Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bourbon - Maker's Mark and Maker's 46 - A review

My first review of a whisky starts off with an old friend for me.  I have been a fan of Maker's Mark bourbon for a long much so that I am an Ambassador for Maker's Mark and proudly so, especially since Maker's Mark has a connection with one of my preferred single malts, which I'll discuss later in this review.

This whisky isn't the strongest bourbon made, or the softest, it was made to be just right....and on my palate it is exactly that.  The good people in Loretto, KY have been crafting this fine bourbon for a long time now..since 1933.  That was when the Maker's Mark journey begins.  In 1980 Maker's Mark enjoyed achieving two milestones..first the distillery was the first alcohol production facility to every be designated as a National Historic Landmark (whisky was first made at this distillery in 1889), and a few months later Maker's Mark was a feature on the front page of the Wall Street Journal..and their success launched from there.  Those of you that may be familiar with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail can thank Maker's Mark for much of what you enjoy with the trail  Leslie Samuels, the daughter of Bill Samuel's Sr. designed the Maker's Mark Visitors Program in is this program that was the prototype used to create the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  The soon-to-retire President of Maker's Mark, Bill Samuels Jr., grew up in and around the industry. When he was a little boy his family used to visit Col. Jim Beam and the families remain close to this day.  Maker's Mark is currently the oldest operating bourbon distillery in the world.

Enough of the history of Maker's Mark...let's talk about the product...the whisky they loving make for us to enjoy.

In order to talk about what we drink, it is important to talk about how it was made. As I discuss this process it is important to remember that this general process is what is used to make all it bourbon, brandy, scotch, tequila...the general process is essentially the same, so I'll take time in this review to discuss it in some detail so everyone understands the process. Maker's Mark starts off with a mash bill (recipe) that consists of 70% corn, 16% red winter wheat, and 14 percent malted barley (malted barley will be discussed in much more detail when I review scotch).  The use of red winter wheat to replace the the usual rye is critical to the unique flavor of Maker's Mark. Remember, Bourbon must by law be made with 51% corn...and whatever else the distiller wishes to use to fill out the recipe.

The mash bill is combined with water that will be cooked at a specific temperature for several hours to make a "mash" or a "wort"..both referring to the cooked, unfermented grain mixture.  The mash is then cooled down to a specific temperature, strained of most of the unusable particles of gran and then moved to a fermenting vessel. At Maker's Mark (and most distilleries) the fermenting vats are made of Makers Mark some of these vessels are over 100 years old.  with After the mash is introduced to the cypress vats, a "sour mash" is introduced to induce fermentation, Maker's Mark "sour mash" uses a yeast that is dated back to the early 1930's.  It is this "sour mash" that has an influence on the quality and flavor of the alcohol that will eventually become Maker's Mark. After the yeast is introduced copper tubing inside the vat will have water run through it at a specific temperature to ensure the mash remains at an optimal temperature to encourage fermentation.   Once the fermentation finishes the final product is often called brewers beer.  Home brewers at this point would at this point bottle or keg the beer.often adding sugar to encourage a secondary fermentation before consumption.  This "beer" still has a few steps left in it before we can enjoy it.

The "beer" is further filtered to remove undistillable sediments and placed in storage tanks that will be sent to distill twice in copper column stills. Some of the unfiltered "beer" is taken and introduced to a new batch of mash, and is known as the "sour mash" process mentioned above.  As I mentioned above the newly fermented "beer" is now distilled twice, once each in two different kind of copper stills. The first run is distilled through a copper column still and produces a liquid known as "low wine" and it is about 120 proof.  The second run is distilled through a copper pot still and produces a product know as "high wine" that is about 130 proof.  It is the "high wine" that is the alcohol that is to be aged.

The "high wine" is moved to the next critical element in what makes a bourbon a bourbon.  In order for a bourbon, the "new make" alcohol must be aged in new charred oak barrels for at least two years.  I plan on a whole review to discussing cooperage...the making of barrels, and the nuances of these barrels that have considerable influence on the aroma, appearance, and flavor of whatever is stored in it.  Maker's Mark ages their bourbon to taste, not age...that is why you won't see age statements on their label.  As a general rule, Maker's Mark ages their whisky 5 3/4 years up to 6 1/2 years ..the actually determination of when the contents of the barrel are ready for bottling is at the sole discretion of Maker's Mark Master Distiller - who happens to be Greg Davis.  Once ready the bourbon is bottled and the bottles are then dipped into their trademark red wax and shipped.

Scentsy would make a wax that smelled exactly like this.  Heaven.  The appearance shows a golden color...the bourbon has a light to medium body.  On the tongue you will find that toasted oak, caramel, vanilla, almost toffee-like flavor...and it finishes long and smooth..not overly sweet and just a hint of bitterness that balances the finish out perfectly.

Maker's 46

This brings me to Maker's 46. Maker's 46 is a new expression released by Maker's Mark in 2010..and is the only expression released for regular production from Maker's Mark since their founding.  This bourbon is based upon the the standard Maker's Mark bourbon, but it has been introduced to an extra step in it's again that has added a depth to it that makes it different from Maker's Mark while still retaining the excellence of the core product.  The extra step I speak of is part of the name of the bourbon...46.   The Maker's Mark is transferred from the barrel it has been again in for about 6 or 7 years and is transferred into a new charred oak barrel..and then a dozen or so charred oak stave's...named a 46 stave as a code for the kind of stave and the level of char used to make it ready to age Maker's 46.  The bourbon's aging is finished in this new barrel for a few more months so as to add the new dimensions to the whisky. 

On the nose you will immediately notice a much stronger element of cinnamon, clove, allspice...and then of course the traditional sweet essence of Maker's Mark.  The "46" appears as a darker gold, and perhaps slightly thicker viscosity..if possible more luscious than the regular Maker's Mark.  On the taste it is everything the nose was saying...stronger spice elements...Creme Brulee comes to mind..and all the while in the background the familiar vanilla and oak....only amped up a bit.  The body of the whisky in the mouth is velvety smooth..without feelings too oily or thick.  On the finish it, like it's predecessor is long, smooth and full of a perfect balance of the spice, the oak, and the gentle sweetness.

I can not decide which Maker's Mark expression I like better..each captures what I love most about a good whisky...full of flavor, excellent nose...never harsh....perfect.  I'd recommend you buy both...maybe you can find a favorite between the two.

Oh, those oak barrels.  Once the Maker's Mark and Maker's 46 barrels have been used to age bourbon, they can not reused for that purpose.  So, Maker's Mark has a deal to send all of their used barrels to one of my favorite Scotch Distillers - Laphroiag, to make their 10 year and 10 year Quarter Cask expressions.  So my first scotch review will be on Laphroiag and the two expressions associated with Maker's Mark.

Thanks for reading this long tome...and Slaint'e Mhath!

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