Maker's Mark 46 Review - Possibly the finest outdoor summer bourbon

Maker's Mark 46 Review - Possibly the finest outdoor summer bourbon

Maker’s Mark 46 tastes great in a Glencairn glass, in a plastic cup, on ice, with some water, or from the bottle (I haven’t actually tried this!). It’s the whisky that’s most likely to make an appearance when I’m hosting a party with a mix of wine, beer, and whisky drinkers. It pops nicely with flavour, it doesn’t require fancy glassware, and it's a whisky that stirs conversation.

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Choose Your Own Adventure with Maker's Mark Private Select Program

Choose Your Own Adventure with Maker's Mark Private Select Program

In an interview with Jane Conner, the director of Maker’s Mark Private Select program, whsky.buzz learned additional information around the recently announced program. Maker’s Mark is getting ready to roll out a program where whisky lovers can, literally, choose their own adventure. In this case, there will be a total of 1,001 unique outcomes, and program members will have a preview of some of these different taste profiles.

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Watch This Drone Fly Over an Abandoned T.W. Samuels Distillery

Watch This Drone Fly Over an Abandoned T.W. Samuels Distillery

We’re just one mile of Deatsvill, Kentucky. This is T.W. Samuels Distillery, named after the founder. T.W. Samuels is the great-grand father of Bill Samuels Senior, the founder of Maker’s Mark distillery. Bill actually worked these very grounds you see here in the 30s and 40s.

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Maker's Mark 46 Cask Strength - High-Proof Thrill Seekers, Move On.

Maker's Mark 46 Cask Strength - High-Proof Thrill Seekers, Move On.

Maker’s Mark 46 Cask Strength bourbon comes in a charming miniature bottle that has that “I snuck it out of the test lab” feeling to it. At the time of this writing, though, it’s only available at the Maker’s Mark Distillery gift store. There’s a good degree of bottle variation between releases. Proof levels will vary. The one reviewed here is bottled at 54.45% ABV.

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Bourbons for Every Occasion

Bourbons for Every Occasion

Being a bourbon person, I often get asked for recommendations - a task I find very tricky because it can be such a personal thing. The last thing I want to do is send someone in the wrong direction in their bourbon consumption (the horror!). But, there are a few that I find myself coming back to as recommendations in certain scenarios. I’ve chosen bourbons that are relatively easy to find.

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The Whisky Topic Podcast, Episode 4 - No, Not Blanton's!

This week on The Whisky Topic, Glenford Jameson (Food Lawyer) joins me as we explore the Kentucky whisky scene. It involves us tasting a lot of whisky we can't possibly buy because it has all been sold out. The trip to Buffalo Trace was mind-blowing. We tasted fantastic bourbons and ryes, and we talk about some of our favourites. Of most interest, we talk about the selection process Buffalo Trace uses for Blanton's single barrel bourbon and Elmer T. Lee. Somehow, we ended up talking about Maker's Mark cask strength bourbon, and where it sits against similar products. 

Pappy Van Winkle - Elusive, but with alternatives

The elusive nature of Pappy Van Winkle is part of its charm. Pappy Van Winkle is released in such limited quantities that a bottle listed at $300 will sell for three or four times that price. More importantly, it's almost impossible to find unless you know someone, or happen to be at the right place at the right time. The one time I enjoyed a full sampling of Pappy Van Winkle was entirely by chance, when the bar I happened to be at did a one-night-only flight tasting. 

For those that have had Pappy Van Winkle, they often mention that it is a rare smooth quality to the whisky not common in many bourbons. To be considered a bourbon, American whisky needs to have corn as its first ingredient (51% minimum). Corn gives the bourbon the thick, sweet notes. Most bourbons have rye as their second ingredient. Rye adds spicier tones to a bourbon that are predominant toward the middle and finish of a taste. Bourbons are often made up of around 10% rye, but rye-heavy bourbons (such as Bulleit) have up to 28% rye. Malted barley is the third ingredient, and it's used to aid fermentation. 

In place of the rye, Pappy Van Winkle's second ingredient is wheat. Wheat tends to mellow out the drink, bringing balance to the sugars of the bourbon, and cuts out much of the spice.  In terms of tasting, wheat smoothens out the middle of the palate just after the initial sip and before the finish. For those that find rye too harsh, wheat is an excellent alternative. 

Pappy Van Winkle is not the first wheated bourbon, but it shares a lineage with the first. W.L. Weller makes the claim of being the original wheated bourbon. The company started as a whisky reseller, and later W.L. Weller distilled their own alcohol. A salesman by the name of Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle worked for W.L. Weller, and eventually he purchased the company along with a co-worker in the early 1900s.

Julian Van Winkle released Old Rip Van Winkle wheated bourbon for the first time in the late 1910s. The whisky was distilled by W.L. Weller, and was considered a premium product from W.L. Weller's standard wheated bourbon. Unfortunately, prohibition put a quick stop to Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon when all whisky production halted in the United States. 

While W.L. Weller changed ownerships and rebuilt after prohibition, the Old Rip Van Winkle brand was largely dormant (with a few exceptions) until later in the century. W.L. Weller whisky continued to be distilled in the Stitzer-Weller distillery up until 2002. Buffalo Trace (its newest owner) moved all production to the Buffalo Trace Distillery, and closed down the Stitzer-Weller distillery at that time. All new releases of W.L. Weller whisky have since been made at Buffalo Trace Distillery. 

Before closing the old distillery, the last of the distilled alcohol from Stitzer-Weller distillery was purchased by the Van Winkle family (among others). This remaining supply of whisky goes into Pappy Van Winkle 23 (though likely not true for much longer), and it is the only original Pappy available from the the now-closed distillery. Otherwise, the rest of today's Pappy Van Winkle product is said to be distilled at Buffalo Trace distillery in agreement with the Van Winkle family. 

To put simply, Pappy Van Winkle was born of W.L. Weller's wheated bourbon. The mash bill (the ratio of corn, wheat, and malted barley) for Pappy Van Winkle is likely identical to that of W.L. Weller's 12 Years Old bourbon. The marketers will tell you that W.L. Weller gets rejected Pappy Van Winkle barrels. In all likelihood, Pappy Van Winkle barrels are aged at premium parts of the warehouse where conditions are warm enough to keep the whisky aging even through Kentucky's winters. This added maturation gives the whisky a smoother texture.  

These factors affect the quality of the drink. So does the alcohol content of the drink. Pappy Van Winkle 15, for example, is cask-strength whisky--it's not watered down. W.L. Weller's 12 Years Old is watered down to a respectable 45% ABV. W.L. Weller is sometimes referred to as "Poor Man's Pappy" because of its similarities. There are some that claim that mixing W.L. Weller 12 Years Old and W.L. Weller Special Reserve will give you a similar profile to Pappy Van Winkle 15. You can google for various recipes, though only W.L. Weller 12 is currently available at the LCBO. 

While Pappy Van Winkle is impossible to get, W.L. Weller 12 Years Old is available at the LCBO for $44.95. Aged for a minimum of 12 years, W.L. Weller is an excellent buy for the price (sidenote: this is even truer in the US, when you can find it for under $30 a bottle). It's made from the same distillery, using the same recipe (likely), and it is aged only 3 years less as compared to the Pappy Van Winkle 15. 

How does W.L. Weller 12 Years Old taste? On the nose there are familiar bourbon, vanilla and caramel notes, but there's a nice dusty hay sort of scent that comes through. If you dig a little too deep, you'll get leather-polish notes. On the palate, the drink is surprisingly complex. The wheat tempers the heavy sugars, providing for a nicely soft but interesting drink. It begins with light caramel, with the sugar mingling lightly on the tongue. The spicy notes are there, and they draw up through into the finish with a nice balance from the oaky sugars. For those that find bourbons too forward-facing on flavour, W.L. Weller will hit the spot. 

W. L. Weller isn't your only option for wheated bourbon. The original Maker's Mark and Maker's Mark 46 are both wheated bourbons. I'm especially a fan of the 46, which uses staves within the barrel to provide more oak surface area as the whisky ages. The results are excellent, especially if you like a deep oaky bourbon. The Heaven Hill distillery releases wheated bourbons under the Old Fitzgerald label (which actually has a history going back to W.L. Weller as well), but few of these make it into Ontario. 

It's hard to call Pappy Van Winkle over-rated. Rare luxury items are impossible to compare to their more available counterparts. From my brief tasting of Pappy Van Winkle, the 15 Years Old one wins out for me. Pappy Van Winkle 15 perks the palate by tempering the caramel and vanilla-forward flavours found commonly in most other bourbons. The longer-aged Pappy Van Winkle bottles take on too many oaky-vanilla notes, erasing any hint of wheat. They taste more like an old bourbon than a wheated bourbon, and while that's not a bad thing, it's a miss for me because the wheat is no longer being expressed.

I have no plans buy Pappy Van Winkle for my whisky cabinet. W.L. Weller 12 Years Old is a far more affordable and available. Maker's Mark 46 has the thicker mouth-feel that you'd find in Pappy. Both of these are relatively affordable at the LCBO. Comparing the two, Maker's Mark 46 wins out for me for its younger more chaotic nature, but W.L. Weller 12 Years Old is a welcomed addition to my cabinet as a smoother more mature wheated bourbon. 

Maker's Mark 46

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