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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Champagne Wishes: The Story of Maker's Mark

Here at Whom You Know, although we adore Champagne, we like other drinks as well and we are so pleased to present to you Maker's Mark in our column that covers all things drink-related! Peachy Deegan met the fabulous Maker's Mark ambassador recently out in Manhattan and learned that Maker’s Mark prides themselves on the fact that both the taste and quality of their bourbon remains the same as it was 52 years ago when the first batch was produced.

We would like to share with you their history! Peachy Deegan just loves a good story, especially on a rainy day. From our friends at Maker's Mark:

Sit Back and Grab a Glass...
Here are the facts. Maker’s Mark is one of the finest Kentucky Bourbons. It is handmade (not mass produced) in small quantities from the water of a spring-fed lake. The mash for Maker’s Mark consists of corn, barley and soft, red, gentle winter wheat. The result is a taste that is superior, soft and smooth with an honest and full character. However, that’s not where the story begins…

The year was 1780, and Robert Samuels, a third generation Scottish-Irish immigrant, arrived in Kentucky. A farmer by trade, Robert made Kentucky Whisky (we’re Scotch – so don’t you spell it “Whiskey”) for his personal use and, as a gentleman, imparted some of the batch on “close personal” friends. In 1840 Robert’s grandson, T.W., erected the family’s first “commercial” distillery at Samuels Depot, the family farm. (Now, T.W. Samuels has a few stories of his own. For example, in fact, he ended the Civil War and his brother was the stepfather of Frank and Jesse James, but we’ll just talk about the bourbon right now) T.W. passed that “secret” 1780 family recipe down to his son, who passed it to his son, who again, passed it to his son, who then tried to pass it on to his son, who, let’s just say had his own ideas.

Bill Samuels Sr. was not interested in making a living selling “pedestrian” whisky – the “stuff that could blow your ears off,” as his mother unkindly referred to it. So, he took the 170-year-old family recipe and, in a very dramatic ceremony, burned it (along with some drapes, and very nearly, the entire house). Without a distillery, Bill Sr. baked bread in the family home and experimented with different grains until he developed a new bourbon recipe based on locally grown maize (corn), malted barley and soft, red, gentle winter wheat – as opposed to the traditional and harsher grain, rye. During this time, he may very well have started the reinvention of bourbon.

In 1953, armed with his new recipe and a family tradition of whisky making in closely supervised small batches, Bill Sr. bought and rebuilt a small distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. Every good beverage begins with the water it is made from, and this particular distillery was selected for the clean, natural flavor of its limestone-filtered springs on the property. It would take six long years of aging to find out if Bill Sr.’s experiment would work.

In the six-long years of waiting, Mrs. Samuels came up with the perfect name for the bourbon-to-be. As a collector of fine English pewter, it occurred to her that makers only put their mark on their finest pieces – henceforth – Maker’s Mark. The hand-torn label, hand-lettered typeface and bottle shape were also her ideas. Most noticeably, it was she who decided that the bottles should be sealed in wax – just like old cognac bottles. Bill Sr. disapproved. The process was too slow and too sloppy, as each bottle would have to be individually dipped. To make a long story short, the bottles are individually sealed in wax to this day.

Finally, Bill Sr. achieved the perfect balance between rebellion and finely crafted tradition that is Maker’s Mark. About 25 years ago, the mantle was passed to Bill Samuels Jr., who remains true to his father’s values – nothing changed – from the special recipe to the exacting methods and uncompromising demand for excellence. The process still uses the same iron-free, limestone spring water and carefully selected grains to produce batches of less than 1,000 gallons (just under 19 barrels per batch). From the specially crafted white oak barrels used for aging to the individually hand dipped wax seal – every bottle of Maker’s Mark reflects the personal touch of the people who produce it.

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. Maker’s Mark is oldest operating bourbon distillery in the world.

Whom You Know will be evaluating this wonderful brand in an upcoming column.

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