After our Labor Day weekend time in Ohio, we were planning to head back to North Carolina. But a few weeks before our visit we heard about a new product being introduced by Maker’s Mark, their Cellar Aged Bourbon.
Prior to this new product, every Maker’s Mark product, from Maker’s Mark itself to Maker’s Mark 46, Private Select and Wood Finishing Series, has started with original Maker’s Mark bourbon, distilled from one mash bill then blended from (usually) 4-6 year old barrels to achieve a specific flavor profile. The new Cellar Aged product is a blend of 11-12 year old barrels, blended to a different flavor profile and bottled at cask strength. Hmmm….
We love to try all sorts of different bourbon and rye whiskeys, but we’ve really become fans of Maker’s Mark. We love to visit the distillery – the grounds are beautiful, the people are friendly and they make good stuff! Kentucky seems to be on the way to or from just about anywhere, and we never want to pass up an opportunity to try and buy an interesting bourbon. So we tried to figure out how we might get there and pick some up.
I contacted the distillery to find out when Cellar Aged would be available for purchase. Well, they told me, they would eventually have some in the gift shop, BUT the official introduction would not be until later in the month. HOWEVER, if I wanted to be sure and get a bottle, I could book a special introductory, sneak-preview VIP tour, and the price of the ticket would include a bottle. Conveniently, the first such tour was scheduled for Thursday September 8, which fit our schedule perfectly. Fate!
Our tour started with a welcome cocktail – at 9:15 in the morning! – and a talk about the story behind the development of Cellar Aged. Then it was on to a tour of the distillery. While we have done a number of tours at Maker’s Mark, for this tour we had an opportunity to watch them test a sample of wheat from a truck, then unload the truck into the storage bin. We got to go literally “behind the scenes” in the still house and tasted some of the raw distillate – known as low wine, straight off the still. A real eye opener as it was still before 10:00!
We visited the quaint Print Shop where all the labels are printed and cut, and this was the first time we had actually seen the shop in operation. Very cool. Then we visited the bottling line, where the bottles are filled and every one is dipped by hand with the signature red wax seal. We had seen the line before, both in operation and not, and this time it was operating at full tilt. They dip a lot of bottles, and those workers are really fast! And yes, they spell each other off on a regular basis, which limits the fatigue level. Regardless it must be hard work!
The best part of any tour, other than the actual tasting, is a visit to a rick house. There is nothing like the smell you get, standing in the midst of hundreds of barrels, with thousands of gallons of bourbon, aging peacefully in the Kentucky countryside. This tour was no exception, as we visited one of the original buildings on the site as well as the Limestone Cellar that was specifically created for the aging of specialty products like 46, Private Select and now Cellar Aged.
Once inside the 50 degree Limestone Cellar, we were presented with a taste of unblended bourbon from one of the 12 year old barrels, alongside a taste of the final Cellar Aged product. I have to say that we were not disappointed. Since we haven’t opened our own bottles yet, I can’t get into a detailed description, but suffice it to say that we will enjoy it – a little at a time – over the course of the coming months or possibly years. It isn’t something to make cocktails with – unless you just want to! – it deserves to be sipped and savored however you like to enjoy bourbon.