mark back in the 1950s. His mother played an integral part as well, designing the bottle, the label and the famous wax sealed top.
The 94 proof Maker’s 46, created in semi-secret collaboration between Mr. Samuels, Maker’s Mark master distiller Kevin Smith and barrel maker Brad Boswell, is a fuller, more robust version of the original. The three decided to take fully matured Maker’s Mark and punch it up for 2010. The aim was to advance the art of Bourbon and forget about the commercial aspects (i.e., making money). In Mr. Samuels words they wanted to “stay within the taste profile zone Maker’s is known for and has expertise,” which is soft front palate crisp bourbon.
The question was how to achieve such a flavor profile?
The answer turned out to be wood, adding more oak. That’s where “wood chef” Boswell came in with over 100 wood recipes. Each “wood recipe” was added to a test batch of Marker’s Mark and then tasted by a select group at the distillery. It was a journey that would only end once they tasted what they were looking for. Only then would they know they had found it, the right one! As Mr. Samuels put it, this 21st century bourbon “needed to be a 1st cousin to Maker’s, recognizable to our friends and most of all yummy.” After numerous attempts over a two-year period, the winner was discovered to be seared French Oak, #46 to be exact, hence the name Maker’s 46. Ten #46 oak staves are added mature Maker’s Mark in the barrel and aged for an additional two to three months in 150 barrels of bourbon hand selected from the Maker’s Mark cask library. Because the wood is oak (although French versus American) with no other additions, Maker’s 46 can still be called bourbon.
So how does it taste?
Maker’s 46 has an unmistakable spice on the nose, yet not strong. This next generation bourbon is smooth and forward tasting on the palate yet retains a pleasant bite. On the backend, like the original Maker’s Mark, there is none of harness sometimes associated with Rye, but nice honey finish. Other notes present include vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg and other sweet spices. Being a bourbon man myself, I liked it! Marker’s 46 is a fine sipping bourbon and has the potential to become a potent ingredient in the bar arsenal. I will report back once I whip up an Old Fashioned or Manhattan with the 46.
Maker’s 46 will be available for about $10 more than Maker’s Mark ($35–$45 depending on state). Only 25,000 cases will be released this year, so be sure to grab one while you can. That many cases will be quite a feat for the little distillery in Loretto. With a whole new bottle, cork stopper and a wax stamp of the Maker’s Mark logo on the front of the bottle quite a bit of extra labor goes into each bottle of Maker’s 46.
Disclosure: Maker’s Mark paid for my trip to Kentucky, but did not pay me to write this story or tell me what to write.