This spring I visited the Maker's Mark distillery, along with seven other American whiskey distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee. I had previously been to Maker's Mark and wrote about my visit here. As you'll read, I learned a lot of different stuff on this trip.
Maker's Mark uses a mashbill of 70% corn, 16% soft red winter wheat, and 14% malted barley. Bourbon must be a minimum of 51% corn but 70+ is normal. Malted barley is always used to aid in fermentation, and the remaining percent is usually made of up rye or wheat, more often rye.
At Maker's they prepare the grains a little differently than at other distilleries. They use a roller mill to crunch up the grains, rather than a hammer mill. This cracks the husk of the wheat but leaves it intact. The husks do go into the boiler with the other grains, but they boil it at a relatively low temperature so it won't break down and become available to the yeast for fermentation. They also cook their grains (to prepare them for fermentation) in an open-topped cookers, rather than pressure cooking them.
The grains are then fermented with yeast for three days.
The fermented grains are then distilled, up to 120 proof in the column still, and then up to 130 in the doubler. We smelled the two distillates: The first was very oily and minerally. After the second distillation it smelled fruity and light, like a typical white dog.
They put the new spirit into barrels at 110 proof. Most of the warehouses for Maker's Mark at six storeys tall. They are the only bourbon distillery that rotates all of their barrels throughout the aging process. Barrels are first racked on the top floors, then moved after two years and then moved lower again after another two.
Maker's 46, a new bourbon from Maker's Mark, begins as the same distillate, aged for the same amount of time. It is then aged an additional 8-11 weeks in barrels with 10 seared French oak staves in the barrels. They do this only in the winter, as that way the liquid sucks flavor out of the staves rather than sucking liquid into the wood of the staves as it would do in the hotter months of summer. I think the final product tastes like wood-spiced Maker's Mark- pretty tasty.
Visiting Maker's Mark
Free tours are available. Check the Maker's Mark website for more information.