We Bought A Barrel!


Last month, my partner and I had the opportunity to create a private labeled bourbon for our society through the Maker’s Mark Private Barrel Select Program. To say the least, it was a dream come true and the ultimate bourbon experience of a lifetime! 

We started the day at Independent Stave Company where we had a personal cooperage tour led by ISC’s Research & Development Director, Andrew Wiehebrink. Andrew, gave us a behind the scenes tour of the factory and taught us the science behind making a great barrel – wood, aging, charring, and finishing. It was fascinating to see the process of creating a barrel -  from just a pile of stacked wood to a beautiful sanded 150lbs charred barrel that will age our favorite spirit from 4-10+ years. We also learned about how ISC played an integral role in creating the staves that produce Maker’s 46. Not only does Independent Stave Company make barrels, but they also work with the majority of brands to create new products, charing, and aging methods for bourbon. In my opinion, ISC is really leading the industry in bourbon/whiskey innovation.

After our tour, we headed over to the Maker’s Mark Distillery for lunch and to begin the Private Barrel Select process. The Maker’s Mark Private Barrel Select program is truly unique compared to traditional barrel programs. With most brands, the buyer is presented with samples of bourbon straight from the barrel varying in proof and placement within the rick house. Some may even select bourbon that has been placed in wine casks to add additional flavor, but there’s nothing that really allows you to pick your own flavor profile on the level that the Makers Mark Private Barrel Select Program does. Why? Well, it’s the staves – of course produced by ISC.
Shadowing after the stave process of making Maker’s Mark 46; the Private Barrel Select Program lets you choose what type of finishing staves you want your barrel to have. Ranging from sweeter notes found in the Pure American Oak and French Cuvee staves to the seared French oak staves that are used to create Makers 46 and the strong earthy notes of the Mocha and Spice staves; the buyer gets to create a recipe consisting of up to 10 staves, consisting of any combination of these 5 varieties, to go into their personal Maker’s Mark Cask Strength barrel.

Our Barrel Select process began with the intense process of tasting cask strength Maker’s Mark infused with each individual stave. Believe it or not, it was tough work to painstakingly go through each of the 5 different stave flavor profiles. We discussed what we liked and disliked for each one of the staves and focused on the mouth feel, where the flavor was most intense on the palate, and its finish. Once we went the process, we each created our own stave formula and compared our finished results. Surprisingly, we came up with similar formulas and after 3 rounds, we settled on our perfect formula.
For our barrel, we chose a combination of staves that were flavor forward on the tongue but not too heavy on the finish. After all, the base of the bourbon is cask strength and is 110.1 proof. We felt that there was enough going on with the original finish that it didn't need any additional tweaking on the back end of the palate. 
Once we selected our perfect profile, we picked out our staves, put them on a ring to keep them in place, and placed them in the barrel. Next we hammered our barrelhead down and signed it for good luck. Lastly, we rolled it over to the tank and filled our barrel with Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. Armond hammered the bunghole in and we kissed our barrel goodbye so it could ‘rest’ for 9 weeks.
I must admit, there were a few moments of tears along the way. About a year ago, I declared that I was determined to have a barrel pick with my society’s name on it; and that dream has finally been realized. The stars truly aligned with us being able to have the opportunity to pick this barrel for Black Bourbon Society.  I am very grateful to have met such a wonderful friend in Rachel Ford who works for Maker’s Mark and has been a strong advocate for Black Bourbon Society since the very beginning, forged a partnership with our local retailer, Tower Wine and Spirits and gained Tyler, Tower’s bourbon specialist’s complete trust in picking this barrel. Our baby… I mean barrel, will be ready for distribution in Atlanta later this Fall. 

Originally published in Bourbon Zeppelin on August 1, 2018

Samara Rivers1 Comment