A Look at Maker's Mark Bourbon
An insight into the recipe, the famous bottle, and how Bill Samuels, Sr. set the drapes on fire.
"I was brought up to believe that Scotch whisky would need a tax preference to survive in competition with
There's a long historical legacy of bourbon in the
Coincidentally, 1964 is also the year that bourbon was declared to be "
Returning in the 1930s after Prohibition, with a number of new bourbon makers setting up their stills in the
In 1780, Robert Samuels, a third-generation Scottish-Irish immigrant, arrived in
In the 1950s, after serving in the U.S. Navy, Bill Samuels, Sr. decided to continue the family business, but with a change. As his son, Bill Samuels, Jr., the current president of the company, tells the story, his father didn't want to make and sell "pedestrian whisky" or, as his mother called it, "the stuff that could blow your ears off." So Bill Senior took the 1780 bourbon recipe and burned it in an elaborate family ceremony—also setting the drapes on fire.
The old-style family bourbon was harsh. It had a bite and bitterness with a sour finish. Bill Jr. said it—and other old-style bourbons—were like the "unrefined uncle at the family party." Bill Sr. experimented with new bourbon recipes in a novel manner. He baked breads in the family kitchen with different grains, using locally grown corn, wheat and barley. It was in this way that he decided to replace rye in his bourbon with red winter wheat. This is the ingredient that gives Maker's Mark bourbon its soft flavors and mouthfeel.
In 1953, Bill Sr. bought a small distillery in Happy Hollow, Kentucky, and began producing his new bourbon. His wife,
Visitor dipping Maker's Mark bottle.
a collector of 18th-century pewter and French Cognac bottles, created the distinctive four-sided, long-necked bottle out of papier-mâché. She also suggested the idea of the name for the bourbon, explaining to Bill Sr. how pewter makers always placed their 'mark' on their creations. As a student of calligraphy, she added more to the original design by creating the hand-torn, hand-lettered typeface label, which is still printed on the distillery's letterpress. And to top it all off—literally—she suggested dipping the tops of the bottles in red wax. This top has become a hugely successful symbol for Maker's Mark bourbon. Each bottle is still individually hand-dipped and no two bottles have the same tendrils of dripping wax. Maker's Mark bourbon was sold for the first time in 1958.
Bill Samuels, Jr. entered the family business in 1982 as the seventh generation Samuels. This was after stints as a rocket scientist (he helped design the fuel injector nozzle for the Polaris IIA) and as a lawyer. Maker's Mark claims to be the oldest distillery continuously operating in its own site. That site, Starr Hill Farm, was built in 1889 and has been restored. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980.
Maker's Mark bourbon is bottled at 90 proof. Each batch is hand-crafted in amounts that are less than 19 barrels in size and with a mixture of 70% corn (from southern Indiana and central Kentucky and never genetically modified), 16% soft red winter wheat that comes from 20 miles or so of the distillery and 14% barley. Bill Jr. said that an aging period from five years, nine months to seven years is "perfect for Maker's Mark."
For more information, www.makersmark.com.
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