One of the things that makes Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky unique, other than the fact that they only make a wheated bourbon, is that they rotate their maturing bourbon barrels. It’s a laborious process that starts every year in August and doesn’t wrap up until the following June.
Bourbon Whiskey’s Six Sources of Flavor
When it comes to making bourbon a good rule of thumb is there are six things that affect a whiskeys flavor.
What percent each of these has on a whiskey’s final flavor is a discussion that could go on for days. One thing that most agree on is that the maturation process inside the barrel contributes 50 to 75% of a bourbons flavor. The 2022 Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series release focuses on the maturation process and how barrel rotation affects flavor.
In a recent visit to Maker’s Mark former Director of Innovation Jane Bowie explained it like this.
“Starting on August 1st we start rotating barrels. For example, with a seven-story warehouse the seventh story goes to the first, the sixth to the second, the fifth to the third and the fourth doesn’t move. In a six-story warehouse the sixth goes to first, the fifth to the second, the third and fourth don’t move. So, we do not rotate every single barrel, we rotate the majority. This year I think our team will rotate about 200,000 barrels.”
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Keep in mind that a 53-gallon barrel of bourbon whiskey weighs well over 500 lbs. To move a 500 lb. barrel from the seventh floor to the first floor is no easy task not to mention those rickhouse upper floor temperatures can exceed 100 degrees on a toasty Kentucky summer day. Simple math tells us they are moving 50,000 tons of barrels a year.
Maker’s Mark has always hand-rotated barrels from the top to the bottom of their rickhouses ensuring equal exposure to temperatures over time and resulting in the consistent flavors Maker’s Mark is known for. Maker’s says this step is “purposeful inefficiency” at its best and a process that hasn’t changed much since its founding in 1953.
Q: What is Maker’s Mark 2022 Wood Finish Series Taste Vision
A: Extract Flavors from the Top & Bottom of the Rickhouse
Maker’s has been producing the Wood Finish Series for four years now. Each year has a unique taste vision. Once they agree on that vision, they work with barrel finishing to achieve that goal. The 2022 releases, there are two, focuses on barrel rotation and extracting unique flavors found on the top vs. the bottom floors of the barrel warehouse.
You can learn more about that taste vision from our Maker’s Mark ‘Day on the Trail’ site visit earlier this year here.
Bourbon Barrel Maturation is About Extraction, Reaction and Oxidation
“How we think about it is, the whole goal of the first three years at the top [of the warehouse] is all about extraction. The last three years at the bottom is all about reaction,” explained Bowie. “It’s about getting as much of the wood out as you can in the first three years to really dive into that red layer to get those wood goodies. And then you are moving it to a less extreme environment to let it come together and oxidize, react and mature.”
The name BRT was given to these expressions because of the influence that the consistent practice of hand-Barrel RoTation (BRT) and temperature has on the Maker’s Mark whisky process. BRT-01 is inspired by the hotter top of the rickhouse and uses American oak staves to dial up the flavors developed over the first three years of aging. BRT-02 is inspired by the cooler bottom of the rickhouse and uses French oak staves to dial up the flavors developed over its final years of aging.
The first release is about extraction and the second is about some of those fruity esthery darker tobacco notes that only time can give you in the barrel.
Wood Finishing Series BRT-01 – Extraction from the Top of the Warehouse
“This year, the first taste vision is the top of the warehouse,” explained Maker’s Innovation Manager Beth Buckner. “We were looking for toasty and nutty and very caramel. All the things you would expect to extract from the wood. Big, bold and really fun.”
BRT-01 Tasting Notes
Aroma: Caramel and butterscotch mixed with a sweet spice
Taste: Bright, brown sugar and stone fruit
Finish: Warm and toasty, paired with hints of honey
Proof: Cask Strength 109.4 (54.7% ABV)
Staves: Getting that unique flavor from the top of the warehouse is accomplished by placing 10 Virgin Toasted Oak Staves inside the barrel for an extra eight weeks of maturation.
Wood Finishing Series BRT-02 – Reaction from the Bottom of the Warehouse
“The second one is about the bottom floor,” said Buckner. “It’s all about reaction so its deeper, it’s darker, you are going to get more of those dark fruit notes like chocolate but also think like leather and tobacco in those camps as well.”
BRT-02 Tasting Notes
Aroma – A seasoned oak nuttiness combined with molasses
Taste – Prevalent dark fruit and chocolate with baking spices
Finish – Long, viscous and round
Proof – Cask Strength 109.4 proof (54.7% ABV)
Staves: Getting that unique flavor from the bottom of the warehouse is accomplished by placing 10 Virgin Toasted French Oak Staves inside the barrel for an additional eight weeks of maturation.
Maker’s Mark 2022 Wood Finishing Series release BRT-01 & BRT-02 is available now nationwide with a suggested retail price of $59.99 per 750ml bottle. Of course you’ll have to purchase both the compare the difference.