Maker's Mark. If it's not broken, don't fix it.
Maker’s Mark. They are part of Beam-Suntory, so yes, it is Japanese. BUT, you feel the American history immediately as you walk on site. All of the buildings are painted in old dirt, dark brown with green and red trim making it look like log cabins out of a nativity scene. I was excited to attend my first American, Beam-Suntory distillery to see how it compared to my Glen Garioch and Laphroig visits. They let you take pictures anywhere here, so I warmed up to them quickly. On site here they are only making Maker’s Mark branded product and not any of the other Beam products. Those are being made down the way at Jim Beam’s facility. I asked about how the Japanese interact with them and it was the same answer as Scotland. “Don’t change a brand that isn’t broken”-- and that is Maker’s Mark. The Japanese really just invested in production increases, but otherwise nothing has changed.
A distillery has been on this plot of land since 1805. It experienced many openings/closings due to prohibition and the world wars. If you follow me in on Instagram (which you should @herwhiskylove), then you saw I recently visited the ruins of the old T.W. Samuels distillery. T.W. Samuels actually left this facility in Deatsville, Kentucky around 1952 when its recipe was pretty terrible and had a “burnt taste” apparently. He then went on a year or so later to purchase the distillery which is now the site and home of Maker’s Mark to this day. Now we have Maker’s Mark whiskey based off of Samuel's vision.
The distillery has of course grown over the years, but equipment wise it currently has two mash tuns or grain cookers. They use about 70% corn, 16% corn and 14% malted barley in their mash bill. The grains are crushed in one of their two rollers mills. They actually crush the wheat and malted barley through one mill and the corn in a separate one. I have now learned during my time in Kentucky that the corn and water are added to the tuns first. One mash takes about 3 ½ hours and then they use a custom yeast for fermentation. Apparently they propagate the yeast on site. We didn’t get to see the yeast facility, but people have confirmed it is true. There are eight washbacks in total and they are all wooden with no tops. Each washback holds about 9,600 gallons. The column still I saw was five stories high and had 16 perforated plates. All grain’s go into the column still to start the distillation process and then on to the doubler. In total, on site they are running three column stills each paired with a pot. With the new make spirit running off the final pot still at about 130 proof. They fill the barrels on site as well as bottling and labeling. You will see in the video that the red wax top on the bottles are still all done by hand! There are two bottling lines and they run daily to keep up with production. In total there are 32 warehouses aging Maker’s Mark product both on and off site. They do currently rotate all of their barrels.
In regards to aging, everything is pretty standard for the main stream, original Maker’s Mark product. This product is usually aged to about 5 years or so, but no age statements are used and it is all determined on taste. Then you have Maker’s Mark 46 that is in the market. It is aged a bit longer and this is where the brand started to experiment with finishing the spirit off for a few months with French oak staves inserted into the barrel. They get their new oak, charred to level 3, barrels from Independent Stave. Recently they have launched a Private Select program where they pick the top bars and liquor stores to participate. The purpose is to make custom products for these clients by adding extra staves into the American Oak barrels for additional flavoring. This was created based off of the success from Maker’s Mark 46. The staves will only interact with the spirits for a few months but will can have any variety of oak and char levels chosen by the specific customer’s desire. This is to create a custom spirit profile for that particular client and also create scarcity for specific flavor profiles of Maker’s Mark. This just launched in Kentucky, so it should be interesting to see how it takes off.
I was able to try the following drams. Ironically enough, I had never tried Maker’s Mark Original!
Maker’s Mark Original – NAS
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Spice ,grain, light vanilla, corn meal, corn bread, older fruit.
Palate: Spicy grain, brown sugar, oak, cinnamon and hits the back of your mouth.
Maker’s Mark 46
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Creamy vanilla, ripe apples, caramel, toffee.
Spice: Peanut brittle, spice @ the end and tastes like big red. I can’t get past the spice.
Nose is way better than palate for me on this one..
Maker’s Mark Private Cask (For the Distillery)
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Subtle chocolate, cherries, raisins, oak spice, corn.
Palate: Butterscotch, older fruits, dried fruits, spice and those spice fruit candies. I think they are called gum drops.
Overall, the facility is of course impressive. It makes you feel like you are plopped back into the 1950’s and there are so many buildings on site that you can tell it has a rich history. I do hope their private cask edition takes off to give them a few more bottle offerings. Only time will tell what Beam-Suntory has in store for them!