Have you ever wondered about the oak? I mean really wondered about how all of those individual oak staves that sit shoulder to shoulder with each other in the form of a barrel create a whisky’s ultimate flavor? – Denis Lynch, Vine & Table Spirits Buyer
That is what my team and I were thinking about as we sat in a room at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky back in May of this year. We were there in order to create a unique custom bourbon whisky as part of Makers’ Mark Private Select Barrel Program.
It’s a process that differs greatly from simply picking out a barrel, which is what we normally do. Instead, the Maker’s Mark program allowed us to select a range of oak staves from traditional American oak to the more tightly grained French oak and staves with different charring levels from Toasted Spice to Roasted Mocha and beyond, which were then suspended inside a Maker’s Mark bourbon cask (filled with mature bourbon) for a few months to allow the additional oak staves to marry and mingle with the mature bourbon, giving the whisky a range of new and exciting flavors.
It was a long process of identifying and isolating flavors and nuances present in all of the different whiskies and then mixing them together in varying amounts until we came up with our final unifying blend. We chose three Seared French Cuvee staves, which give the whisky texture along with aromas of butterscotch and caramel; three Roasted French Mocha staves, which give the whisky its rich, deep, chocolatey notes along with a good level of sweetness; followed by four Toasted French Spice staves, which bring the flavors of the other two staves together in harmony while adding a level of light spice that is noticeable on the tip of the tongue and as a little kick on the finish.
The result of our work and the oak stave finishing process is a beautifully mature wheated whisky that is at once familiar to anyone who has ever sat down to enjoy a glass of Maker’s Mark, while at the same time offers something completely new and unique and extremely drinkable even at barrel proof.
As with all of our single cask selections, the stock available is finite and can never be repeated as no two casks will ever be the same.
We like to think of ourselves as experts at Vine & Table, but honestly the selection of staves for a Private Select bottle is always a bit of a gamble. You put together a combination you “think” will lead to the perfect whisky but you never know how those extra staves will react to your individual barrel. With over a thousand possible combinations the tendency for second guessing creeps in. So it was that we waited with bated breath to see what aging had done for our attempted masterpiece. Finally the long-awaited day arrived. From the first wafting aromas that rose from my glass I knew we had gotten this barrel just right. – Dave Helt, Vine & Table Spirits Buyer
On the nose this whisky (they prefer it without the e) speaks of honeysuckle, hay, and fresh baked cornbread with a pat of butter. None of the sizable 110 proof shows through on the nose. This pour is all ingredients with no ethanol overlay. Rich, buttery, and not overly sweet, the first impression is of pancakes waiting to be drizzled with syrup. Oaky spice plays nicely in the background as it builds to a finish that is clean, well balanced, and surprisingly lacking in heat. This whisky leaves an impression on both mind and palate that will not soon be forgotten. Come in and see for yourself that the reason we gamble is sometimes it really pays off.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit the folks at Maker’s Mark to help craft our Vine & Table Private Select bottle, and I was blown away. The whisky is superb, but the whole Maker’s experience is just as impressive. Because the red wax sealed bottles are ubiquitous, I’ve fallen into the trap of discounting the whisky as run of the mill; it’s anything but. The care with which it is produced, from nurturing their own yeast culture and not buying it freeze dried, to the preservation of the spring water source that is the base of the distillate, all says “small craft maker,” not a corporate giant with their eyes on profit. – Dan Angelo, Vine & Table Spirits Buyer
My first impression when tasting the fully mature cask strength Maker’s Mark that is the base for our bottle was “DONE! Let’s go home!” Rich and unctuous, notes of oak and vanilla are present on the palate with a velvety mouth feel. We were not done however; the barrel stave program offers about 1001 flavor combinations. After much debate we selected a combination of Seared French Cuvee, Roasted French Mocha and Toasted French Spice staves. The resulting whisky has a warm, long finish that leans dry and refined; for me it recalls a cigar blend cognac, balanced and smooth, no hot spots. The nose is pure Maker’s Mark, like warm whisky cake. I eagerly awaited the finished whisky, and when we received it last week, it was all that we hoped it would be. This is a bottle that is going to fly off the shelves, don’t miss out.
Maker’s Mark Private Select V&T Hand-picked Single Barrel Kentucky Bourbon $69.99