Maker’s Mark is a true pioneer — a brand that has truly played an important role in the history of Bourbon Whiskey and its trajectory in the 20th century and beyond.
Even its spelling is unique. On the label, Maker’s Mark Bourbon ‘Whisky’ has the spelling most associated with Scotch. This quirky brand has helped bring adherents to the Bourbon category both in the United States and on the global stage.
In this blog post, you’ll learn more about this legendary brand, its history and what makes it a one-of-a-kind bourbon that any aficionado should experience.
In 1954, Bill Samuels, Senior, purchased the Burk’s Distillery in order to make whiskey. Rather than hold trial runs to decide the recipe for the spirit he would make on his new stills, he held a baking competition. Loaves of bread made using various grain combinations were compared side-by-side, and the winner — which contained soft red winter wheat flour — was used as a blueprint for the whiskey.
From the very beginning, Maker’s Mark was a family affair. In fact, the brand’s name, its label, the distinct shape of the iconic bottle, the brand’s spelling of the word ‘whisky’ and the identifiable red wax seal were all contributed by Bill Senior’s wife Marjie — the first woman to be inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame.
Bottles were originally dipped into wax in the kitchen of the family home. Later, Bill Samuels, Jr., took over for his father and continued as Master Distiller until his retirement in 2011. Today Rob Samuels — Bill Junior’s son — has a major role in running the brand.
Maker’s Mark is often credited as a catalyst in the Craft Bourbon revolution that began in the late 20th and early 21st century. Its softer, gentler flavor profile acted as a gateway to Scotch fans, while the price point offered a trade-up opportunity to American whiskey drinkers looking to elevate their glass from standard introductory brands like Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam.
Soft red winter wheat.
Much of the Maker’s Mark flavor profile revolves around this one ingredient.
By legal definition, all bourbon whiskey bottlings must contain at least 51 percent corn in the mash bill — the list of grain ingredients used during the fermentation process. While most bourbons contain rye as the primary, or secondary, flavoring grain, Maker’s Mark is a wheated bourbon. That means it uses wheat — soft red winter wheat, to be exact — as its predominant flavoring grain.
Where rye grain is known to give the resulting whiskey a bold and spicy character, the use of wheat gives Maker’s Mark a softer, more mellow flavor profile.
In addition to corn and wheat, Maker’s Mark’s mashbill also contains a percentage of Malted Barley.
One production technique that is very rare amongst bourbon distillers is Maker’s Mark practice of hand-rotating each barrel during maturation. Another is that some barrels used for Maker’s Mark extension brands are matured in a limestone cellar akin to the dunnage-style warehouses used in the production of Scotch whisky. This is quite different from many rickhouses in Kentucky, which are multi-storied wooden structures.
Maker’s Mark highlights the use of proprietary yeast strains during the fermentation process. And, like many Kentucky whiskeys, distillers make use of locally-sourced limestone-filtered spring water, which imbues the mash and resulting distillate with a refined minerality.
These nuanced maturation processes are often cited as contributing to the soft, mellow flavor profile of Maker’s Mark — along, of course, with the use of soft red winter wheat.
Maker’s Mark is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. And, like all bourbons, it is matured in new American charred oak barrels. It is bottled at 90-proof and has no age statement.
The soft and mellow profile of Maker’s Mark lends itself to the creative mixologist or craft bartender. Check out some of the options below next time you find yourself with a bottle of Maker’s Mark on your home bar.
The Whiskey Sour is a classic choice when choosing a cocktail that compliments American whiskey. Maker’s Mark smooth honey notes work well with the citrusy tang of the sours.
Sure, you can buy store-made sours mix — but what’s the fun in that? Making your own sours mix is easy, and all you need is lemon juice, some sugar and water.
The egg white is optional. This ingredient adds an airy, silky quality to the cocktail, but this step can be skipped to offer a vegan-friendly version — or if egg whites just ain’t your thing. Instead, add sours and whiskey in a rocks glass and stir. If you go this route, consider a float of soda water in the glass to add carbonation.
1 ½ oz. Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1 oz. simple syrup
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¼ oz. egg white
1 or 2 maraschino cherries (garnish)
1 orange or lemon slice or peel (garnish)
Build: Add Maker’s Mark, simple syrup, lemon juice and egg white into an ice-filled double shaker. Close tightly and shake until frost builds up on the outside of the canister. Strain into rocks glass filled with ice. Add cherry and place orange slice on the rim of the glass, or twist citrus peel and drop into cocktail.
Bourbon & Ginger
This classic long drink is what bartenders call a ‘gateway drug’ for new bourbon drinkers. For someone new to the category, the sweet and spicy taste of the ginger ale help to round out harsh whiskey notes. For a smooth, round bourbon like Maker’s Mark, this cocktail — along with Maker’s Mark Bourbon & Coke — offers the perfect introduction to the category for someone new to Bourbon.
1.5 oz. Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1 bottle or can of ginger ale sodapop
1 lime wedge (garnish)
Build: Fill a tall highball glass with ice. Add Maker’s Mark and stir with swizzle stick. Top with ginger ale. Add lime wedge to the rim of the glass and serve.