Unlike many other bourbon brands which lately have been spinning off new releases several times a year, Maker’s mostly just makes Maker’s Mark. And Maker’s 46, and a cask-strength edition. Now, this 101 proof version has been added to the lineup as a Limited Edition, where previously it was only available at the distillery.
For those who don’t remember, Maker’s Mark is a classic bourbon with wheat (instead of rye) as the “flavoring grain”, much like the vaunted Pappy Van Winkle and Weller bourbons. Don’t get excited, there’s little resemblance between Maker’s and Pappy. Maker’s is also distinct for making its own bourbon, not slapping a label on bourbon produced at MGP or KBD (see this post for more on that topic).
Maker’s mashes “soft red winter wheat” and barley (probably malted for enzymes to kick-start fermentation), along with its corn, and ages the bourbon for around 6 years. Unlike most other whiskies, Maker’s rotates the barrels between upper and lower floors of the warehouse to even out maturation differences. This would make a “single barrel” of Maker’s Mark less likely to be significantly different than the final bottled product. For its special one-off store bottlings and for Maker’s 46, they introduce variation by inserting toasted oak barrel staves of varying kinds into the barrels.
The brand has been around since 1958, when the first bottle was dipped in red wax to seal it. The 101, of course, refers to the bottling proof (101) aka 50.5% ABV, and can be found very reasonably priced under $40.
Nose: Shoe polish. Old leather. Blackberry jam. A little reticent (even the nose tickle), which suggests the need for a rest in the glass. This adds some generic bourbon sweetness – brown sugar, caramel – and a citrus top note like orange peel. Still reticent, but refined.
Palate: Silky body. Mild tongue burn despite the high ABV. Cocktail cherries, chewy caramels, banana bread. Mild oaky tannins and a suggestion of charcoal without bitterness.
Finish: Medium length. Sweet and somewhat nutty, now, with nougat and cashew. Banana again, fading to dry oak.
With Water: Several drops of water amp up the nose tickle without adding any new notes. The palate seems unchanged, the finish is a little livelier. No need for water here.
Overall: I like this a lot more than I like the standard Marker’s Mark. The added proof brings much-needed depth and a sense of refinement and polish that seems to be missing from the regular bottling. It’s still a bit shy in the glass and is unbalanced (tart or lively top-notes are few). Still, it’s a sturdy wheated bourbon at a robust proof and without any off notes and it’s under $40. These days, that’s not a bad deal.
If you already like Maker’s Mark, this is a no-brainer. If you’re on the fence, it’s worth a try to see if this version wins you over.