The Maker’s 46 story

The Maker’s 46 story

Over the years, whenever Bill Samuels, Jr., was out spreading the word about Maker’s Mark®, fans of the brand would ask him when he was going to introduce something new. Not being a big believer in “line extensions” or flavored bourbons, Bill pretty much ignored them for a good while. But in 2008, he and our then-Master Distiller Kevin Smith decided to give it a try.

They started with a taste vision, just as Bill Sr. had done when he created Maker’s Mark®. It was very simple:

  1. Yummy – of course this is subjective, but, to Bill Jr., it meant no bitterness – it had to have the front-of-palate finish that makes Maker’s Mark so approachable and easy to enjoy.
  2. Maker’s® Amplified – Bill wanted to intensify his favorite natural flavor notes of Maker’s® – the vanilla, caramel and spice – to create a more complex, richer-tasting Maker’s.
  3. Longer Finish – this usually comes from a back-of-palate finish, so it was at odds with number 1, making this task particularly challenging.

To give them the best chance at success, Bill and Kevin called Independent Stave Company, the cooperage that has been making oak barrels to the original specifications of Bill Samuels, Sr., since 1953. After more than a few false starts and outright disasters, all three agreed that whatever “it” might be, it had to start with Maker’s Mark.

So Independent Stave started experimenting with a special barrel, different wood varieties, levels of char and cooking techniques. The magic combination involved a process that consisted of searing 10 virgin French oak staves to caramelize the wood sugars and lock in the bitter tannins – to keep them out of the whisky. Those staves were inserted into a barrel, and fully matured Maker’s Mark was then added back into the modified barrel and returned to the warehouse. This could only be accomplished during the cool winter months.

About nine weeks later, well, voilà – we had something noticeably bigger and bolder, but with the smoothness and drinkability that have always set Maker’s Mark apart from its peers. It was a perfect match to Bill Jr.’s taste vision for his perfect expression of Maker’s Mark.

And the name? Well, that special seared virgin French oak stave was on file with the Independent Stave team as “profile 46,” which they began referring to as “the Maker’s 46® stave.” Bill didn’t mind, and he decided to share Maker’s 46 with his friends in 2010, right before he retired.

Today, Maker’s 46 is created year-round at the distillery in our limestone bourbon cellar. The result, however, is the same as Bill’s original experiment – a bold, complex bourbon, but just as approachable and easy to drink as you’d expect from Maker’s Mark. There’s just a little more to go around, making a good thing even better.

Tags: Maker’s 46, Wood, 4 W's, French Oak Staves, Video, Bill Samuels Jr