Blog: Sampling Maker’s Mark Wood-Customization Program

The first batches of Maker’s Mark Private Select, the bourbon brand’s wood-selection customization program, became available this spring. Marriott and Maker’s Mark hosted a group of journalists in Kentucky in April to sample some of the fruits of the program.

A little background on Private Select: The concept builds on the Beam-Suntory-owned company’s Maker’s 46 bourbon, the brand’s first release in 50 years when it came out in 2010. The matured whiskey is aged a second time with staves of toasted French oak to bring out bolder flavors with enhanced vanilla, oak and spice.

With Private Select, which was initially only available to Kentucky- and Illinois-based customers but will be expanded in 2016, retail and on-premise accounts could “make their own Maker’s.” This involves finishing fully matured, cask-strength Maker’s Mark bourbon in a single barrel made up of oak staves selected by the participants.

The oak staves have been cooked to bring out different flavors and aromas. The collection includes Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvee, Maker’s 46, Roasted French Mocha and Toasted French Spice. The staves can be mixed and matched up to the 10 staves used in the barrel. There are 1,001 possible stave combinations; one stave changes the entire complexity of the barrel.

Unique Kentucky Flavor

The Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa in Lexington, KY, was one of the Private Select participants. General manager Theona Simbrat and 12 people on her team spent a day at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY, in late November for an in-depth immersion on the role that wood plays in the taste of bourbon.


After the bourbon education and tasting, the hotel’s team decided on four staves of the Baked American Pure 2; four of the Roasted French Mocha; and two of the Toasted French Spice. The chosen staves went into a barrel filled with the cask-strength Maker’s Mark for nine more weeks of aging.

The Griffin Gate Marriott unveiled its Private Select bourbon on April 14 at a party that also kicked off its Bourbon Battles bartender competition. The unique and smooth expression was designed to appeal to bourbon fans as well as newbies.

As a hotel, Simbrat said, “We have to be able to serve bourbon to everyone, from people who have never had it before to connoisseurs.” Based on positive feedback from the first barrel, the hotel plans to produce another barrel later this year. The hotel chain was the bourbon brand’s first national account.

The Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington was the first retailer to participate in the Private Select program; it was also the bourbon brand’s very first customer. Keeneland selected one of the Baked American Pure 2 oak staves, three of the Seared French Cuvee, one Maker’s 46, three Roasted French Mocha and two Toasted French Spice.

Mark Makers

A visit to the Maker’s Mark distillery revealed more about the company’s history and the bourbon production process.


Rob Samuels, chief operating officer at Maker’s Mark and 8th-generation distiller (his grandparents, Bill and Margie Samuels, started the Marker’s Mark brand) led a tour of the facilities and tasting.

His grandmother, who helped lay out and design the distillery, deserves credit for inventing bourbon tourism, Samuels said. She also came up with the name and packaging, including the idea to hand-dip the bottles in red wax. Margie Samuels was inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2014.

Bourbon is the fastest-growing spirit in the U.S., driven in part by Millennials “who are interested in a product’s providence and history,” Samuels said. That’s good for a brand like Maker’s Mark and likely signals “the beginning of what will be a period of sustained growth,” he said.

Melissa Dowling is editor of Cheers Magazine, a sister publication of Beverage Dynamics Magazine.


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