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Maker's Mark 46 Bourbon: Distillery's First New Product In Five Decades

AP     First Posted: 06/08/10 10:09 AM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 05:40 PM ET

From The Associated Press:

LORETTO, Ky. — It seemed like any other day at the Maker's Mark Distillery, as workers dunked tops of whiskey bottles into tubs of red wax. Only this time, the bottles were different – and so was the bourbon.

Since the late 1950s, the quaint distillery tucked into the Kentucky hills has churned out just one product – Maker's Mark. That's changing with next month's introduction of Maker's 46, a close cousin of the original but with a different aging method in the final weeks to give the whiskey a distinctive taste.

While the world of expensive spirits is rife with offshoots, Maker's was steadfast in clinging to a single product until now.

"This is our first creation in 52 years, and it really is a creation," Maker's Mark President Bill Samuels Jr. said. "It's not like it's Maker's with a couple of more years age on it."

To create the product, master distiller Kevin Smith started with Maker's and dabbled for more than a year before hitting on the recipe.

Whiskey barrels storing Maker's are emptied so workers can insert oak planks inside each. The barrels are refilled and aged two to three months longer than traditional Maker's, which ages six to seven years. As Maker's 46 mingles with the wood, it takes on stronger hints of caramel, spice and vanilla, Smith said.

The new whiskey sprung up from consumer demand, Smith said. When Maker's executives met with customers or bartenders, the question invariably arose: When was Maker's going to offer a new whiskey?

The product's name is a tip of the cap to the brand's barrel maker and one of its top executives, who came up with the unique idea of using seared French oak planks inside the barrel to draw out more flavors. The product's name reflects the profile number attached to the process.

The new product is 94 proof, slightly higher than traditional Maker's.

Plans are to produce 25,000 9-liter cases of Maker's 46 this year for U.S. distribution, Smith said. That's a drop in the bucket for the distiller, where overall production this year could surpass 1 million cases for the first time. Maker's 46 will run about $10 more per bottle than traditional Maker's, which generally costs $23 to $25 per 750ml bottle.

The new bourbon comes at a time when the market for top-shelf spirits is shrinking, stung by the recession and its aftermath. Sales of liquor brands in Maker's 46 price range tumbled 5.1 percent in 2009, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Maker's Mark is part of Deerfield, Ill.-based Fortune Brands Inc., whose brands also include Jim Beam.

Chuck Cowdery, an American whiskey writer and author of "Bourbon, Straight," said Maker's 46 is "really terrific" and predicted it will be well-received.

"They resisted doing this for a long time because they've always told consumers, 'This is the best bourbon,'" he said. "They always thought it would be confusing to the brand image if they brought out something else. But it was that consumer that started telling them, 'Try something a little different now and then.'"


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Related: HuffPost blogger Tony Sachs' Bourbon Picking Guide

Four Roses
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The most popular bourbons in America have been, for what seems like forever, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey. But for two decades after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, when you said "bourbon," odds are you meant Four Roses. The brand was purchased by Seagram's in the '40s, and in the '50s they stopped selling it in the USA. But it remained among the top sellers in Japan and elsewhere, and in the 21st century it's re-emerged Stateside. To woo high-end bourbon connoisseurs, they've developed a lot of newfangled variations (Single Barrel, Small Batch, etc.). But the standard Four Roses Yellow label is the closest thing to what your gran'pappy might have drunk decades ago. Sipped neat, it's got lovely vanilla and honey notes; drop in an ice cube or two and woody, oaky flavors begin to predominate. It's neither overpowering nor too delicate, which makes it nice for sipping or for mixing in cocktails.
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(Originally posted with Tony Sachs' HuffPost Food piece, "Forget About Horses: A Bourbon Picking Guide for Derby Day, and Every Day.")

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Filed by Colin Sterling  |