Q&A: Greg Davis, Maker’s Mark

This week the drinks business talks to Greg Davis of Maker’s Mark, the youngest ever master distiller in the bourbon industry.

How did you get into the bourbon industry? I was very fortunate. I began brewing my own beer and wine in my college dorm. I took my stuff to a few parties and thought ‘hey, I can do this’, so that’s how I got started with alcohol production. When I left college I saw an advert for a lab technician at a fermentation science group and thought it looked pretty cool, so I went in there with some of my beer and wine to act as a resume and they hired me. I’ll never forget my first day – they were showing me all these reactors and suchlike and then they showed me my still and told me they were going to teach me how to distil alcohol and that part of my job would be replicating part of the bourbon production process. I knew right then and there that this was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.

When did you have your first taste of bourbon? When I was of legal drinking age, of course. My first reaction was that the initial alcohol hit was pretty big, but I wasn’t put off by it. The flavours were all there – caramel, wood, spice – and I thought it was something I could really love.

What do you see as your primary task as master distiller? Being a master distiller is all about being true to the founding family. It’s not about me. You have to be true to the original recipe as that’s its real identity, that’s its standard and it’s our job to simply carry the torch.

How do you feel the bourbon industry is developing around the world? The bourbon industry is finally starting to be discovered around the world and it’s a great time. Maker’s Mark sells roughly 8% through export channels and the rest is sold in the US, but over the next 10 years the whole world will be just a rocks glass away from a great bourbon, it will take a real strong foothold. Scotch has been around for so long and we won’t overtake it by any means, but people will see the difference and will find a bourbon they truly love.

What’s your philosophy at work? I go into work every single day with a blank slate thinking ‘ok, I didn’t overlook any small details’. You have to go in making sure you don’t forget any small details. We are so hands-on, every single day making the bourbon. Having those hands on the operations gives us the assurance we wont miss anything.

What’s on your iPod? I’ve got the whole spectrum covered. It depends on my mood. I’ve got some good old country and western on there, a lot of rock and roll, lots of jazz, and funk that’s both modern and old. Most of it is pretty classical funk.

Where did you last go on holiday? Just two months ago we went to a little place we own down on one of the lakes in Kentucky and just enjoyed sitting back with the family. I have two boys, aged nine and 11, and they both look and act like me. The poor kids don’t stand a chance.

What’s your favourite sport? Definitely football (the American version). I follow the college game quite closely but my favourite team is the Chicago Bears. Sadly I’ve been stuck in a 26-year misery storm since they last won the Superbowl.

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