It's important to reward innovation and risk takers, especially when that innovation changes an industry and continues to succeed decades later. Maker's Mark has such a history. The original grounds were home to Star Hill Farms Distillery, one of the oldest distilleries in the US, dating back to 1805.
After prohibition, however, the bourbon market suffered, with distilleries rushing to produce cheap whiskey and get it out the door as quickly as possible to supply the (now legal) demand. Bill Samuals purchased the distillery in the late 1950s with a new strategy: to produce a quality product with better ingredients.
This strategy has clearly proven successful, with the distillery now producing 8 million liters a year, one of the largest producers worldwide. Not bad for a distillery that only produced one product up to recently. Noting the success of Maker’s Mark, other competing distilleries soon followed suit, entering the higher-end sipping bourbon market. The consumer benefited.
This is our first bourbon featured in the Whisky Cabinet, and it seemed like a natural addition. They even spell whisky without the e in honour of Bill Samuals’ Scottish background. (For those unfamiliar, whisky is spelled with an ‘e’ everywhere but Canada and Scotland. The Irish started spelling it whiskey and much of the world followed their lead.)
The Maker's Mark 46
This bourbon is a relatively new release from the distillery (2006) and has won high praise. While it's more expensive than the regular Maker's Mark, this isn't necessarily a better drink, but rather a drink done differently. Maker’s Mark 46 is produced by taking the original fully matured Maker's Mark, removing it from the barrels, and inserting seared staves back into the barrels. Searing the staves caramelizes the sugars in the wood, and this flavour is transferred to the whisky when it is returned to the barrels and aged for an additional 9 to 12 months.
It's lovely on the nose. Vanilla extract and the oak really comes through. The sweetness is nicely balanced, like a toffee flavour that's rich but not too sweet. When tasting this whisky, focus on the "tip of the tongue" flavouring. You'll get that similar oaky and vanilla sweetness that is as perfectly balanced as it was on the nose. There's no bitterness, or dried fruit sweetness. Instead you get a spicy sweetness with a rich mouth-feel. It's not a complex drink in terms of flavouring, but it's far from boring, and at the price point ($49.95 at the LCBO) it's fantastic.
This is only the second product that Maker's Mark has released since the 1950s, and so traditional Maker's Mark drinkers are smart to be cautious, but I would definitely recommend this as a complement to your collection. The bottle has a good look to it, though I don't know if I'm a fan of the faux candle-wax seal on the cork and neck. The original Maker's Mark has a good shape, and this one was clearly designed by the marketing team to draw more eyes. Still, I'm willing to forgive that wantonness for attention given the strength of what’s inside the bottle.
Note: Originally published on Spotlight Toronto