I have been saying for years that the established Kentucky distilleries should not be resting on their laurels when it comes to innovations with their whiskeys. There are many new distilleries in other states, and even in Kentucky, that are trying new things with their whiskey and they are they are producing remarkable products. Closer to home, I am glad to say that Maker’s Mark has an excellent innovation team led by Jane Bowie.

Jane Bowie is a relative new-comer to the industry – she has worked in the business fourteen years. She started with Maker’s Mark in 2007 as a Global Brand Ambassador. She spent a lot of time in Europe traveling to new markets and was based in Great Britain for four years. In 2012, she returned to Kentucky. In 2014, she became the Director of Innovation and Master of Maturation for Maker’s Mark. She was in Europe when Maker’s 46 came out so she was not part of developing that whiskey, but her first project was the cask strength. She then worked with Diane Rogers and Rob Samuels to create the Barrel Select product line of Maker’s Mark.

The year 2015 was the pilot program for the Barrel Select Maker’s Mark. I was fortunate enough to do a couple of picks that year – with Party Mart and Jack Rose. That was the first time I met Jane and had a chance to talk with her. I was immediately impressed with her knowledge and passion for the project. The barrel select whiskey is made by taking a barrel of mature Maker’s Mark and placing ten additional staves in the barrel to further enhance the flavor of the whiskey. I admit that I have always been skeptical of whiskey where wood chips were added to the barrel to give the whiskey more wood flavor, but talking with Jane and seeing how this was different from what others have done, I became a fan. 

Jane is very good at educating people as to what these staves do while they are in the barrel. She admits that it is not an exact science, but nothing about making Bourbon is. There are too many variables to know exactly what is going to happen to that whiskey and Jane states she learns something new every day as a result of those variables. She believes that is what keeps her job interesting and fun.

Jane and her team also are responsible for completing the Barrel Entry Proof Project and getting the barrels bottled for the public distribution. These are barrels of Maker’s Mark that were distilled on the same day eight years ago. They had barrel entry proofs of 110, 115, 120 and 125. The project was to show how raising the barrel entry proof would change Maker’s Mark. Once the project was completed, some people at Maker’s Mark wanted to add these barrels into the dumps for Maker’s Mark, but the Innovation team talked them into releasing them as individual bottles so the Maker’s Mark drinkers could see for themselves how the entry proof changes the whiskey. I will say that the 110 entry proof does make a big difference and the eight year old whiskey in this project is as good as anything that was ever made at Stitzel-Weller. I am glad it did not get mixed into the standard bottles of Maker’s Mark.

Jane told me she loves her job. She says that she works “with beautiful people at a beautiful place”. Going to work is a pleasure. She is proud that she shares the title of “Master of Maturation” with people at other distilleries such as Andrea Wilson at Michter’s. Working with Bill and Rob Samuels is another fun part of her job. I can see why; Bill is always interesting to talk to and to learn from and Rob is quickly becoming another leader in the industry.

Innovation is what is going to keep Kentucky as a leader in the whiskey industry. Traditional brands will always be the main products produced at the distilleries, but new and innovative products will keep the consumer interest. Jane Bowie and her Innovation Team are leading the way to the future.

Photos Courtesy of Janie Bowie and Rosemary Miller