The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2016

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december 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  43 the entire facility to open up the doors. She created a Victorian village that folks can walk through," he says. Marge also came up with the name "Maker's Mark," designed the unique bottle and insisted on hand-torn labels, along with the famous dripping red wax seal that distinguishes the bottle on shelves everywhere. She was also the first woman to be inducted in the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. Rob's dad, Bill Jr., eventually built Maker's Mark from a "little pokey club brand" into a bourbon tour de force. For decades, they were the only distiller to have a single product. "Led by my dad, we began to think about a new taste vision," says Rob, who first began working in the distill- ery at the age of nine. "Dad wanted no bitterness and a bigger bolder taste, amplified with spice." Turning to the Boswell's of ISC, he chose special French staves, all cut from 200-year-old French oak trees and toasted on both sides using radiant heat to lock in the flavors. Bill Jr.'s legacy, which would be called Maker's 46, launched in 2010 and was named after the proprietary stave recipe and pays tribute to 46 degrees of latitude, the location of the French forest from which the staves originated. Cinnamon and vanilla are the stars in this viscous, mouth-pleasing gem, which results after fully matured Maker's Mark is finished with these staves for an additional few months. Maker's 46 barrels are presently filled only from October through February, with bottling concluded by the end of May, to avoid aging during the summer months, when excessive heat extracts too many tannins from the French oak. When Rob took over the reins from his father, Bill Jr., who retired after 35 years in 2011, he once again began collaborating with longtime barrel- making partner Brad Boswell from ISC to create an entirely new Maker's Mark taste experience. Every other distiller already had a special barrel program for high-value customers, allowing restaurants, bars and resorts to sample and choose the barrel(s) they preferred. Rob knew he needed a different approach at Maker's Mark. Their consistency of production in every step of the process ensures each barrel tastes the same. So, hundreds of trials were done using American and French oak staves, in search of the perfect combination of oak toast factors that would allow customers to tweak their own barrels. The Maker's Mark Private Select program, which launched in a limited number of states in 2015, entails customers visiting the distillery and tasting from barrels representing the five different staves available: Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvée, Maker's 46, Roasted French Mocha and Toasted French Spice. Because each barrel has ten staves, Rob says there are 1,001 possible stave combinations, allowing customers to tune the barrel flavors to their tastes. Once the barrel is built, it is filled with fully-matured uncut Maker's Mark Bourbon and matured for nine weeks at under 50 degrees. The bespoke whisky is then bottled with the proof (usually between 110 and 112), ABV and stave combinations handwritten on each label. Each barrel produces about 240 bottles at $69.99 each. Says Rob, "It's been a really exciting project to work on. It's a very different idea." And it's been extremely popular, selling out immediately the first two years. How has Maker's Mark scaled up to meet demand? Most distilleries would turn to larger scale equipment to maximize efficiencies. Not Maker's Mark. Instead, they built a second distillery, literally a mirror image of the first, adjacent to it. Last year, they built a third—all under the same roof. While retailers can now create their own unique Private Select barrel, rest assured, the stuff that goes in is just as consistent as grandfather Bill Sr. intended. PHOTOS COURTESY OF MAKER'S MARK The Maker's Mark Private Select pro- gram allows custom- ers to choose the hand-selected staves of the barrel they fill with fully-matured uncut Maker's Mark Bourbon, which is further matured for nine weeks at under 50 degrees. Maker's Mark® Bourbon Whisky, 45% Alc./Vol. ©2016 Maker's Mark Distillery, Inc., Loretto, KY.

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