If American whiskey was an iconic actor it would be Clint Eastwood: honest, strong, deceptively simple but full of surprises.
I recently took to the road on the American Whiskey Trail. The trail is an initiative organized by the Distilled Spirits Council of America (www.discus.org) to promote the experience of drinking whiskey at the source in places like George Washington’s Mount Vernon (yes, the father of our country was a distiller and a damn good one), Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.
While all of the distillers that I visited were special in their own way (more about Jack Daniels, George Washington and friends in future posts), the most upscale label on the tour is the red wax one on the Maker’s Mark (www.makersmark.com) brand. Bill Samuels, Sr. took over the historic Loretto, Kentucky distillery complex in the 1950’s. He substituted winter wheat for rye and came up with a taste that was smooth, sophisticated and quickly grew in popularity as a “premium” small batch bourbon whisky (Maker’s drops the “e” as in Scotland).
Visitors touring the distillery get to wander into Bill Samuel’s wife Marjorie’s 1950’s kitchen where a replica of her experiments with red wax illustrate how the iconic label was born. You then get a chance to dip your own bottle into vats of red wax and even get it signed by the master distiller Greg Davis if he’s at hand. You’ll also see Maker’s Mark making their newest product in 52 years. Maker’s Mark 46 is aged with oak staves in the whisky barrels—producing mouth-filling tastes of caramel, vanilla and spice. Management won’t reveal the whole process but you’ll be able to see the barrels and batches and smell the heavenly mash all throughout the tour.
photo credit: Gretchen Kelly