Saturday, September 02, 2006

AOTD Select Bourbon: Maker's Mark

Some interesting facts that illustrate why we chose Maker's Mark as the Art of the Drink Select Bourbon:

Maker's Mark is the only bourbon distillery to use pure, iron-free limestone spring water exclusively -- not city, well or river water. Their source is a 10-acre limestone spring-fed lake at the distillery.

Maker's Mark is very choosy about selecting the grains that go into their whisky. First, they use yellow corn and red winter wheat from specially selected small farm cooperatives, all of which are located within the limestone geology near the distillery. This wheat gives the whisky its soft, mellow taste. And they only use naturally malted barley that has no enzyme-enhancing gibberellic acid. When the grain is delivered, they check it from top to bottom. If it does not meet their rigid standards the shipment is not accepted (and this really does happen from time to time).

Maker's Mark uses an old-fashioned rollermill to prepare the grain for cooking. While some distillers think this method is too slow and produces a lower yield, it'’s just fine for them. The slow process does not scorch the grain like a hammermill can. Scorching may result in a slightly bitter taste.

Unlike some other distillers, Maker's Mark never pressure cooks their grain. Any good distiller, or baker, can tell you that pressure cookers and high-quality soft winter wheat do not mix. By using an open cooker and a slower process that involves a lot of hands-on attention, they extend the subtle grain flavors into their whisky.

Maker's Mark is among the few remaining bourbon distillers that propagates its own yeast for fermentation with cultures that can be traced back to the pre-prohibition era. They also use the traditional sour mash method, similar to making sourdough bread, where the distiller always leaves over some culture from one batch to start another.

The distillery's rare cypress fermentation tanks are historically irreplaceable. Some of the planks are more than 100 years old.

Cypress was chosen for fermentation before modern stainless steel was available because it didn'’t contribute iron or taste to the final product. While it's not believed that cypress affects the process in any way, they continue to use some of these fermenters to give their visitors a sense of how the process used to look.

Maker'’s Mark is currently the only operating bourbon distillery to make whisky in batches of less than 19 barrels -- the traditional standard for small-batch whisky.

Maker'’s Mark double distills its whisky -- once in an all copper column still to produce what is called low wine, and again in a copper pot still to produce high wine. This added step removes impurities and produces a more refined sipping whisky. Their low wine is distilled off at 120 proof, while the high wine is 130 proof.

This is the lowest distillation proof in the industry. They continue this more expensive practice because it preserves the mellow grain characteristics.

Next time you're in Loretto, KY, stop by the Maker's Mark distillery for a tour -- they love visitors, and will even let you hand-dip a bottle of Maker's Mark into their trademark red sealing wax. And don't forget to tell them Anthony sent you!

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