Brits are increasingly turning to bourbon in favour of rival spirits and it has become one of the star performers in the off-trade, with value sales up 7% to £204 million (Nielsen, year to April 2016).
There are now 5 million American whiskey drinkers in the UK and Maxxium, which distributes the likes of Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek for Beam Suntory, wants to reward them with a UK launch of what has previously only been a collector’s item over here.
Maker’s 46 was created by Bill Samuels Jr, whose father made the original Maker’s Mark that has gone on to become one of the world’s biggest bourbon brands.
Samuels Jr wanted a legacy of his own and set about creating a premium expression that built on his father’s recipe.
He spent years trying to develop it with a crack team of experts and on the 46th attempt he got it right, hence Maker’s 46.
It is made in the same way as normal Maker’s Mark – using wheat rather than rye as the secondary grain to keep it smooth; aged in American oak for six years – but then it is given a secondary maturation for up to 60 days in a barrel that contains 10 French oak staves.
The staves are heavily toasted and not charred, and the idea is that it results in a bigger, bolder flavour but maintains the signature smoothness Maker’s Mark drinkers know and love. It has an abv of 47%, which is 2% higher than the core SKU.
Oenophiles may associate oak staves with cheaper wines, where winemakers want to impart an oaky flavour to a wine but do not wish to spend the time and effort ageing it in oak, so they add staves as a shortcut.
But Maxxium insists that this is not a cost cutting method and is quite the opposite, nor has it been designed to save time. It said it is simply the perfect recipe for creating a more premium version of the original, which they finally settled on after trying dozens of different methods. Samuels Jr calls it “Maker’s Mark on steroids”.
It was launched in the US in 2010 and popped up here and there in the UK among specialist online importers, but has never been given official distribution.
A 75cl bottle is currently selling on the Whisky Exchange site, where it has an average rating of four stars from users, for £57.95.
Now that Maxxium is importing it the rrp will be £39.99. The initial allocation to the UK is only for around 500 9-litre cases, so it will be targeted at specialists and independents after Harrods has enjoyed a one-month exclusive listing.
Janice McIntosh, marketing controller for bourbon at Maxxium, told OLN: “It has been a long awaited arrival and we are really looking forward to growing our share of the premium imported whiskey category with Maker’s 46. We are really committed to growing the category and we can do that with our brands. There is a real trend for Americana, which is going in our favour too, and bourbon is doing really well in the off-trade.
“The issue is everybody’s ranges catching up with sales. Convenience stores have traditionally just had Jack [Daniels, the bestselling American whiskey brand in the UK, supplied by rival BBFB]. That was the choice American whisky. The challenge we have is getting that fair share of presence on shelf. The bigger retailers are expanding their American whiskey sections and we need to convince smaller stores to have more than just Jack.”