Final distillery unit awaits OK.

By David Goetz
The Courier-Journal

The last of the Maker's Mark bourbon is in sight -- sort of.

"The end of its growth, anyway," said Dave Pickerell, master distiller for the red-waxed bourbon and vice president of operations for the brand.

Plans are nearly complete to add a third and final distilling unit to the bourbon's Loretto, Ky., distillery, which will increase its yearly capacity by about 500,000 cases.

If Pickerell's estimates are correct, that should max out the underground springs that supply the limestone water for the bourbon's distinctive recipe.

"This will be the end of it," said Maker's Mark President and Chief Executive Bill Samuels. "And even to make this work, we have to add about 7 or 8 feet to the dam so we can capture all the spring water during the wet season."

With two years of construction ahead and six years of barrel aging for the first product, it will be at least eight years before the first bourbon from the new still will reach the market.

"The new addition is primarily to serve the emerging export market," Samuels said.

That doesn't mean U.S. fans of Maker's Mark have to start hoarding their favorite brand. Current capacity is 1.4 million cases and current U.S. consumption is about 600,000 cases. But with sales volume increasing 13 percent a year, a potential limit is in sight in a decade or so because of the springs' limitations.

The distillery has stopped using the captured spring water for landscaping and cooling operations, Pickerell said. Water still spills over the dam in winter and is used for the two existing boilers. That practice will stop when the new still comes on line.

"The only reason I can feel confident we can accommodate the next expansion is because I can calculate how much water is going through the boilers," he said.

Kentucky inspectors must approve plans for the dam addition because it will raise the dam to more than 40 feet, Pickerell said, but there are no environmental issues involved.

The $35 million project is awaiting final approval from the directors of Allied Domecq, parent of Maker's Mark.

"They've approved the concept," Samuels said. "We're gathering up the costs and making sure the engineering's right." The work includes a new boiler and wastewater treatment.