Makers Mark Cask Strength Hard to find! The good news is that Maker's Mark, a distillery known for its reticence to release new whiskies over its 60 years of existence, has a new expression. The great news is that its new Cask Strength is extraordinary, managing to retain the Bourbon's essential smooth character, while packing it with even more flavor. The bad news is that there is precious little to go around. Until recently the only way to get a taste of the straight-from-the-barrel-without-dilution version of the Loretto, Kentucky, whisky was to visit the source and buy it at the distillery store. Now, limited amounts are making their way into the hands of what the chief operating officer Rob Samuels describes as top-tier bartenders in seven or eight cities, which include Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, as well as New York, Chicago and Denver, where you'll taste it by the shot.
For more than five decades, the company, which first distilled Bourbon in 1954, resisted the pressure to create alternate expressions of the familiar Bourbon with the red wax seal, even as the category began to rebound in the early '90s. Then in 2010, Bill Samuels Jr., the son of founder Bill Sr., debuted Makers 46, saying that his nightmare would have been if he had shepherded the company without having created anything himself. Bill Jr. had taken over in 1975, when his father gave him one bit of advice: "Don't screw up the whisky." A year after 46 bowed in, Bill Jr. retired as chief executive officer, handing the reins to his son Rob. Asked if Bill Jr. was jealous that his son was able to debut a new expression in such short order, Rob Samuels allows that his father is "as excited as I am." In fact, he consulted in the birth of the new whiskey as the two tasted through the many other examples of cask-strength Bourbon now on the market.
Rob Samuels says that the inspiration to create a cask-strength version came from samplings they had conducted with renowned bartenders invited to the distillery to taste straight from the barrel. "They were over the moon about it," and the father and son decided it might be good to share with a wider market. Their major concern in making the whisky, he says, is that it retains the character of Maker's Mark without the extra alcohol being too forbidding. He describes as being "an even more amplified version" of Maker's. "Basically with Bourbon, you are who you are when you fall right out of the barrel. According to Samuels, Cask Strength is made following the exact same process as the standard Maker's Mark” with the exception that no water is added before bottling. The procedure entails distilling Bourbon in 19-barrel batches. Those are then aged for about six-and-a-half years, with casks being rotated through different levels of the warehouse. At maturation's end, the whisky is melded with five other batches to ensure flavor consistency. As with most whiskies, the proof of the standard Maker's Mark is then lowered with the addition of water before bottling. In the case of Cask Strength it is bottled at full proof. At this point, only one batch of Cask Strength has been bottled. The proof is 113.2 (or 56.6 percent alcohol), but future batches will vary in strength between 108 and 114 proof. (Evaporation that occurs during aging creates the inconsistency.)