Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles - [Daniel] Maker's Mark is one of the most iconic bourbons around the world. And a lot of their success comes from the drinkability of their product. "Sweet, smooth, no bitterness," they say, it's sort of a bourbon that everyone can enjoy. What I didn't realize about the operation was just the amount of manual labor that goes into handling all these barrels and the insane amount of real estate they need to produce the bourbon. So today I'm heading to Loretto, Kentucky to see how Maker's Mark have kept their product consistent for more than 60 years. First up, I'm heading to the Independent Stave Company to see how they make custom barrels for Maker's Mark. One of the rules of bourbon making is that you have to use a brand new white oak barrel every time. So that means a lot of barrels. - So in terms of the cooperage's process, kinda what we're looking at here, this is really the first step. This is called seasoning or air drying. Maker's Mark barrels, they're gonna be a little bit different, right? So they're gonna have like that nine months, 10, 11, 12 months of seasoning, right? - Okay. - Essentially, we want to put it in a nutshell, you're gonna get a sweeter mellower, a little bit of a thicker whiskey out of it. Every single one of Maker's Mark barrels comes right here. Actually this yard that you see right here, this is all built specifically for Maker's Mark to house their longer seasoning. - What happens then to this wood from here? - So what's gonna happen here, we'll process this wood, it'll be dried, and then it'll go into the cooperage. We'll actually form each stave, we'll form them into a barrel, we'll char it, we'll send them on down the road. He's got all these staves being fed to him, one of the thing's he gotta' do, he's gonna pick out the widest stave that he can find, that's gonna be the bunk stave. Then he's gonna proceed in the narrow wide, narrow wide pattern all the way around, right? So not as easy as it looks, it takes about six months to get really, really proficient at this job. So this is pretty much the first time you're gonna see somewhat of a barrel shape. It'll go down to the steam tunnel. We'll steam in the barrel for a little bit. It'll soften those wood fibers, and then we'll actually bend the barrel into its shape. - [Daniel] After the barrels are steamed and shaped, ISC slides on their hoops, logos them up, and then sends them to the char machine where they are blasted up to char level three of four, which is how Maker's likes 'em. From here, ISC stores them for a while, and then sends them over to Maker's Mark, where they will be filled with White Dog, or clear bourbon that has yet to see a barrel. To start the bourbon making process, Makers' Mark gets eight trucks a day of corn, barley and wheat, which they will combine with water from their lake and turn into one of the world's most famous bourbons. - [Denny] You know, the first step of making whiskey, once you've sourced the grains from the local farmers is you got to grind that grain up. - [Daniel] Okay. - [Denny] Right, you can't just use a whole kernel, you have to grind it up. - [Daniel] Right. - [Denny] So all the grain that we're gonna process, - [Daniel] All the grain, all of it, okay. - [Denny] To the distillery, corn, wheat, malted barley, - [Daniel] Right. - Will all get ground up in a roller mill. And then we're gonna prep it for mashing, which is where the batch process starts, which are these tanks right behind us here. The job of the mash cooker basically is to release the flavor that's in the grain and convert all that starch to fermentable sugar. - [Daniel] In your time here, have you changed any element of that, or has it been the exact same forever? - It's been the exact same. - [Daniel] Once the mash is cooked and all the sugars are released, the mixture is piped to a giant open fermentor and combined with yeast. - [Denny] This is a fermentor that was just filled. We've added the yeast. Well, typically it takes two to four hours for that yeast to get acclimated to the new environment - [Daniel] Right. - [Denny] To where it'll start eating the sugar and converting it into alcohol. - [Daniel] From here, the mixture will bubble away for about three days or until the yeast has eaten all the sugar and turned it into alcohol. - [Denny] So this is one that is probably about two to four hours away from distillation. What you can see is one, it's got a very heavy grain cap. - [Daniel] So is it really as simple as the second the bubbling stops, you want to drain it? - For the most part, yeah. I mean with fermentation, it's pretty easy to tell just by sight where it is in the process and whether or not things are close to being completed. - [Daniel] Next, the fermentors are drained and sent to one of the distilleries copper stills, which use a series of plates and steam at about 216 degrees to carry the alcohol up as vapor and drop all of the solids down below. From here, the alcohol vapor is cooled back down into a liquid state forming what is called white dog or a high proof distillate, ready to be aged in a barrel. So this is Maker's Mark. - Yeah, this is Maker's distillate - [Daniel] High proof. - Yup, 130 proof. - [Daniel] 130 proof. - [Denny] 65%. All distilled spirits are gonna come off distilled looking just like vodka, right? So it's the barrel that's gonna give it all of its color and then obviously a lot of its flavors as well. - Right, at the cooperage they said that the secret to Maker's Mark flavor was the barrel. - Yeah. I know Andrew very well. And that's exactly something Andrew would say. He'd like to believe that he has that much impact on Maker's. - Right - Andrew's a good friend of mine. Everybody's always asking, you know, what's the percent impact from the barrel. I don't know that that could truly be quantified. Cause there's so many things that go into it. - Well we can know because we can taste it right now. - Yeah, you can taste it, yeah. - All right well cheers. - Yeah, cheers. - [Daniel] It's kind of good. It's got like a lot of vanilla and grain. - Right, so this will get cut to 110 proof and then put in one of those brand new oak barrels. - [Daniel] What do those barrels cost you? - I don't want to get too much into that, but I mean, they're gonna be upwards a hundred, $200 easy for them. - Oh my God, so like when you buy a bottle of Maker's, there's, you're buying some stuff. - Yeah, it's not, it's not cheap making good whiskey. I can tell you that. - [Daniel] Next it's time to head to the filling line to see our freshly distilled white dog get put into barrels. - So this truck is coming from Independent Stave in Lebanon, Kentucky. These are the new white oak barrels that they produce for us. - [Daniel] So these are the ones we just saw get made. - [Shawn] Yes sir. - [Daniel] Cool.