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Whiskymag 137 July _Aug 2016

Makers Mark Bourbon Whisky

The legend of Maker’s Mark dates back to 1784 when Robert Samuels, a Scottish-Irish Immigrant, arrived in Kentucky and started making whisky for himself and a few close friends.  


T.W. Samuels, Robert’s grandson, erected the family’s first “commercial” distillery in 1840, where the first family recipe was distilled and distributed by the next three generations of Samuels.  


In 1953, Bill Samuels Sr. (Robert’s great, great, great grandson) decided to make a more distinguished style of bourbon. With a flair of dramatic departure, he set fire to the 170-year-old family recipe, paving the way for the creation of Maker’s Mark bourbon.  He reinvented the bourbon recipe to include winter wheat (instead of the harsher rye) while baking bread in his own oven.  


Today, Bill Samuels Jnr. (the seventh generation of Samuels to make whisky) continues the family’s hand-made bourbon tradition, and remains true to his father’s innovation of fine bourbon whisky and vision of Maker’s Mark.


Maker’s Mark is one of the finest Kentucky Bourbons with a soft, smooth flavour which stems from the use of winter wheat in the mash as opposed to rye.  The brand is fastidious about quality and a hands-on distilling and aging process.  While this adds time and accounts for a smaller production, the result is always a consistent, quality product.  In fact, the name Maker’s Mark refers to fine pewter craftsmen who only put their mark on their best product.


Made in batches of less than 19 barrels at a time, each batch of Maker’s Mark is nurtured by human hands every step of the way.


The Beginning

Maker’s Mark’s quality begins with its water.  All of Maker’s Mark is made from a 10-acre spring-fed limestone lake at the distillery that provides clean, iron-free water exclusively for its bourbon.  


The Grain

The grain used in the mash is specially selected from small, local cooperative farms.  If a grain shipment does not meet strict Maker’s Mark standards, it is turned away.  (This really does happen from time to time!)  


The Cooking

The grain is prepared for cooking by an old fashioned rollermill.  This method is slower, but does not scorch the grain as a hammermill can (scorching can add a bitter taste to the end product).  The grain is then cooked in an open cooker, which requires time and hands-on attention, and imbues the subtle grain flavours into the whisky.  Maker’s Mark grain is never pressure-cooked to speed the process.  


The Yeast

The Maker’s Mark distillery is one of the few bourbon distillers that propagates its own yeast for fermentation.  Using the traditional sweet yeast method where some of the culture is left over from one batch to start the next, some of the cultures can be traced back to the pre-prohibition era.  


The Fermentation Vats

The freshly cooked mash of grains is placed in fermentation vats along with the backset (grain residue leftover from previous distillation) and yeast. The yeast, fermenting with the grains converts their natural sugars to alcohol. The next step is distillation, which separates the grain residue and water from the alcohol.


The Distillation

Double distilled, once in a copper column still and again in a copper pot still, the bourbon is brought to a proof of 120 and 130 respectively, resulting in a smaller yield but preserving the quality characteristics of the corn, barley malt and winter wheat.


The Barrels

White oak barrels are used for the aging process and, like everything else, are held to very strict standards.  The barrels must be air dried for a minimum of nine months and charred inside which results in a “red layer.”  The charring adds caramel flavour and amber colour to the final product.  


The “Bungs”

Hard walnut bungs (plugs) are used to seal the barrels to allow for the bourbon to be sampled throughout the aging process.  Other distillers use poplar bungs that swell during aging and can only be removed by cutting them out.


The Rotation During Aging

Once in the warehouse, the barrels of aging bourbon are not left to sit, but are carefully rotated from top down, to take full advantage of temperature variations in the facility.  The hot Kentucky summers and cold Kentucky winters are also useful to imbue the colours and flavours from the charred white oak barrels into the whisky.  Taste, and taste alone, determines where the barrel will move in the warehouse next – making sure that every barrel is uniformly matured.  No other distiller does this.



The Taste

Finally, a panel of tasters select barrels at different stages of maturation and balance them to create the consistent, smooth taste of Maker’s Mark (a process referred to as “balancing”).  Every bottle is then hand dipped in wax – giving a personal touch that is truly reflective of a brand where people, not machines, control the quality of the product.  


Maker’s Mark is produced at Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Ky. and owned by Beam Global Spirits & Wine and distributed by Future Brands LLC. The Maker’s Mark distillery was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980, becoming the first distillery in America to be recognized as a national treasure.  


Everyone at Maker’s Mark takes pride in the bourbon they produce, from accepting a grain delivery to hand dipping the red-wax seal on each bottle – a personal touch is part of every drop of whisky. Of the nation’s bourbon distilleries, Maker’s Mark is the oldest distillery, continuously operating on its own site.



Maker's Mark Distillery,

3350 Burk Spring Road

Loretto, KY 40037


(270) 865-2881


Monday through Saturday: 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.


Sundays: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., (March through December)


Please contact the Visitor Center at 270-865-2099 to confirm before Travelling

Jim Beam History