Making a Mark

My eyes are closed. All is dark except for the somewhat reddish hue created by the back of my eyelids. I can hear the monotonous, high-pitched hum of the plane’s engine—a steady B note—and it begins to hypnotize me further. My thoughts are no longer clear, but rather a hazy cloud of scattered memories and random pictures. I am barely conscious because I am exhausted. It’s somewhere around 5:30 AM, I’m running on four hours of sleep, and I’m on a flight headed to Atlanta. I’m comfortable enough to somewhat doze and drift between realms, but I’m not properly positioned for true slumber. I suddenly remember a dream that my brain had suppressed after its initial occurrence. A tingly sensation of déjà vu washes over me, but before I can grasp the image and place it in context it’s gone once again. I peek into the cabin briefly with my right eye. The night is still black outside the nearby window. I hear the captain instruct the flight attendants to take their seats and prepare for take off. Seconds later, the engines rev, the fuselage throttles forward, and we’re off into the early morning November sky. 

After one of the most jam-packed and exhausting weeks of my career at K&L, I’m choosing to extend the carnage and travel to Kentucky with my friends from Beam-Suntory. Besides the ubiquitous election fatigue and standard work week, I ended up doing a shift in Redwood City on Monday (typically my day off), put together a Bruichladdich dinner on Tuesday, worked additionally with the sales staff to prepare wine emails on Wednesday, hosted a Beaujolais dinner in San Francisco on Thursday, rocked out late into the night with Chris Cornell after work on Friday, put in a busy sales floor shift on Saturday, and somehow managed to drag myself out of bed at 3 AM this morning to catch an early Delta flight out of SFO. I change planes in Atlanta and get into Louisville around 4 PM. There I’ll catch a cab to the hotel and meet the rest of the Beam group to prepare for the evening’s activities. I’m on the road once again, heading to Loretto for the initiation of the new Maker’s 46 single cask program—a more hands-on barrel selection process that allows retailers and restaurants to actually customize their whiskey by personally selecting the additional wooden staves that enter the cask during maturation. If you’re unfamiliar with how Maker’s Mark 46 is crafted, I’ll fill in you on all those details tomorrow when I’m at the distillery. Know this: it involves the addition of seasoned planks of oak of various styles and sizes to add additional spice and flavor to the Bourbon. 

Since I have to work an additional shift this Sunday to help cover the pre-holiday rush, I’ve knowingly trapped myself inside a fourteen day run with no rest and no personal time off during the busiest part of the retail year. It remains to be seen if I’ll emerge unscathed, but I scheduled the trip to Maker’s Mark in spite of my schedule for two important reasons: 1) I think Maker’s Mark is one of America's top whiskies and deserves more respect from serious Bourbon heads, and 2) I wanted to help shed some light on what Beam is doing to create better versions of the brand. I find it almost stupefying that in a period plagued by sleepless consumers in a frantic search for more wheated Bourbon (a side effect of the never-ending Pappy craze that has drained the market of Weller products as well), Maker’s Mark is still considered too mainstream by many to be cool. If you ever needed proof that popular consumption is guided by fashion rather than flavor, this contradiction of desire is exhibit A. For my taste, Maker’s Mark is a better session whiskey than Weller 107. I’d happily drink both if given the option, but I certainly wouldn’t jump through hoops or pay a premium for wheated Weller when I can get wheated Maker’s Mark at any store from here to Bangor, Maine, any day of the week. I would, however, fly across the country in the middle of holiday madness to bring more attention to that issue. The Maker’s Mark cask strength edition is still, in my opinion, the best readily-available Bourbon we carry. It has all the sweetness and creaminess that you’d expect from a wheated Bourbon and it practically explodes in your mouth when you sip it. Last year when I visited the distillery, I got to taste the Maker’s 46 at cask strength for the first time and—much like my experience with the standard formula—was taken aback by how much more interesting the whiskey tasted at full proof. Now I’m going back to bottle my own batch on behalf of K&L. I’d say that’s worth hopping on a plane, potentially over-extending my weakening stamina, and burning out before Thanksgiving even starts, right?

What we do to ourselves in the name of good whiskey!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll