Maker’s Mark, a Kentucky Straight Bourbon whisky from the Beam Suntory stable, is one of those nearly iconic whiskys with widespread recognition and broad appeal. Almost certainly, you will find a bottle on the shelf at almost any bar or restaurant, easily recognized by its traditional squarish bottle and the distinctive, hand-dipped, red wax seal with the long drips running down the neck. Also note, that while Maker’s Mark is a bourbon, it uses the Scottish spelling, Whisky, not the whiskey spelling more commonly applied to US spirits.
As we know, to be an official bourbon, a whisky’s mash bill must contain a minimum of 51% corn. Beyond that mandated corn minimum, distillers have some flexibility. Many bourbons use rye as a secondary grain; the rye introducing floral and spice notes that work well with the sweetness of the corn. Maker’s Mark, though, is a wheated bourbon, using red winter wheat instead of rye as the secondary grain. Wheated bourbons (such as the famed Pappy van Winkle bourbons!) tend to be a bit “softer,” with a creamy texture and bready notes.
First released in 1958, Maker’s Mark is reportedly aged for around six years. Also, according to Wikipedia:
“Maker’s Mark is one of the few distillers to rotate the barrels from the upper to the lower levels of the aging warehouses during the aging process to even out the differences in temperature during the process. The upper floors are exposed to the greatest temperature variations during the year, so rotating the barrels ensures that the bourbon in all the barrels have the same quality and taste.”
I picked up this bottle – and, yes, this is a 1.75 L bottle, not a small glass – for a party we were hosting where I knew a couple of the guests really enjoyed Maker’s Mark. Normally, I don’t buy these “jug” bottles, but it was on sale! Plus, I knew it would be appreciated by our guests, so what the heck. It won’t go to wasted!
Okay, so we know that Maker’s Mark has an extensive presence, but is that due to salesmanship or is Maker’s Mark that good? Let’s find out!
Review: Maker’s Mark, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, 45% abv
Color: A warm golden amber.
Nose: Starts with a good dose of brown sugar, melted butter, and cream. Soon, fruit notes become more evident, with red apple, strawberry, and even some banana. Along the fruit lines, I also get a hint of cherry liqueur. There is a nice, subtle, warm spiciness with touches of black pepper, cumin, and nutmeg. Underneath lies a soft vanilla note. A touch of burnt caramel.
Taste: A relatively delicate, very creamy, initial arrival that is focused on vanilla, oak spices, and butter cream. There is a bit of alcohol heat as the whiskey sits on the tongue. The fruits pick up in the mid-palate: the same notes of black cherry, red apple, and a little banana. Warm bread with butter. More brown sugar and black pepper again late, along with the burnt caramel. Becomes just a tad bitter in the end.
Finish: The oak spices lead into the fruits, buttered toast and vanilla, ending with a blast of peppery spice. Quite long; a very nice finish.
Overall: There is good reason that Maker’s Mark is found everywhere; this is a very good, very honest bourbon. It is brightly flavored, nicely dense, and has a soft, delicate, creamy body. This is definitely a bourbon, with a very sweet base, but it also has just enough spicy elements to keep it from being too sweet. The 45% abv contributes to a vibrancy in the flavors and body that is appreciable, with just a touch of burn on the palate.
Details: Maker’s Mark, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky
Distillery: Beam Suntory
Type: Straight Bourbon Whisky
Maturation: New american oak
Price: +/- $45 (1.75 Lit), $21.99 (750 ml)
Availability: Readily available at almost any retail location
Sample Source: My own bottle