When I am asked about Vodka, Belvedere is the only name I speak. When it is Rum, Mount Gay wins me over. When we talk whisky, (or whiskey), of any expression, it is only Maker’s Mark.
We all have preferences and mine are well tested
Until Dec 11th of this year, I let my palate decide why I loved Maker’s. It was simple, it tasted like whisky and it struck the front of the tongue as almost “sweet”. Something entirely unique to Maker’s Mark.
Then I went to Loretto, KY, and that all changed.
So let’s start at the beginning..
For all those who have travelled, you likely have experienced a mix of “hospitality”. From the airline attendants, to the hotel, to every cab driver, you will encounter constant hospitable experience (or attempts). How do you measure your hospitality?
We all have our horror stories and we all have our “delights” in hospitality. I will say that this is exclusively the latter, pure southern hospitality, from start to finish. Kentucky is an impressive place.
I won’t dilute the fact that Maker’s Mark was the purpose of my recent trip to Louisville. I wanted to know everything this time, and I made my feelings known to our Diplomat Jeff Meyers. He knew just the man for the job, “Super Dave”;
Now this is where I started to feel the Maker’s Mark of hospitality and learned some valuable lessons.
We were met at the “toll house” by Dave. It was a quiet and relaxed atmosphere to meet and greet, he asked a lot of questions. One stood out “What do you want to see?” I said “everything” enthusiastically, and I think Dave could see it in my eyes, I meant everything.
Lesson #1 from MM Hospitality: Don’t force the introduction..
- The best things are discovered not “slammed” into your face, consider what it takes to make a fan and not just a spectator.
We started down the “rabbit hole” of bourbon, and I was like Alice in Wonderland. Simply amazed at how complex it all seemed from afar, and how simple it all really was.
Here is a Hospitable bourbon process crash course.
The secret of the taste of Bourbon is its grain, yeast, oak & storage methods. These have the largest influence on the Bourbon’s taste. In Wine, they call it “terroir” in Bourbon country, they will just claim it is the “weather”.
Here are the key elements;
The Mash Bill
Every unique Bourbon distillery has a unique grain mixture. Bourbon whisky must contain at least 51% corn. This is a minimum requirement of using the name Bourbon by law, most Bourbons however contain around 60 to 80% corn.
Rye, malted barley & wheat make up the remainder of the mash bill.
Fresh spring water is a key ingredient in the production of Bourbon whisky. It is required for the extraction of the sugar whilst cooking the starch in the grain. Bourbon distilleries require a high quality water source, and have a natural limestone shelf that makes for perfect spring fed conditions.
Grain seeds consist mainly of starch, but also contain proteins, fats and trace elements. The Grains are cooked to convert starch into sugar.
Each distillery in Kentucky has its own yeast stock kept in guarded cooling rooms. Maker’s is the original, and it tastes like a fine brew.
After the mash has been cooled , it is added with yeast into a fermenter in which a beer with approximately 9-10% Alcohol is produced.
The distillation works the same way for all Bourbon whiskey or distilleries using a Column Still.
The pillar like formation allows a continuous distillation process which was invented in 1826 by Robert Stein
Every Bourbon distillery works with the Sour Mash process today. Sour Mash means that a part of the distillation residue is supplemented back into the mash.
Filling into Barrels
In Kentucky and Missouri companies specialized in the production of barrels from American white oak. For Straight Bourbon Whiskey the barrels may only be used once. They have hold a volume of approximately 200.34 litres of bourbon.
The barrels are held with one side open over a small fire & toasted for about 12 minutes, leading to the wood sugar in the oak staves becoming caramelized.
Storage and Maturation
For the storage of the barrels each distillery has its own system
Warehouses hold about 20.000 barrels of bourbon have a frame of bars and joints to roll the barrels horizontally & elevator for vertical movement.
The Bourbon distilleries each have their own bottling line.
We toured the entire facility and I was amazed at many things, but for the sake of this post, here is one key lesson that came from this tour;
Lesson #2 from MM Hospitality: Transparency is the key to comfort. Not a hard sell when it’s honest.
- Remember the time of “secret ingredients”? Maker’s Mark does not have any. They will tell you everything, and everyone is so happy to do it. (Well the yeast is a family secret, but would you want to really know?)
Next we were onto the tasting; (my favourite part)….but something was different…Competitors whisky’s were all over our tasting mat.
Why would you place your product, side by side with the best and worst in your “whisky” category?
Ask anyone at Maker’s and it is simple, Maker’s is different, and they have nothing to hide from.
We tasted the likes of Crown Royal, Woodford Reserve and even a Dave Home-made blend. They all lacked the character and distinct “front of mouth” taste profile of Maker’s. It really was simple, simple to taste the difference.
Lesson #3 from MM Hospitality: Fearing the competition just means you have something to hide.
- Competition is healthy, and we all need our points of difference to compete. Don’t be afraid of “losing ground”, get excited by the opportunity to do more for your fans.
We were all amazed at the people at Maker’s Mark, everyone was smiling and made everything look like fun. It sounds cliche, but I swear to you, every single person was excited to be working at Maker’s Mark and everyone showed extraordinary engagement.
The numbers are telling us that the majority are of employee’s are disengaged…
So why does Maker’s Mark have generations (literally) of employee’s? 30 year veterans?
Lesson #4 from MM Hospitality: Happy people make incredible products and services. Happy people are always excited to share what they do.
- This seems so easy but we always seem to forget it. Give me Autonomy and a chance at Mastery, and I give you happiness.
The most important lesson I learned while at Maker’s Mark…
Lesson #5 from MM Hospitality: Authenticity is recession proof.
- While everyone is chasing the “new markets” and “new flavours”, Maker’s Mark stands firm with 2 products, and the Maker’s Mark 46 is not a flavour, it is a simple expression with french oak added into the process.
Take from Maker’s Mark what you will, but I learned a lot about Bourbon, along with a true form of honest hospitality, without effort or guise. Simply a beautiful place to experience hospitality, in my hospitable opinion.
get to doing!