The Chicago Cubs are serving a special bourbon created by team chairman Tom Ricketts exclusively available at Wrigley Field. Chicago Cubs Reserve is a Maker’s Mark whiskey that Ricketts and a pair of team executives helped formulate during a fall visit to Maker’s Kentucky distillery. The opportunity to make the bourbon is a rare one, an invitation reserved for big Maker’s customers and super fans such as NFL team owner Jerry Jones.
The bourbon’s only poured at the new Maker’s Mark-branded club at Wrigley. That’s a new speakeasy-style bar unveiled earlier this month. The bourbon’s served in a “cigar smoked Manhattan” available at the new Maker’s Mark Barrel Room, one of three new Wrigley Field clubs for premier clients. Premier clients are season ticket holders who purchased seats with club access. Tickets range $395 to $495 per game and include food and drink.
Jones’s team, the Dallas Cowboys, debuted its own bourbon formulated by Jones last year at the team’s practice facility. Maker’s Mark’s Rob Samuels said they’re slowly rolling out opportunity out to select fans. The day-long experience for bourbon fans produces a barrel of whiskey that costs about $15,000, said Samuels. Typically, bottles would cost about $70 each.
Ricketts didn’t have to worry about the price of the Maker’s experience. Samuels and Maker’s Mark were eager to impress Ricketts. During Ricketts’s visit, he took a liking to a chandelier hanging at the Maker’s Mark facility. That chandelier now hangs in Wrigley Field as Maker’s gifted the chandelier to Ricketts.
“I probably wouldn’t have done that for any other account,” Samuels said.
Since they bought the Cubs in 2009, the Ricketts family has impacted the area surrounding Wrigley Field, setting off a wave new construction that’s brought new restaurants and bars to Wrigleyville.
Samuels was in Chicago three weeks ago when the team unveiled the club inside Wrigley. He’s a little biased — the Cubs are a major account for Maker’s Mark. Samuels said the club’s cocktails are as good as any top-notch cocktail bar. Ricketts created the bourbon by picking from five different staves — the oak panels that make up a barrel. Ricketts selected seared French cuvée (provides body and texture with butterscotch undertones), Maker’s 46 (adds baking spices like nutmeg), and roasted French mocha (adds dark chocolate notes). After tasting it, Chicago Cubs Reserve is smoother than most Maker’s Mark’s bourbons with a dose of vanilla. At 109.8 proof and 54.4-percent ABV, the backend has that signature Maker’s burn.
While Maker’s Mark’s PR team couldn’t connect with Ricketts for an interview, the Cubs did send some quotes from the team chairman.
“Touring the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Kentucky was a truly memorable experience,” a statement from Ricketts read. “From testing different flavor profiles to learning how barrel staves are used to create them, I enjoyed teaming up with Maker’s Mark to create the Chicago Cubs Reserve. Topping off the experience, I had the opportunity to hand-dip their famous red wax on a Maker’s Mark bottle.”
Maker’s has only produced one barrel, which yields about 240 bottles — all come signed with Rickett’s initials on the back. The bottles don’t have the Cubs’s logo and aren’t for sale, again it’s only available at the club inside Wrigley Field. There’s a chance Ricketts could elect to produce more barrels in the future if fans react positively.
Not many have had a chance to try the bourbon. Eater gathered a few anonymous reactions from a few die-hard Cubs fans in Chicago’s food and beverage community to measure their enthusiasm. Their names were kept out as these restaurant pros didn’t want to be on the other end of any emails from the family.
One restaurant owner said he’d love to taste it and wants to know what inspired Ricketts to make the bourbon. He wanted to know about plans to sell it in Chicago restaurants and bars.
Another Cub fan in the drink industry pointed out that restaurants, like Longman & Eagle and Big Star, go to Kentucky to purchase bourbon bottled with their own label through Maker’s private select program: “It looks like the sports world is now getting involved.”
But the most provocative quotes came from a chef: “It’s just two giant corporations collaborating on another expensive product,” he said.
According to this chef, the bourbon just further shows how Wrigley is becoming “a wealthy men’s club.” Tickets cost more and the team resells them through their own broker service. He understands the Ricketts family have made several needed improvements — the stadium was falling apart — but a “1 percenter” and his bourbon doesn’t excite him.
“We are at the point where you’re pricing people out from enjoying a ballgame,” he said.
The chef added, referring to the team’s bullpen woes: “I just want a quality relief pitcher.”