JW Steakhouse on London's swanky Park Lane and took the form of a bourbon and steak dinner (a nightmare scenario for the vegetarian half of Whisky For Everyone!). Greg is the youngest Master Distiller in the American bourbon industry and treated us to an enlightening evening. A short video that we recorded can be found below, where Greg offers an insight in to what gives Maker's Mark its distinctive character and flavour plus techniques used at the distillery to maintain quality.
Maker's Mark is one of the best known distilleries in America. It is the
most southernly in the state of Kentucky and
is located in Loretto, Marion County. Maker's Mark is large
with a capacity of 8 million litres per year (this dwarfs most
distilleries elsewhere in the world) and is one of the oldest in
America, having been founded in 1805. The original name of Star Hill Farm
Distillery was changed to Maker's Mark in the 1950s when new owner Bill
Samuels decided to revamp the whole organisation. He changed the recipe
and the combination of grains used as he wanted to create a premium
bourbon rather than the economic ones that were flooding the market
following the end of the Prohibition period. It is now one of the best selling
American whiskies in the world.
Following a welcoming Maker's Mint Julep cocktail, the main part of the evening (apart from the huge dinner!) was one of the most interesting tastings that we have attended. We were presented with four glasses which contained Maker's Mark whisky at different stages of its development (pictured, below) - new make spirit or 'white dog' as they call it in America, under matured, fully matured and over matured. As Maker's Mark only release their regular bottling and the limited edition Maker's 46, this was an innovative way for us to taste a number of samples and see the difference that age gives the spirit. We have included our brief tasting notes for each sample below - all were presented at 45% ABV.
White Dog (far left)
This is marketed and sold as Star Hill Whisky and is only available at the distillery shop. It is new make spirit that has come from the stills at 65% ABV, before being cut down to 45% ABV. It has had no maturation. The spirit is clear and has a fresh, fruity nose with a buttery, dough-like background note. On the palate, there is plenty of tangy, hot spice and it is incredibly fruity (think of crisp, green apple) and juicy. This clashes with a mouth-coating, rich and creamy feel that is again buttery and a little yeasty. The finish is hot, burning and spicy with plenty of oat-like cereal notes.
Under Matured (second left)
This is spirit that has been aged in casks for roughly two and a half years. The colour is golden yellow and the nose is robust, very woody and packed with vanilla and wood spice. The palate is uncomplicated and very oaky up front, with plenty of sweet vanilla, dry wood spice and fresh coconut. A pleasant tangy citrus note comes through, as does a heavy yeast note. The finish begins sweetly with a touch of honey and vanilla, before becoming very dry and woody. The heavy yeasty note also lingers.
Fully Matured (second right)
This is the Maker's Mark which is released on to the market. The whisky is matured for an average of five and three quarter years, and is selected when the flavour profile is correct. The colour is golden amber and the nose is rich and sweet with a lovely combination of vanilla, honey, coconut and spiced orange. The palate is equally rich and sweet, feeling creamy with the aromas from the nose replicated and joined by dry wood spices, oak and further tangy orange zest. The finish is sweet before leaving you with an oaky, drier freshness. Read our previous review of Maker's Mark with more expansive tasting notes by clicking here.
Over Matured (far right)
This whisky has been maturing for almost double the amount of time that the regular Maker's Mark does (about 11 years). This makes it quite old for a bourbon, which normally come in under 10 years of age. The colour is dark amber and the nose is full of vanilla and heavy oak spice (think of pencil shavings). The palate is initially feisty with plenty of drying wood spices and chilli-like heat, before it softens to reveal lovely sweet, creamy vanilla, honey and zesty orange notes. A late hit of burnt caramel leads in to a bittersweet finish that has notes of robust cereal and spiced zest.