September 24, 2015 – It’ll happen quietly, perhaps with a whoosh of steam or perhaps some banging as steam and mash collide in the still, but at some point this week, the latest distillery expansion on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail will be completed. Maker’s Mark started the first mashing of grain for its third set of stills, fermenters, and mash cookers last week, even as workers were still installing the final pieces of copper on the system.
“We’ll start working out some bugs on our third still (this week), but we’ll have our other two stills running,” Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Greg Davis said in an interview. The new apparatus essentially replicates the original distillery design that dates back to 1953 when Bill Samuels Sr. founded Maker’s Mark. That design was duplicated in 2005 when a second set of equipment was installed, and work began last year on expanding the still house to accommodate the third set of equipment. The project was the key element in a $70 million dollar expansion at Maker’s Mark that included a new welcome center and parking area for visitors, new access roads, and nine new maturation warehouses several miles away in Loretto, Kentucky.
Davis was honored this weekend by Whisky Magazine as the Master Distiller/Blender of the Year in the US round of the Icons of Whisky Awards, and will now oversee the process of tweaking the new equipment to produce spirit exactly the same as the other two. Each system stands alone, making it the equivalent of three separate distilleries under the same roof.
“You’d think, well…it’s a still…it has no moving parts,” Davis said. “Every still has its own personality…while they still run like a champ, they still produce the same product, it’s that slightly different startup, that slightly different shutdown that always makes it fun.” After the new system’s quirks are revealed during testing, the Maker’s Mark still operators will be trained on how to manage those quirks to produce spirit identical to the other two distilling systems.
The new set of equipment will bring the distillery’s annual production capacity to the equivalent of three million (9-liter) cases of whisky annually, though the first spirit from the new still won’t make its way into a bottle of Maker’s Mark for at least five more years.
Links: Maker’s Mark