In the Spirit: Don’t Screw up the Whisky!

September, also known as Bourbon Heritage Month, seems the perfect time to share with you the story of Maker’s Mark Distillery, located in Loretto, Kentucky.  Let’s get started with a little history lesson….  Maker’s Mark was founded in 1953 when Bill and Margie Samuels purchased the previously known Burks Distillery for $35,000. 

Being the 6th generation distiller in his family, Bill started with a trusted 170-year-old family recipe, which he quickly burned along with the drapes, literally!

Bill quickly began working on the production of what we know as the original Maker’s Mark Whisky, still in production today.  Being the 6th generation distiller in his family, Bill started with a trusted 170-year-old family recipe, which he quickly burned along with the drapes, literally!  After setting fire to the family recipe, Bill, with the help of Margie, began to experiment with baking breads using various grain combinations. 

He chose this method to reduce the time it would take for the distillation and aging process.  While baking, he discovered using soft red winter wheat in the mash bill in place of the traditional rye grain, added the sweet flavor notes that Maker’s is known for today.  Margie, the co-founder, and one of first females to be inducted in the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, is the mastermind behind the name, the label, shape of the bottle, and the recognizable red wax topper seen on every bottle of Maker’s. 

Honestly, would it be a story about Kentucky Bourbon if the name Beam wasn’t mentioned somewhere?

The bourbon industry wasn’t new to Margie, her father’s family co-founded the Mattingly & Moore distillery, today known as Barton 1792 Distillery, located in Bardstown, KY.  Margie graduated at the top of her class from Louisville Girls High School and from the University of Louisville in 1933 with a degree in Chemistry.  At university, she met Bill, marrying him in 1937 and set up residence on Whiskey Row in Bardstown, next door to Colonel Jim and Mary Beam.  Honestly, would it be a story about Kentucky Bourbon if the name Beam wasn’t mentioned somewhere?

Bill graciously spent some time chatting about The Greenbrier and shared the story behind his contribution to the distillery.

In April of 2021, I had the pleasure of joining the team at Maker’s for a tour, a delicious lunch and a very unique barrel pick!  As we were sitting in that beautiful tasting room overlooking the lake at the distillery, Bill Samuels Jr. joined us. Bill graciously spent some time chatting about The Greenbrier and shared the story behind his contribution to the distillery.  Before joining the family business, Bill Jr. worked on the Polaris Missile, that’s another story in itself! 

The day he began his career at Maker’s he asked his dad for a job description, Bill Sr. simply replied with “go find customers” and that he did! Tirelessly, he focused on finding customers turning this little-known bourbon into one of the most recognizable brands on the shelves today.  Fast forward to taking over as President in 1975, he once again asked his dad for advice and his response to him was “Don’t screw up the Whisky!”.

Still using the same mash bill and aging process, Bill Jr. took it a step further by adding special seared French oak staves…

Bill Jr. realized when he was close to turning over the reins to his son Rob, that he hadn’t left behind a legacy to the family business.  He quickly rectified that and introduced Maker’s 46 in 2010.  This was the first time any new product had been introduced since production began in 1953. 

Still using the same mash bill and aging process, Bill Jr. took it a step further by adding special seared French oak staves to the barrel and allowing it to age for several more weeks after the staves had been added.  Working closely with ISC (Independent Stave Company) Cooperage, when choosing just the right stave, he found out the staves chosen were on file as “Stave Profile No. 46”, and promptly decided to name this new creation, Maker’s 46.

You can choose 10 of all the same or do any combination of the 5 flavors that you choose.

Taking it another step further, they are now offering Private Select barrels!  We were able to choose 10 staves from 5 different choices of wood, cut and toasting level.  You can choose 10 of all the same or do any combination of the 5 flavors that you choose.  Once you’ve made your selection, those 10 staves are placed in the barrel, and it is placed in the Cave to age for 9 more weeks before bottling.  Flavors to choose from are Baked American Pure, Seared French Cuvee, Maker’s Mark 46, Roasted French Mendiant and Toasted French Spice. 

After multiple tastings and careful deliberation, the combination of staves chosen for The Greenbrier private select barrel produced rich mocha, hints of coffee, toasted almond, nutmeg, sweet butterscotch, and vanilla flavor notes.  Delivering a smooth buttery mouthfeel.  Sounds amazing, right?  We welcome you to join us at The Greenbrier and enjoy a pour of this private select. I promise, we did not “screw up the Whisky!”

– Amy Hoke, F&B Service Operations Manager, The Greenbrier HashtagWV #135. September 2021.

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