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Maker's Mark Makes 50

Jack Bettridge
Posted: March 26, 2004

(continued from page 1)

But for years, while the marketing took off, production plodded along at that same turtle pace of 19 barrels a day and eventually shortages occurred. The company resisted the temptation to up production for a long time. And for the most part it also didn't issue even more precious ultra and hyper premiums as the other producers had done. The philosophy was always to make all the whisky at the same high level of quality. Pickerell points out that the company has no lower-priced brands in which to use spirit that didn't turn out well and so the pressure is to make it all good. Nevertheless, product is occasionally deemed substandard and dumped down the drain, a heartbreaking solution at best.

Corn entering the distillery, Pickerell says, "knows what it's going to be when it grows up," and that leads to a production environment where "quality is everything to everybody. Anyone who is working here walks around making value judgments. We live on value judgments."

Recently, demand has finally coaxed Maker's into doubling production (don't worry, it's still not at a stratospheric level) and that's been much of Pickerell's responsibility at Maker's. Before he was there, he had helped modernize Heaven Hill's huge facility in Bardstown, but when he went to enlarging the National Historic Landmark that is Maker's Mark's plant he was charged with the responsibility to retain its character and the same ethic of handcrafting. So while Maker's uses the latest methods for analyzing spirit "tasting is still king" and while they are considering "modern marvels" ways to deal with byproducts like spent mash, the overall look of the place must still be the jewel box that it is.

One of the main problems, Pickerell reports was that infrastructures -- roads, water lines, electric lines, sewage -- all needed to be improved. "We were the little engine that could and suddenly we needed a caboose."

The irony for Pickerell is that more than his changing Maker's Mark in doubling its capacity, it has changed him in terms of his mindset. "I was all ready to change things a few years ago by eliminating manpower and now realize we need everyone we have and I think, 'How can we keep it the same and just make their jobs easier?' he says. "My job's really easy: just don't screw up what we already have."


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