Bill Samuels Jr. is obsessed with preserving his family’s long history. If you have a few minutes, he’ll gladly show you some of his favorite mementos, including a letter from Abe Lincoln to his relative and vintage photos of his relation, the outlaw Jesse James. But his most precious heirloom is Maker’s Mark Bourbon, which his parents began in 1953. (“I still have that first bottle,” he says.) His father dreamed up the spirit’s recipe, and his mother came up with the brand’s name and designed the iconic bottle, complete with dripping wax.
So we were a bit shocked when Samuels announced that Maker’s was creating a new whiskey called 46 ($35). (It comes out at the beginning of next month.) “We’ve been a one-trick pony for over 50 years,” he says. While Samuels has seen the brand grow from a small family business into an international best seller, he wanted to create his own legacy.
Kevin Smith, Maker’s master distiller, headed up this special project. “We wanted a bigger taste, more intensity and a longer finish,” says Smith. Basically “Maker’s Mark amped up.” But it wasn’t easy. After countless failed attempts, “we were fixing to throw it all in the garbage can,” Samuels admits. Fortunately, the brand’s barrel maker came up with the idea of attaching pieces of seared French oak to the inside of a standard barrel. Finished Maker’s Mark is then aged for an additional two to three months in these special casks.
You can easily tell that the two bourbons share some common DNA, but make no mistake 46 is definitely its own whiskey. While the original Maker’s signature smoothness and sweetness makes it quaffable, 46 is full of spice and wood that make you want to linger over a glass. It’s so different, Samuels wonders how the brand’s longtime fans will receive the new whiskey. “If we don’t sell a single bottle that’s fine,” he says. “This was for my tombstone.”