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Maker’s Mark Bourbon Tasting at Fearing’s in Dallas

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Andrew Chalk attended a “food and booze” event at Fearing’s last night. It wasn’t a hard sell to get him there. He files this report:

Here’s a “True or False” pop quiz:

1)        Bourbon can only come from Kentucky?

2)       Chef Dean Fearing is a native Texan?

If you guessed false on both, you are correct. Yes, most bourbon comes from the Bluegrass State but some is made elsewhere. And yes, Dean Fearing was also “made” in Kentucky. Well, he’s from there. (And he admits to concealing his first shots of Maker’s Mark Bourbon in eggnog.)

Those are just two–okay three– of the interesting facts revealed at Maker’s Mark’s global unveiling of their first new product, Maker’s 46. It is an indication of the importance of the Texas market that the company chose to announce the product here, rather than in Kentucky. And what better spot than Fearing’s at The Ritz Carlton with a Kentucky-born chef. All of Fearing’s food—from salmon to pulled pork—was made with Maker’s 46.

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There were actually lots of interesting facts that I learned about Bourbon at this tasting. For example, the mash is made from wheat, not rye (unlike most Bourbon). The oak barrels, in which it is aged, must be 100% new for each batch of ‘White Dog’, as they call the condensed distillate. It is aged for 6½ to 7 years and that is what gives it its distinctive brown color. No coloring additives are allowed in U.S. Bourbon.

Change has come slowly at the distillery, which was created in 1953 by Bill Samuels Sr. to do small scale production emphasizing quality over quantity. There was an acquisition by a large conglomerate (most small Bourbon distillers felt they needed the protection of a larger parent – Ideally one that would not tell them what to do). After some corporate musical chairs, Maker’s ended up as part of Fortune Brands in 2005. In 2008 Kevin Smith became Master Distiller. The original distillery in Loretto, Kentucky is still used and is even open for tours.

Kevin chose to describe the difference between Maker’s Mark and Maker’s 46 with a tasting. First, we sipped the original Maker’s Mark. It had a rich vanilla nose with notes of toffee and crème brûlée. In the mouth it announced its arrival by causing an explosion of flavors and heat at the back of the mouth, leaving a long finish.

The Maker’s 46, by contrast, had more aromas of orange, peppermint and allspice in the nose. And the nature of the flavors was the biggest difference. Instead of a heat and flavor explosion in the back of the mouth, those flavors had moved to the front. This whisky seemed much easier to swallow due to this smoothness at the back of the mouth. Going to and fro between the two drinks really brought out the effect. Most remarkably, Maker’s 46 starts out as regular Maker’s Mark. How had Smith achieved such a dramatic refocusing of the flavors?

Through a lot of experimentation it turns out. Smith worked with Brad Boswell, President of barrel maker Independent Stave on the type of oak that Maker’s Mark came into contact with before bottling. After tests of over 125 different barrels, Smith and Boswell settled on using fully aged Maker’s Mark, cutting the hoops off the barrels to remove the barrel head, and immersing ten charred staves of oak in each barrel for nine weeks. The staves were made from French oak from the Loire region of France and the degree of charring was Boswell’s ‘profile 46’. It was this profile number that gave its name to the whisky. The whole process is really an object lesson in the importance of the type of oak and the type of contact that an aged drink has with oak.

Which you prefer, original Marker’s mark or Maker’s 46 is a matter of taste. It is distributed in Texas by Glazer’s and available at Dallas area liquor stores.

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