Local spots like The Ballantyne are crafting their own spirits with a Legendary Kentucky bourbon maker.
As soon as The Ballantyne’s general manager Peter Grills learned that he could create a custom barrel of bourbon for his guests at Gallery Restaurant & Bar, he knew it was something he must do.
Grills was on a trip with friends in Kentucky when he first learned about the custom barrels. “We were in the heart of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail, and after visiting several distilleries, I came to learn and appreciate the nuances and subtleties involved in crafting fine bourbon,” he says.
The wine and spirits connoisseur researched several custom barrel programs—opportunities to personalize bourbon by combining finished product from different barrels into a custom, blended bourbon. Then, he discovered he could have a hand in actually crafting his own.
“When I learned about the approach they were taking at Maker’s Mark, I saw the process elevated to an entirely different level,” he says.
“We received our first barrel last year,” says Grills, who hosted a special tasting and unveiling party at The Ballantyne when the custom bottles arrived. “The demand for bourbon is simply crazy high.
Maker’s Mark is known by bourbon-lovers as a top-quality producer of handcrafted Kentucky Straight Bourbon made at its National Historic Landmark 1,000-acre distillery in Loretto, Ky. For more than 50 years, Maker’s produced a single bourbon in strict adherence to the flavor profile developed by the company’s founder and sixth-generation distiller, Bill Samuels, Sr.
Samuels created a smooth, easy sipping bourbon with a front-of-the-palate finish. His experimentation with the mash bill (the combination of grains used in making bourbon with a minimum of 51 percent corn) recipe led to the unusual addition of soft red winter wheat to the mix, alongside traditional corn and malted barley. The resulting bourbon—known for its approachability and notes of toasted caramel, dried fruit, and florals—is often described as creamy, round, and full-bodied.
After years of stewardship over the family recipe and building the brand to international prominence, Samuel’s son, Bill Jr., looked to create a special version of Maker’s Mark. In 2010, after nearly two years experimenting with custom selected oak barrel staves in the finishing process, the junior Samuels created Maker’s 46, a more intensely flavored bourbon accentuating the vanilla and caramel notes found in traditional Maker’s Mark.
“Our Maker’s Mark Private Select barrel program is a direct outgrowth of the experience developing Maker’s 46,” says Jane Bowie, distillery maturation specialist at Marker’s Mark. “We launched in 2015 with the approach of ‘What if we could give ownership to our closest friends and customers to create the most perfect expression of Maker’s just like Bill Jr. did and make their own barrel?’ To date we’ve developed about 250 custom barrels. The Ballantyne was actually in our initial group of 40.”
Beginning with fully matured, cask-strength Maker’s Mark, the custom finishing process uses combinations of five types of wood staves—each highlighting different flavor notes found in the Maker’s taste profile—placed into a barrel for an additional nine weeks of flavor development.
The five stave types—Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvee, Maker’s 46, Roasted French Mocha, and Toasted French Spice—yield flavors on a continuum of sweet to spicy, with nuanced flavors of oak, chocolate, almond, cinnamon, brown sugar, honey, tobacco, raisins, and spice.
Participants in the Private Select program spend a full day at the distillery and are led through a tasting process. They experience first-hand the flavors and differences found with the use of the finishing staves. With the guidance, expertise, and educated palates of Maker’s personnel, retail customers create a bourbon to best represent their establishment.
In Charlotte, unique-bourbon seekers will find Maker’s Mark Private Select at Stoke Restaurant at Marriott City Center in addition to The Ballantyne.
“We’ve created another barrel due to release in August,” says The Ballantyne’s Peter Grills. “Where the first profile we created was more traditional and made more for sipping neat, this next one will be a bit spicier and perfect for cocktails.”
One barrel may not be enough.
The Harry Craddock
Harry Craddock was a legendary bartender in New York in the ’20s ’30s. The Ballantyne created this specialty cocktail to highlight their Maker’s Mark Private Selection Bourbon.
2 oz. Maker’s Mark Private Selection 1 oz. Cranberry-Anise Syrup
2 oz. Ginger Beer
Garnish: Dried Cranberries
Photos courtesy of Maker’s Mark and The Ballantyne Hotel.