Recently, Eating Our Words was fortunate enough to sit down with Makers Mark Master Distiller Greg Davis at Eleven XI to talk about Makers 46 and what exactly makes it so different than the original. Maker's 46 is the bolder, grander version of the classic bourbon. At just three years old it is in many ways the more refined brother to Maker's Mark.
Davis has a decorated past that exhibits his love for the industry. He has been with Makers since 2010 where his extensive experience within the bourbon industry played a crucial role. Previously the master distiller at the Tom Moore Distillery for a decade, Davis drove innovation and overall improvements within the company. He is passionate about wine and spirits and has been in the industry in one sense or another since 1990 after studying Brewing Science. Davis was mostly in the research and development part of Brown-Forman. Before moving to Tom Moore he became a Brew Master for several years at the Bohannon Brewery.
Maker's 46 started when Maker's Mark President Bill Samuels Jr. called a meeting one afternoon and simply walked into the room, wrote "Yummy" in big red letters and walked out. Davis and his team had a new goal. "Bourbon is traditionally bitter and what yummy meant for us was to move towards something a little softer but still just as pronounced. We had to add a new element to the bourbon that was missing. Samuels Jr. wanted us to go further with it. He wrote that word down and left. We realized it was up to us to figure out what we could do to produce that. We had to figure it out from just that simple word. That's how it all started," Davis says.
Davis describes the process as trying to work within a box but finding ways outside of the box to improve what is inside. "You essentially have a box that defines bourbon. It must contain a minimum 51 percent corn, can't distill above 160 proof, must be aged a minimum of two years in a oak barrel, and if it's going to be considered a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey it must be aged and distilled at least 2 years in Kentucky." Davis and Baswell had to find a way to meet those requirements and still go beyond that to create something new.
"We know a lot about distillation and how to maneuver and manipulate the profile. How can we expand on what is already Makers? We decided to call Brad Baswell, who is a fourth or fifth generation barrel maker, because they know the wood. We tried different woods, different sized barrels, but in the end nothing seemed to work. We kept chugging along. We must've tried a hundred different times before we figured it out. What Brad brought to the table was these seared french oak staves. They're very thin wafer boards. Instead of taking a raw piece of wood we caramelized the wood sugars in there. So with the 46 we tried to expand what we already had. If you look at it like a pendulum we wanted to extend it and make a much bigger version with Makers 46. When you smell the 46 you can smell the complex oak notes and the vanilla much more. We're taking everything that's great about Makers Mark and amplifying it."
Maker's 46 puts a very distinct gap between itself and Maker's Mark. It has a rich, pronounced flavor without the bitterness of other bourbons. While it is heavier, it doesn't feel overpowering or like it's too much. Its has a stronger feel, but is smoother at the same time. After you've taken a drink you can feel it on the front half of the tongue as it starts revealing more and more about itself . It keeps giving. Its aroma is on the sweet and soft side, and this really foreshadows the flavor of the bourbon quite well. Maker's 46 is the more sophisticated counterpart to the original Makers in many ways.
This unique flavor and aroma is due to Baswell's approach, "We take 18-month-old french oak lined up using the radiant heat to penetrate all throughout the wood to caramelize all those wood chips. What you are trying to achieve is as you age it to take the bitterness out of it. When you age it you get a peak around 9-10 months but around 18 months we get a higher peak. That is when we cut it into our wafer thin form. You line them up and heat them up into our oven and the heat just penetrates all the way through and that is what seals those tannins in and we empty out that fully matured barrel of mark and we fill it with these staves and after they're in there we fill it back up with the makers and let it age another 18 months and we go by taste never by time. and only during the winter. during the summer the reaction happens too fast and we don't get the same results."
I also tried two cocktails made with Maker's 46.
The first was the Maple Bacon Manhattan which consisted of Berkshire applewood bacon fat washed Maker's 46, Punt e Mes, sweet vermouth and grade A amber maple syrup. The last piece is a candied bacon rim. Through all that sweetness and intense amount of bacon, the Maker's flavor does not get lost.
The Cherry Donkey Punch consisted of Maker's 46 infused with Morello, sun dried sour cherries, cherry bitters, and ginger beer served over crushed ice. I often opt to drink my bourbon neat so cocktails aren't really my go-to drinks. This is the drink that made me reconsider. It was sweet, refreshing and brisk. The perfect remedy to the hot and muggy weather that comes with summer. Maker's 46 was prominent while all the ingredients kept the drink on the lighter side.