Denny Potter has held multiple roles in the bourbon industry and many thought that being the Master Distiller at Heaven Hill would be the pinnacle of anyone’s career. In 2018, Denny left Heaven Hill and assumed the role of Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark which surprised many. In this episode, we talk about career growth as a Master Distiller and advice to give others aspiring for this role in the industry. And Fred tries to convince Denny to release a 12 year old Maker’s Mark.
- This week’s Above the Char with Fred Minnick (@fredminnick) talks about the three tier system.
- What made you decide to go to Maker’s Mark?
- Do you feel like you have an opportunity to grow or have you hit the ceiling as a Master Distiller?
- What’s it been like working with Rob Samuels?
- What do you bring to the table as a Master Distiller?
- How long should someone work in operations before becoming a Master Distiller?
- Will you ever put out a 12 year old product?
- Talk about the operations at Maker’s.
- What are the challenges of scaling while trying to keep the integrity of the brand?
- What was different when you came back to Maker’s?
- What is the difference between operating Maker’s vs. Bernheim Distillery?
Gregg Walker joins the show to share some inside stories about the history at Maker’s Mark. Gregg was the second salesperson hired by Maker’s Mark and took part in 3X growth. Hear some of his stories about the struggle of growth, but also how him and Bill Samuels Jr. had a lot of fun as well.
- This week’s Above the Char with Fred Minnick talks about raffles.
- What song would you pick for karaoke?
- When did you get into the liquor business?
- Did you have to take the personality test before working at Maker’s Mark?
- Were you part of any of the Maker’s taste offs?
- Tell us about traveling for Makers.
- How do you plan for aggressive growth?
- What was the tipping point?
- How many cases were they selling?
- Talk about Maker’s marketing.
- Were you there when the did the special edition UK bottle in 1996?
- Any memories with Bill Samuels that you’ll never forget?
- What was your sales force like in the later years?
- What do you do today?
If you’re a fan of good bourbon, then you’re likely a fan of good food too. Today’s guest is the intersection of those two, combining a culinary background with his love for the south and, of course, bourbon. You may know Chef Newman Miller from his appearance on Top Chef season 16. He’s also the Executive Chef and Owner of Star Hill Provisions at Maker’s Mark and the Harrison Smith House in Bardstown. We talk about his culinary background, where he played a part in the creation of the McDonald’s McGriddle and behind the scenes at Top Chef. His deep dive into bourbon was influenced by Drew Kulsveen of Willett. So if you’re a wannabe chef or if you’re an occasional TV dinner kind of person, this episode is going to have something for you.
- This week’s Above the Char with Fred Minnick talks about 4th of July.
- What was Padma from Top Chef like in real life?
- What was it like when you heard about being on Top Chef?
- Why do you think they chose Kentucky for Top Chef?
- What did the chefs think of being in smaller towns?
- Was it challenging to cook for everyone?
- What’s a banana croquet?
- How cool was it to have the chefs create versions of your dishes?
- How hard is it to judge fellow chefs?
- Tell us about your relationship with Rob Samuels. Was there a pep talk before the show?
- Were you relieved once it was over?
- How did you get into food?
- Did you approach Maker’s about making food there?
- Will some of the main food distributors come down to Maker’s?
- What are your biggest challenges?
- How hard was it to convince the locals to try higher end food?
- Talk about meeting Drew Kulsveen and how you got into the bourbon community.
- Where did your passion for bourbon come from?
- Besides Maker’s, do you have a special bourbon that you love?
- Tell us about your connection to the McGriddle.
- Where does bourbon and food intersect for you?
- Talk about Star Hill Provisions.
- How do you see the future unfolding for the bourbon/tourism industry in Bardstown/Kentucky?
- Why did you name the restaurant Harrison/Smith House?
Maker’s Mark is easily the most iconic brand in bourbon. But did you know the brand would have probably ceased to exist if Bill Samuels Jr didn’t try and sell his Dad’s whiskey? Get ready to hear the untold history of how Bill Samuels Jr turned his Dad’s hobby of making whiskey from a few barrels a week into the powerhouse it is today.
- So Bill let’s start from the beginning.
- Did you and your Dad butt heads a lot?
- What was your Dad’s original vision?
- What was the original investment?
- At what point was your Dad “All in”?
- How were the hard decisions made?
- Talk about the next stage for you and what you were doing with Aerospace?
- Why did you Dad want you to be “un-engineered”?
- You were a summer intern in the White House?
- What was it during that 1 year with your Dad that made you want to stay around?
- Where did you fit in this puzzle?
- You had your first publication in the Wall Street Journal, what’s next?
- At what point did you start taking over after your father began exiting?
- Talk about the growth when Rob started coming into the scene
- Do you get a feeling of accomplishment when you look at the distillery now?
- What’s your idea of still being involved and enjoying retirement?
- So 46 was your baby
- Where is this industry trending?
- Talk about strategic pricing with supply and demand
- Do you see a reason why bourbon couldn’t be $1000 a bottle?
- What niche do you think craft whiskey is solving in the market today?
- Is there a way they can have continued success?
- Listen to all of our Maker’s Mark Podcasts
Dave Pickerell is well known in the bourbon world, he was former master distiller at Maker’s Mark and owns a consulting business, Oak View Spirits, where he has designed equipment, systems and processes for about 100 distilleries worldwide including WhistlePig, Hillrock, Corsair, and many others. This episode dives into to the distilleries themselves, the pricing behind Boss Hog, and questions we would want to know from a master distiller like grain sourcing.
- As usual, lets start from the beginning. Do you remember your introduction into whiskey or bourbon?
- Did you think chemical engineering would lead to spirits?
- First off, do you get tired of talking about your past at Makers?
- Do you think Maker’s put you on the map?
- Do people still ask you to sign Maker’s stuff?
- It seems that consulting is becoming a pretty big business because there’s the likes of you, Jim Rutledge, Nancy Fraley, Greg Metze, and the list goes on. Is there that much demand?
- Are you training new distillers?
- Do they get off track?
- Master distillers today are seen is high regards as a big marketing tool and the face of the brand relies on that one person. However, you’re wearing the badge of many distilleries at one time. Are you asked to go to places to talk about a specific brand? Do you play favorites?
- You’re still heavily involved with WhistlePig still, correct?
- Talk about the brand a bit because it’s one we typically don’t talk about on the show.
- It’s just sourced MGPi, right? So what are you doing that’s adding a bit of pizzazz to it?
- Tell me, what’s up with the pricing on Boss Hog? What sort of magic are you doing that makes a $500 bottle of whiskey?
- You are working with craft distilleries every day, what’s the biggest challenge you see facing them?
- Are you trying to produce the same product at all these places? Because when I think about it you could just have the Dave Pickerall SKUs where you say here’s your 3 options, choose one and we will put everything in that bucket
- Whats your theory on sourcing grains?
- Are chewing on them? Or after distillation?
- Discuss year to year variation of crops affect on flavors.
- Discuss how sourcing grains from different parts of the world makes a difference in the finished product.
Brian Gelfo, Maker’s Mark Ambassador Extraordinaire & Bourbon Mafia Member, goes in depth about the Maker’s Mark Ambassador.
- Markers Mark is now starting a “private barrel” program. But it’s more like a private blend program.
- What’s your story?
- Tell the listeners about your Maker’s Mark collection
- How do you get a hold of all the export bottles?
- What would you consider your most prized Marker’s Mark collectable?
- Explain to the listeners what the Marker’s Mark ambassadors program is
- How does someone sign up for the program?
- Is it free of charge?
- What are the benefits of being an ambassador?
- Give the listeners some idea of the best items Marker’s Mark has sent over the years to their ambassadors.
- what’s the process for going to pick up a bottle from your batch? Is it like the Willy Wonka golden ticket?
- What is life like for the Samuels outside of bourbon?
- What are some of your favorite Maker’s Mark events over the past decade?
Rob Samuels, COO of Maker’s Mark, talks about the operations behind Maker’s and holding almost every job at the distillery since he was 9.
- We kick off the show talking about bourbon tourism numbers from 2015
- Talk about your childhood and growing up in the family business
- What does the phrase mean “blow your ears off?”
- Maker’s has a great relationship with Keeneland, talk about it.
- Where do you see Makers as a part of the growth of bourbon?
- What do you think kept Maker’s alive 20-30 years ago when vodka was king?
- What are some your favorite ads Maker’s has had over the years?
- This is a family business. What was the best piece of advice your father ever gave you?
- You started at the distillery at 9 years old. Talk about holding all those various positions over the years. Best and worst job
- How do you get on the tasting panel at Maker’s?
- Back in 2013 was the great proof reduction debacle. Talk about that.
- What are some of toughest decisions you’ve had to make as COO?
- Let’s talk about life outside of bourbon. Do you have any other hobbies?
Greg Davis, Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark, talks about how is continuing the tradition that has been set and more about day to day operations.
- Today. we go on-site to Loretto to Maker’s Mark Distillery
- Breaking News: Users claim there is a bad batch of 2015 Elmer T. Lee. Barrels 256, 264, 266 and 267 are the “defective” barrels but Buffalo Trace has already responded.
- Tell us about your story
- What was your background before coming to Maker’s Mark?
- What are some of the key things you remember from your mentorship?
- Can you talk about your wheated mash bill and how it came to be?
- Talk about the difference between Makers and Makers 46
- Why go with French Oak?
- Are there other kinds of experimentation going on?
- Talk about the motivation behind the Cask Strength offering
- Talk about what you are doing different with your barrels compared to others
- How do you pick the barrels that are going into the batch?
- Do you sample every barrel?
- Are you able to go to different warehouses and taste the difference?
- How do you detect “must”?
- Can you explain what still you have and why you prefer it?
- What is the average bottle count that comes out of Makers?