Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Birth of a Maker's Mark Barrel

We recently received a letter notifying us that our our newborn Marker's Mark barrel has finally arrived. That is, the distillery has filled a charred American white oak barrel with their signature whiskey plated with the WineCompass name and is gently resting in a warehouse. This is a benefit for joining the Marker's Mark Ambassador program. By joining this program participants receive their name on a Maker’s Mark barrel; an opportunity to purchase a bottle of Maker’s Mark from your batch; updates on the aging of your bourbon; advanced notice of rare, special-release bottles; and invitations to special Ambassadors-only Maker’s Mark tasting events. Sadly, we couldn't attend the last one scheduled in Washington D.C. In return, participants do all they can to promote the Maker's Mark brand. Hence, this post.

So what makes Maker's Mark any different then the dozens of premium bourbons on the market. It starts with the ingredients. In order to be labeled bourbon, the whiskey must derive from at least 51% corn; the rest is usually barley and rye. Maker's Mark uses yellow corn from specially selected small farm cooperatives to ensure only the highest quality corn. Instead of rye, the distillery uses red winter wheat which produces a gentler taste. This mash is then fermented by a special yeast strain that has been in the Samuels family for six generations.

After fermentation, the whiskey is placed in a new charred American white oak barrel and sent to a warehouse where it sits still for a number of years. At bottling a distillery then collects samples from various portions of the warehouse to add to each bottle. This is because the bourbon ages differently depending on its location. Instead of following this process, Maker's Mark rotates the barrels. Possibly the only distillery to do so. According to the distillery, "all our barrels start at the top of the warehouse where they are exposed to the greatest temperature extremes. Hot Kentucky summers cause the whisky to expand into the wood. Cold winters cause the whisky to contract back out of the wood. This is what allows the whisky to absorb the wonderful flavors from the wood. When ready, (around three years) each barrel is moved to a lower part of the warehouse to continue its maturation process in a less extreme fashion." That's why we like this bourbon. Add in the trademark red wax and you have your bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon.

When will be able to see our "baby" barrel? Well, online or a taking a trip to their Loretto, Kentucky facility. When will we be able to taste the aging bourbon? In 6 or 7 years. I hope we don't forget about the barrel during this process.

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