In the early days of Maker's Mark, when Bill Samuels Junior was telling all those great stories about his parents and how Maker's Mark began, he always did it with his tongue firmly placed in his cheek. Samuels Junior officially retired last year and while he doesn't seem to be slowing down, Maker's Mark will have to get by with less of his unique personal style going forward. As he recedes and parent company Beam Inc exerts more control, the new storytellers need to be careful not to take themselves too seriously.
Which brings us to the Maker's Mark origin story and the part about Bill Samuels Senior, bored in his early retirement, discovering the virtues of wheat while baking bread.
The story is an allegory, in which characters and events represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. In this case, the idea is that as rye bread differs from regular (i.e., wheat) bread, so rye-recipe bourbon differs from Maker's Mark.
This does not mean Bill Samuels Senior 'discovered' wheated bourbon. He did not. His friend, 'Pappy' Van Winkle, had been making wheated bourbon at his Stitzel-Weller Distillery since the 1930s, decades before Samuels started to think about re-entering the whiskey business.
Van Winkle didn't invent wheated bourbon either. His recipe came from the Stitzel family. They and many other distillers had used wheat in bourbon recipes over the years. It was nothing new.
What Samuels Senior did was decide to make a wheated recipe instead of the more common rye recipe, because he thought it tasted better. That was just one of many bold decisions he made on the way to creating his unique bourbon whiskey.
See, the factually true story is every bit as good as the allegorical one.
The difference between the two recipes is not so much about substituting wheat for rye as it is about simply removing the rye and letting the corn and oak sweetness take center stage. Wheat, compared to rye, has a mild and slightly nutty flavor, whereas rye is very fruity, spicy and earthy.
None of this is meant to say that you can't have fun, especially if you like to bake, messing around with the constituent grains of bourbon. The obvious thing would be to make a loaf that is 75 percent corn flour, 15 percent wheat flour, and 10 percent barley flour (roughly the Maker's Mark mash bill) and another one that is 15 percent rye instead of wheat.
Unfortunately, they probably wouldn't have enough gluten to rise and hold together, but you get the idea.