I was invited, along with seven other whiskey writers, to be part of a private selection at Maker’s Mark to support the LEE Initiative. Besides myself, there was Susan Reigler, Sara Havens, Carla Carlton, Maggie Kimberl, Steve Coomes, Seth Thompson, and Dan Scofield. Everyone was invited to bring a guest, so there were sixteen of us making the selection. The idea was to have us pick a recipe for the next CommUNITY bottle to raise funds for the LEE Initiative. They sent a Mint Julep Tours bus to pick everyone up at their doorstep and take us to the distillery.

Jane Bowie, Denny Potter, and several other Maker’s Mark employees met us in the parking lot and put us in their new solar powered electric vehicles and whisked us off to the new “tasting room” by their lake. In reality it is a tasting building. Constructed out of limestone from the property, recycled wood from warehouse repairs and topped with a green roof, it sits on the shores of the lake they use to hold the water for Maker’s Mark mash cook. The lake is fed by a limestone water spring and stocked with paddlefish, and comes with a beaver lodge on one bank. 

This tasting room is like being in a fishing lodge in the woods. It was built because Maker’s has such a demand for their private selection program, the cave could not keep up with demand. This room is basically the overflow relief building, but it does provide people with an equally unique experience. I would hope that Jane and company will give people a choice as to where they want to select their whiskey so those who have been in the cave can experience this building.

Jane Bowie led the selection. We were split into two teams. Jane led us through a tasting of cask strength Maker’s and whiskey made with each of the five staves. For those not familiar with this process, the Maker’s Mark program is unique in that when finished, you have a whiskey that most likely nobody else has created. There are 1001 combinations available when combining the five staves (really six but we will say more later on that), so it is unlikely anyone has created your exact recipe. The stave selections are as follows:

  1. P2: Baked American Pure 2. American oak that has been baked low and slow in a convection oven with a “classic” cut. The whiskey has a strong vanilla and caramel flavor with a little green apple and baking spice.
  2. Cu: Seared French Cuvee. French oak toasted with infrared heat and cut with ridges or ruffles. The whiskey has some vanilla and caramel notes, but there is a lot of cinnamon and nutmeg spice with a hint of ripe apples or pears.
  3. 46: Maker’s Mark 46TM. This is French Oak, seared, then, infrared toasted with a classic cut. This is my least favorite of the staves because for me it brings out the bitter tannins of the French oak. Other people love it and they say there are complex flavors, but I don’t get them, just wood tannins.
  4. Mn: Roasted French Mendiant. This stave is French Oak, toasted low and slow in a convection oven with a classic cut. The whiskey tastes of fruit – plums, dates, maybe a little raspberry, with some notes of chocolate and baking spice. This replace their most popular stave, the Mo – Mocha, French oak stave. If you have used this stave in a previous selection and wish to duplicate that whiskey, Maker’s will still use this stave to re-create that previous recipe.
  5. Sp: Toasted French Spice. A French oak stave toasted high and low in a convection oven with a classic cut. The whiskey is full of baking spices of ginger, cardamom, allspice with a hint of tobacco and dried fruit.

These are the staves we had to choose from and we had to pick ten, in any combination, to make our whiskey. Our table created a favorite and the other table theirs, then we blind tasted each and picked our final selection. Our table decided that each person and their guest would create a recipe and then we would pick our favorite from those. 

We decided then what tweaks we wanted to make to the recipe. There was a tie between two of the recipes, but it was decided to take one of them and tweak it in two different ways. We then chose our winning recipe. It was 4 P2, 2 Cu, 3 Mn, and 1 Sp.

The other table had their recipe and we all left the room while Jane and company made more of each recipe and blind poured each. We returned and picked up a glass of each and returned to our tables and tasted. The vote was taken and the recipe from the table I was sitting at won hands down. It was not even close. 

We then were fed some very tasty food from one of the Chefs participating in the LEE Initiative – Pork belly, Salmon cakes and watermelon with balsamic vinegar, before being taken back to visit the gift shop before heading home.

This was an excellent event and I am grateful that Maker’s let us each bring a guest. My guest was Rosemary and it was her first time doing a private selection at Maker’s Mark. She was not alone on that account and I think I enjoyed seeing others do this for the first time as much as I enjoyed doing the selection. 

We picked an excellent whiskey. I believe the representatives from the LEE Initiative said they hoped to release it this fall during the week of giving and this year, they are planning to send some overseas to Great Britain with the help of the British Bourbon Society. I do hope my readers will support this worthy cause by purchasing a bottle or two when it comes out.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller