To begin, it's as American as apple pie. 

By Kelly Vaughan
November 05, 2019

When you’re in the mood for an all-American spirit, look no further than bourbon. We spoke with Denny Potter, the general manager and master distiller at Maker’s Mark, to learn how “America’s Native Spirit” is made and why it’s rising in popularity.

Let’s start with the basics. 

How Is Bourbon Made?

Bourbon and whisky are both made from a grain mash, with corn constituting at least 51 percent of the mashbill for bourbon, according to Potter. The grain is then milled, mashed, and fermented. At Maker’s Mark, they add a proprietary strain of yeast that has been passed down from generation to generation within the Samuels family.

So, what exactly happens during the fermentation process? “In fermentation, the yeast converts the fermentable sugar to alcohol. Then the fermenter is distilled to separate the alcohol from the solids,” explains Potter. To be considered a bourbon, it must be at least 125-proof or below once distilled, then transferred to a new oak barrel that has a charred interior.

Why Is Bourbon Gaining Popularity?

This amber-colored spirit wasn’t always so trendy. Potter believes that the prevalence of cocktail culture is one of the reasons why bourbon is on the rise. No longer are cocktails made only with white spirits like vodka and gin with tons of sugary mix-ins. “Mixologists wanted flavor to come from the alcohol. Bourbon could provide that," Potter says. "So back came classic whisky cocktails (Old Fashioned, Manhattan) but also great imagination by mixologists to create drinks that showcase bourbon without it overpowering."

How to Shop for Bourbon

Like most wines and spirits, price does not necessarily indicate quality. If you’re new to buying bourbon, or are purchasing a bottle for hosting guests, choose something versatile that will be delicious neat, on the rocks, in a cocktail, or with ginger ale, Potter says. His favorite? Maker’s Mark Classic Red Top. “It’s high quality, no matter how it is served,” he says. And at $30 for 750mL, you can’t beat that.

Which Cocktails Are Made With Bourbon?

For people who may not want to drink it neat or on the rocks as their grandfather did, there are many other delicious ways to enjoy bourbon as a subtler spirit. Chef Newman Miller, the chef-in-residence of Star Hill Provisions at Maker’s Mark, loves using bourbon in two classic cocktails: a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. If you’re not a bourbon drinker but want to introduce the flavor in your cocktail repertoire, Miller recommends starting with a citrus-based cocktail, such as a Whiskey Sour, using bourbon.

Maker’s Mark 46 Manhattan

  • 2 parts Maker's Mark 46 Bourbon
  • 1 part sweet vermouth, such as Carpano Antica Vermouth
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters
  • Cherry for garnish

Method: Combine ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chill cocktail glass neat or on the rocks. Garnish with a cherry.

Maker’s Mark Old Fashioned

  • 1½ parts Maker's Mark Bourbon
  • Splash of water
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 tsp. turbinado sugar
  • Orange peel
  • Cherry for garnish

Method: Muddle sugar, bitters, orange slice, cherry and water in a 12-oz. old fashioned glass. Remove the orange rind. Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Add bourbon and stir.

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