The seventh-generation distiller of Maker’s Mark chats to Time Out about his famous outlaw cousins, his godfather Jim Beam… and other beasts of bourbon
Bill, what was the best trait inherited from your father, Bill Samuels Sr.?
The importance of integrity.
What do you drink when you're not drinking Maker's Mark?
Milk and water.
What's the best food match for bourbon?
Probably beef. Bourbon is also a great flavour enhancer for most desserts.
What's your favourite story to tell while drinking bourbon?
Back when I was five or six years old I was next door visiting my godfather, Colonel Jim Beam (yes, that Jim Beam). The Colonel out of the blue asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Without hesitating I announced I was going to be an architect. The Colonel frowned then spent the next one and a half hours telling me what a terrible idea that would be because every venture the family had ever engaged in, other than making and selling bourbon, had been a total disaster dating back to my great grandfather. He then listed each disaster in great detail. In the end I decided not to pursue a career in architecture.
Dead or alive, who would you most like to share a Maker's Mark with?
Probably with my deceased cousins [legendary outlaws] Jesse and Frank James… even though several family members with firsthand knowledge were adamant that neither took a drink. Jesse died from a gunshot wound to the back of his head in 1882 and Frank of old age, 35 years later.
In a lifetime working with bourbon what have been the best and worst of years?
The worst years were the early ones (1961 though 1979) when nobody cared what we were doing at the distillery. The best time has been the last ten to 15 years when everybody, everywhere seems to care.
How do you convert folks who don't like bourbon?
I have never converted anyone to Maker’s. It’s just not what we do. Our focus is, and has been since the beginning nearly 60 years ago, to make a bourbon folks can’t wait to tell their friends about. So my focus is always not to screw the whisky. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that because I am a truly unremarkable salesman.
What blues song is your own personal theme song?
Basically I’m tone deaf but do love all the music of Ray Charles.
Any message for legendary Sydney band, the Beasts of Bourbon?
Don’t know. But I hope the “Beasts” are part of my Sydney itinerary.
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