Today’s dram: Maker’s Mark 46, Cask-strength (only sold at the distillery)
Today’s tasting notes: I’m opening this one for the first time today. I picked it up last October, when the wife and I went on a road trip through Kentucky, home of bourbon: 1,531 miles, 8 days, 13 distilleries, 6 bourbon bars, 3 cave tours, 2 dinners with friends, 1 game night. (Gee, it would have been nice if someone had blogged about that, wouldn’t it?)
The distilleries included every one on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which includes most of the big-name bourbons you’ve probably heard of, including Maker’s Mark. For most of its history, Maker’s Mark only produced one bourbon, its namesake. One grain bill, one technique, one whisky. A few years ago, it began gradually experimenting and eventually released Maker’s 46, which is the namesake whisky aged an additional year or so during which time several lightly toasted wooden staves are inserted into the barrel. (They got it right on the 46th variation, hence the name.) While you can buy Maker’s 46 in any good bottle shoppe you can only buy the sparingly produced cask-strength version of 46 at the distillery.* It’s pricey, but my wife and I splurged on a pair of bottles, given how much we like Maker’s 46.
I love the handmade look to the label on this one. Not like the professional label on your regular bottles of Maker’s Mark, eh? Well, it kind of is. One of the cool things we saw on the distillery tour was the print shop, where two people are employed full-time to print all the company’s labels on a 19th century hand-crank printing press. Pretty damned cool.
I know that’s a lot of preamble for the tasting notes, but context matters, yes?
So, taste — sweet mercy!
I’m a fan of Maker’s Mark, anyway. I love the nuanced difference between their bourbon and most others. I love that their mash bill isn’t the typical corn/barley/rye. They sub winter wheat for the rye. This tones down the spiciness (or “bite”) and gives the whisky a softer, easier touch.
Maker’s 46 is that, with a gentle vanilla note added from the extra aging with those special staves.
This? Oh, it’s lovely. All the grace and gentle beauty of 46, with the warmth dialed up just a touch from its cask strength.
Today’s thoughts: Along the way on our road trip, we stopped in Louisville, which apart from being home to a few distilleries and many bourbon bars, is also home to a dear old friend of mine. And while I had not seen her in person in over twenty years, she is one of a handful of people I went to high school with whom I still care to keep in touch. She was DM for the first serious Dungeons & Dragons campaign in which I ever played.** She introduced me to R.E.M. and feminism.
These days she works in a game store, and I am a tiny bit jealous of that. But we got to stop by the shop to get a couple of board games in, and I even picked up a few dice while I was there because there is no such thing as too many dice.
It was good catching up. We agreed to not let another 20 years go by without hanging out.
Today’s trivia: Since bourbon must be aged in new oak barrels, a steady supply of used barrels emerges from every bourbon distillery. Different distilleries have different means of disposing of their used barrels (nearly always for profit) but a great many end up at Scotch whisky distilleries. Scotch whisky also has to be aged on wood, but there is no requirement that the wood be new, so many varieties of Scotch whisky spend most (or all) of their maturation years in barrels that once held bourbon. (Some are aged in barrels that were originally used for sherry or other spirits, and this can be an important aspect a whisky’s profile. I digress. More one this later, surely.)
So, Maker’s Mark barrels? They’re mostly sold to Laphroaig. As our tour guide put it, if you love Laphroaig whisky — I do! — you owe a tiny bit of gratitude to Maker’s Mark.
Today’s toast: To travel and friendships renewed!
* — Cask-strength versions of original Maker’s Mark bourbon, once hard to find, have started popping up at better bottle shoppes. That’s good stuff, too. (If any of these terms are unfamiliar, check out yesterday’s post, Whisky Wind-down, Interlude: Terminology.)
** — I’d previously participated in other role-playing games, even a quick D&D session, but she ran the first proper campaign*** I was a part of. Glory days.
*** — It was a second edition game world of her creation, with a focus on role-playing over combat. I played a thief.