By Danielle French

A Short History of Makers Mark Bourbon

We are thrilled to collaborate with U-feast and Makers Mark on a wild foraging (with Forbes Wild Food) and bourbon brunch on May 26 at 1 p.m. We will be offering a Whisky Bourbon tasting at our bar conducted by an expert from Maker’s Mark and serving their only- available -in -Kentucky special bourbon: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength


First – some housekeeping. The spelling of whisky is common in Scotland, Canada and Japan and whiskey in the US and Ireland.


A Short History of Makers Mark Bourbon


I asked Makers Mark to provide some information on their bourbon and set the backdrop for what will be a very special event. They provided a generous bit of history on their story:

Whisk(e)y is one of the oldest and broadest of all of the spirits categories. For many hundreds of years whiskey has been produced in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Canada, the United States and even India — Each perfected and adapted their whiskey over time, dependent on the raw materials at hand, and changed and nurtured by the environment around it. Each country provides “standards” that products bearing their name must contain. Each has a unique whiskey history and flavor profile. In order to understand how bourbon fits into the larger world of whiskey understanding its history is essential.


The History of Bourbon


After the Revolutionary War, the U.S. government urged westward expansion into what is now Kentucky and Tennessee. The pioneers who were willing to move to Kentucky found a climate ideal for growing corn; hot, humid summers, warm winters and plenty of rain. In fact, conditions were perfect. Pioneers began making corn whiskey–they already knew how to make rye whiskey— but using corn, added a sweetness. They used the rye back into the mixture and a unique product was discovered.

At that time in history, whiskey, like tobacco and salt, was used as currency—it was sold the moment it was drawn from the still. This variety of whiskey was crystal clear like water. This was—and still is–called White Dog. White Dog illustrates the essential role the charred white oak barrels play in defining bourbon. Bourbon gets virtually all of its color and a significant amount of its taste and aroma from the white oak barrel. The White Dog was put into barrels for storage and transportation from 1770 to 1780. At some point in time around 1790’s distillers began charing those barrels–setting the insides on fire. The fire would bring the natural sugars in the white oak to the surface of the wood–thus creating a sweeter, richer tasting whiskey. This whiskey–aged in charred barrels–was so exceptional that it soon had a name of its own–bourbon whiskey–named after the county in Kentucky where it originated.


Before long, Kentucky and bourbon became synonymous. By 1811, there were more than 2,000 families and farmers distilling bourbon in the state. Bourbon emerged as the drink of the Old West. When cowboys sauntered into bars in places like Dodge City when asked for whiskey, they got a bourbon.

In the Civil War, regiments from both the North and the South frequently received rations of bourbon. Some historians like to argue that General U.S. Grant received more than his fair ration, though his drinking has always been exaggerated. Legend has it that after the battle of Shiloh, in which the Union suffered staggering losses, Grant’s critics came out in legion and went to President Lincoln and demanded Grant’s head, charging that he lacked leadership and drank too much. Lincoln, always a Grant supporter, was reported to have said, “Find out what kind of whiskey he drinks, and send a barrel to my other generals.” Grant, of course, drank bourbon.


Other presidential footnotes: Under the administration of FDR, Prohibition was repealed. President Roosevelt was a big fan of bourbon. He was known to make his own Manhattans every night for himself and visiting dignitaries such as Winston Churchill. LBJ was also known to like his bourbon. In fact, it was under his administration that bourbon was declared America’s native spirit in 1964 by an act of Congress.

Maker’s Mark – how it became the first premium bourbon whisky


Maker’s Mark began with one man’s quest to create an enjoyable “drinking” bourbon. In 1954 it disrupted an industry. Bill Samuels, Sr.’s pursuit started with his family’s trusted, 170-year-old recipe.


Handmade – our way

Bill Samuels, Sr., was moved by a thirst for something yet to exist – a full-flavored, easy-to-drink bourbon. He tried different flavoring grains searching for a mash bill all his own. Bill, Sr., baked several loaves of bread with various grain combinations instead of distilling them. His quick thinking saved him years and led him to replace traditional distiller’s rye with soft, red winter wheat. This wheat imparts a front-of-palate sweetness and eliminates that rye bite. Today, we still carefully hand-select our red winter wheat and all the other grains that go into Maker’s Mark.

Aged to taste, not time


Many aspects can affect the flavor of a whisky – age, climate, barrel condition and other factors. So, unlike most distillers, Maker’s Mark isn’t satisfied simply setting a clock. That’s why we age to taste, not time. This usually takes six to seven years and is determined by our Master Distiller and expert tasting panel. (Possibly the best job ever.)

This is how we roll


Never shying from heavy lifting, we rotate our 500-pound barrels by hand to ensure each barrel is exposed to the variance in temperatures throughout the warehouse. This process helps achieve our premium taste and consistency while setting us apart from distillers who abandoned the practice long ago. Talk about heavy rotation! Barrels spend a minimum of three hot Kentucky summers in the top of the rickhouse where the whisky expands through the wood, gaining its color and tons of its flavor. Our tasting panel determines when the whisky is ready to move to a cooler section, keeping it from maturing too quickly.

Our label, never out of style


There’s an old joke at Maker’s Mark that goes, “If we could make it any faster, we wouldn’t.” But, despite a dedication to being slowly crafted, the distillery isn’t totally devoid of technology. Take our 1935 Chandler & Price printing press, for example. The trusty, hand-press label maker has been a part of Maker’s Mark for most of our existence. In fact, when the original machine finally began to wear down, an exact replacement was sought out and acquired. It’s currently on display or, rather, hard at work in our label room at the distillery.

The dip, our signature


Because the flavor of Maker’s Mark really stood out from the crowd, Margie Samuels wanted to ensure the packaging did the same. While we pride ourselves on making each sip taste just like the one before it, the fact is that no two bottles are alike. That’s because of the signature red wax drips (also known as tendrils) that give each bottle a unique flourish. Today each bottle of Maker’s Mark is still hand-dipped in 400-degree red wax by a dedicated team. If you’re able to visit the distillery, you can check out the various styles of the folks on our dipping line, from the nuanced dabber to the no-nonsense dunker. You can also express your style by dipping your own bottle.


Here are some of the varieties available on May 26th at our bourbon tasting bar – including the Maker’s Mark Cask Strength:

Maker’s Mark

Bill Samuels, Sr., simply wanted a whisky he would enjoy drinking. That’s why Maker’s Mark® is made with soft red winter wheat, instead of the usual rye, for a full-flavored bourbon that’s never bitter or hot. To ensure consistency, we rotate every barrel by hand and age our bourbon to taste, not time. Each and every bottle of Maker’s® is still hand-dipped in signature red wax at our distillery in Loretto, Ky., just like Bill would have wanted.


Proof: 90

Aroma: Woody oak, caramel, vanilla and wheat prevail in the nose.

Taste: Sweet and balanced with caramel, vanilla and fruity essences.

Finish: Smooth and subtle.


Maker’s 46

Maker’s 46® was created by Bill Samuels, Jr., to amplify the flavors he loves in Maker’s Mark®. The innovative wood stave finishing process starts with fully matured Maker’s Mark® at cask strength. We then insert seared virgin French oak staves into the barrel and finish it a bit longer in our limestone cellar. The result is Maker’s 46®: bolder and more complex, but without the bitterness typical of longer aged whiskies.


Proof: 94

Aroma: Hints of French oak, caramel and sweetness.

Taste: Very intense flavors, wood blending nicely with complex, rich notes of vanilla and caramel.

Finish: Smooth and subtle.


Maker’s Mark Cask Strength (Not available in Canada)

This is Maker’s Mark® Bourbon in all its glory. By eliminating the proofing process normally used before bottling Maker’s Mark®, Cask Strength comes in at 108 to 114 proof. This surprisingly smooth bourbon retains the signature, front-of-palate flavors of Maker’s Mark – while amping up the notes of oak, caramel, vanilla and spice.


Proof: 108–114

Aroma: Big oak, vanilla and smoky charcoal.

Taste: Richer, more robust flavors of spice, vanilla and smoke.

Finish: Longer on the front of the palate with no roughness or bitterness.


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