For many years, the only name in premium Bourbon was Maker's Mark. In fact, Maker's did much to invent the premium category. Founded in 1953 by Bill Samuels, Maker's Mark bottled its wheated recipe Bourbon in a distinct bottle with a red wax seal and spelled its product "whisky", like the Scots do. In 1981, Samuels sold his distillery to Hiram Walker, which sold it to Allied-Lyons/Allied Domecq, which subsequently sold it to Fortune Brands/Jim Beam, the current owner.
Unlike nearly every other distillery, for years, Maker's had only one standard bottling, the familiar square bottle, red wax Maker's Mark. They would sometimes change the wax color to various team colors, but the juice inside was always the same. The only exceptions were a few very limited edition versions bottled at higher proofs or using slightly older whiskeys, such as the gold wax and black wax versions made largely for export markets. For the most part, Maker's was Maker's, until now.
This year, for the first time, Maker's released an entirely new expression that will be a regular bottling. Maker's Mark 46 is made by taking regular Maker's and finishing it in barrels with seared French Oak staves. That is, it is given additional ageing with some fresh oak pieces. And the name "46" is not, as has been often assumed, the abv, though the 46 is a bit higher proof than the traditional Maker's.
Since I've never formally reviewed the traditional Maker's Mark, I'll take this opportunity to review both and compare.
Maker's Mark, 45% abv ($20)
Like many, I feel a strong connection to the standard Maker's, as it was one of the first Bourbons I really appreciated. Long before I was blogging and buying limited edition whiskeys, I was sipping Maker's (on the rocks) with fish curries at the old Broadway Thai. (Bourbon actually goes remarkably well with Thai food, which may be the subject of some future post).
The Maker's nose is...Maker's. It's rock candy. The palate is sweet but with some citrus and the typical, savory wheat notes. The finish may be the best part, a sweet Bourbon finale. It's not complex or intriguing, but it is what it is, and that is a very drinkable wheated Bourbon.
Maker's Mark 46, 47% abv ($32)
The nose is strong with maple syrup, so much so that it reminds me of a Canadian; eventually, that dissipates to a more familiar corny Bourbon nose. The palate is rich and savory with plenty of oak. The additional oak notes make it thicker, chewier and more complex than the standard Maker's, but still with noticeable wheat notes lasting into a very pleasant finish.
The new Maker's is a definite step up from the standard version, adding complexity and heft. If you are a Maker's fan, you should definitely try it.