Maker’s Mark Unveils Private Select Single Barrel Program

Customers design their own single barrel Bourbon using unique stave combinations.

On- and off-premise customers can create a custom single barrel of Maker’s Mark by combining five unique finishing stave types.
On- and off-premise customers can create a custom single barrel of Maker’s Mark by combining five unique finishing stave types.

Maker’s Mark has begun offering single barrel Bourbon for the first time in its 63-year history. The Loretto, Kentucky–based company recently unveiled Maker’s Mark Private Select, a program that allows on- and off-premise customers to visit the distillery and design a special barrel using a choice of five different stave types. Each barrel is filled with fully mature Maker’s Mark, and the Bourbon is finished for nine weeks before bottling. “We get calls and requests on a weekly basis from restaurants and stores that want to buy a barrel of Maker’s,” says COO Rob Samuels. “But we never felt comfortable with a traditional barrel program, where customers pick one barrel over others based on subtle taste differences. Our whiskey is so consistent. We didn’t think a typical single barrel program would be true to the brand.”

The idea for Private Select was born from the success of Maker’s 46, which launched in 2010. “For the first 57 years of the brand’s life, we were the only distillery in the world that made a just one product,” Samuels says. “My father, Bill Samuels, and the team would often discuss the possibility of creating something new and what that might taste like. Those discussions led to the creation of Maker’s 46, which is a bigger, bolder, spicier expression of Maker’s Mark. We were able to achieve that flavor profile by finishing mature Maker’s Mark in barrels made with seared French oak staves.”

During the process of creating Maker’s 46, the company worked with Lebanon, Missouri–based Independent Stave Co. to experiment with different woods and realized the potential for new flavor profiles. “Each of these staves amplifies existing flavors in Maker’s Mark,” Samuels explains. The options for the Private Select program include the Maker’s 46 stave; Seared French Cuvée, a French oak stave that’s seared on high heat over a short period of time; Roasted French Mocha, which is treated with a short burst of extreme heat; Toasted French Spice, which is cooked in a convection oven over a long period of time; and Baked American Pure 2, American oak that’s convection-cooked on low heat for a long time. Customers visit the distillery and taste five different Bourbons, each finished in a barrel made with one of the stave types. They then combine the whiskies to achieve a unique flavor profile and assist in putting together their custom barrel. After nine weeks, Maker’s Mark bottles the finished product and sends it to the account. “People ask whether the final product will taste just as it did in the lab environment, and it’s almost exact,” Samuels says. “The mouth feel might be a little different, but the flavor characteristics are exactly the same.”

Each barrel yields roughly 240 750-ml. bottles of Bourbon, which the company suggests pricing at $69.99 each. The cost for a Private Select barrel is around $13,000. Maker’s Mark launched the program with on-premise accounts in select markets last fall and rolled it out to retailers this past spring. Ideal finishing conditions take place when the temperature dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so the company only offers Private Select during the cooler months. Over 40 accounts have signed on, including The Silver Dollar in Louisville, Kentucky; Chicago-based Binny’s Beverage Depot; Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C.; and Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky. Samuels says repeat business is already occurring. “Westport Whiskey and Wine in Louisville sold out of all 240 bottles in less than 48 hours,” he notes. “Many of our accounts have asked to make more than one barrel at a time.”

The Private Select program is part of an ongoing effort by Maker’s Mark to continue driving growth for its premium Bourbon, and the distillery will offer its own Private Select expressions four times a year. “We’ve set the stage to grow in a thoughtful way,” Samuels says, noting the company’s ongoing expansion of production and tourist facilities. “All the things we’re doing now came out of the original vision of my grandmother, Margie Samuels. I think she’d be pleased.”