I’m like most folks whose liquor shelf is lined with bourbon bottles costing between $10 to $50. There are a few moderately higher priced goodies thrown in, but I don’t generally recommend spending $75 or more on liquid—until today.
Go to Westport Whiskey & Wine and get a bottle of Maker’s Mark Private Select Single Barrel Bourbon. This was chosen by the store’s owners, who traveled to Loretto, Ky., last December to Maker’s Mark Distillery to craft their own version of a cask strength (111 proof) Maker’s 46.
This experience is not a barrel pick where buyers thieve barrel samples and have that lone barrel bottled for them. Cool as that is, Maker’s Private Select 46 program goes beyond even that. I know this because I got to experience it in January with a crew from Prospect Party Center (whose bottles will come out next month.) Here’s what happens:
Buyers sit before six expressions of 46: the standard 46 you find on retail shelves, and then five unique expressions aged with unique staves. (See the bottom of this post for detailed explanation of those staves.) Each different expression is then blended by buyers, tasted, discussed, sometimes argued over and re-blended until everyone is satisfied.
The process is led by Maker’s Jane Conner, who does a terrific job describing the flavors each unique stave adds to the Maker’s 46. She also is a bit of a cheerleader, encouraging buyers to keep experimenting with different blends and not settle for just one.
Trust me, this is not a toilsome business. Scientific effort has never been so enjoyable!
When the final blend is settled on, the buyers’ choice of staves is added to a hoop inside a freshly dumped Maker’s 46 barrel. The whiskey goes back in and it’s aged 9 weeks—only in the winter so there’s no angel’s share lost—and then bottled.
I was invited to taste Private Select Barrel No. 1 at Keeneland earlier this month, and though it was quite different from what my group picked, it was still remarkably good. Had they sold bottles there, I’d have bought one. All those bottles, unfortunately, are committed to the spring meet, so make sure to get some if you visit the track in April. My advice is to sip it neat and then add some rocks.
So, here are a few reasons I suggest you spend $75 on one bottle (no more than two allowed) of this bourbon:
- Cask strength 46 is the best Maker’s bourbon I’ve ever sipped. (Truth be known, I’m not a fan of base Maker’s. Too light for my tastes.) It’s bold, complex, spicy, aromatic, just everything you want bourbon to be.
- Westport’s blend is truly one of a kind, as are all Private Select bottlings. (By comparison, Pappy’s great, but every bottle of Pappy made in a particular year will taste the same.) Each barrel yields only 250 750ml bottles. That’s unique.
- While a $75 bourbon is “special occasion whiskey” for me, I’m hard pressed to find anything on the secondary market for the same cost that will even touch these editions of Maker’s 46. It’s truly that good.
- These will eventually find their way to the secondary market for exorbitantly high prices. Trust me, some day, you’ll regret not spending a mere $75 on these.
So if you want something special to share with friends coming to Louisville for Derby, go get some today. They will not last long.
And if you’re still not convinced you need a bottle, keep watch at places like The Silver Dollar and Down One Bourbon Bar, which also did Private Select blendings. You can get a single pour there and decide if you want a full bottle.
And before you ask, Westport Whiskey & Wine isn’t paying me or giving me any bottles to write this. I’m just that enthusiastic about this program and confident that you’ll find these 46 expressions as amazing as I have.
OK bourbon nerds, here are the flavor profiles on the five unique staves. Notice the uniqueness of these woods and how they were dried even more with widely varying methods.
- Baked American Pure 2: staves were made from a 100-year-old American oak, dried one year; smooth traditional cut stave; toasted low and slow in a convection oven.
- Seared French Cuvee: a Burgundy barrel made from 200-year-old-oak dried for more than 2 years; cut with ridges, grooved to create more surface area for better whiskey exposure; toasted in an infrared oven.
- Maker’s 46: the stock stave, made from French white oak dried 2 years; smooth traditional cut stave; seared with infrared toasting.
- Roasted French Mocha: made from French oak, dried one year; smooth traditional cut stave; cooked at a very high heat in a convection oven.
- Toasted French Spice: French oak, dried one year, smooth traditional cut stave; flash cooked at very high heat then left at a low temperature for a long time in a convection oven.