Drinking with the Experts: A.J. Rathbun Visits with Maker's Mark VP

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After growing up in Seattle and earning her biology degree from the University of Puget Sound, Victoria MacRae-Samuels has spent more than 20 years in the spirits industry. Starting as a chemist with Jim Beam, she’s currently vice president of operations at renowned bourbon distillery Maker’s Mark, overseeing all bourbon production from selecting grains to fermentation and distillation all the way to barreling, bottling, and shipping. She’s also the only woman that currently holds a vice presidency within a bourbon distillery and is dedicated to keeping the company focused on the same high-quality standards that Bill Samuels Sr, founder of the Maker’s Mark, set (she’s also married to the cousin of long-time President Bill Samuels, Jr). The incredibly-friendly Victoria was recently back in Seattle for a visit and to talk spirits, and we had a chance to sit down at Rob Roy in Seattle and have a quick chat that I thought Seattle spirits-lovers would enjoy. 

Seattle Mag: As an ex-Seattlite, how do you think the city’s bar scene has changed since you’ve been here?
Victoria: I see a greater diversity in the options for enjoying a drink out with co-workers, friends, and family.  The bars still have that “neighborhood” feel but are more upscale and innovative in how they present spirits. Consumers are more interested in the heritage and particulars about how their spirits are produced and the bar staff professionals have responded to that interest.

As a Vice President at Maker’s Mark, how do you view Seattle as a cocktail market? And, do you think other spirit companies feel the same?
I think Seattle is a great (of course, I am a bit biased!), innovative, and ever-growing market.  I can’t really answer for the other companies, but Maker’s Mark recognizes the uniqueness of Seattle and works to support its creativity and bold cocktail culture.

As the only female VP in whiskey distilling, do you have any advice for female distillers, or potential female distillers?
Seize all opportunities to work and learn in whatever field sparks your passion.  Stay true to your vision and integrity, and be flexible so you continue to grow and expand.

What’s your favorite way to drink Maker’s Mark?
It really depends on the occasion. Maker’s 46, chilled, is smooth and very sippable.  Of course, Maker’s and Ginger is always my easy go-to favorite. The great thing about our product is its versatility. It lends itself to classic cocktails and even works well in a Bloody Mary.


Here's another recipe that works great with Maker's:

Friday Kalohe

This is a fantastic summery drink that matches Maker's Mark's smooth taste with a few nutty and herbal accents. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice cubes. Add 1-1/2 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce Kahana Royale Macadamia nut liqueur, 1/2 ounce Ciociaro amaro, and 1 dash Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. If you can’t find the Italian Ciociaro amaro, then I feel for you. To get over your sorrows, sub 1 ounce of Averna amaro.

Recipe originally published in Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz