My Maker’s Memories
I can’t think of a good way to begin a post about Maker’s Mark. Growing up in Kentucky, those iconic, red wax dipped bottles were everywhere. Every house had a bottle of Maker’s on display somewhere. Some folks had the blue wax dipped UK bottles. One friend of the family had a red and blue wax bottle for the annual UK-Louisville basketball game. But these bottles were almost never opened. Maker’s was the “good stuff”. You didn’t break that wax seal until you had a genuine special occasion on your hands.
I think I bought my first bottle of Maker’s Mark in December of 1997. The bottle wasn’t even for me. It was my first Christmas above the legal drinking age and I bought one of those nice gold wax bottles with the custom labels as a Christmas gift for a good friend of mine. I hope you enjoyed it, Chris.
Your History Lesson
The Samuels family started producing Maker’s Mark in Lorreto, KY, in 1954. The name, logo (S for Samuels, IV because Bill Sr was the fourth generation of distillers in the family, and a star for Starhill Farms) and the red wax seal were all thought up by Bill’s wife, Margie. The brand has been bought and sold a few times over the years, but the Samuels family has always run the show in Lorreto. In fact, earlier this year, Bill Jr handed over the company to his son Rob.
While they’ve put out a few special varieties over the years (101 proof gold wax, 95 proof black wax), they’ve always focused on their standard, 90 proof sour mash whisky. That’s a bit of a departure from what a lot of other Kentucky distillers have been doing, releasing their best barrels in single barrel and small batch expressions. Maker’s Mark actually rotates all of their barrels through the barrel house during their six to seven years of aging so that every barrel gets to spend time in the sweet spots. And since Maker’s Mark only dumps 19 barrels per batch, every bottle can lay claim to the small batch label.
And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the first new release from Maker’s in over 50 years, Maker’s 46. Charred oak staves are added to the barrels near the end of the aging process and the whisky gets a few extra months of aging. Of course, the bottles still get a nice red wax dip.
Drinking Maker’s with a Texan
A couple nights ago, my buddy Kurt dropped by for a drink. Since I needed blog fodder, we decided to have an impromptu bourbon tasting with classic Maker’s and Maker’s 46 on the menu.
Honestly, I don’t generally drink my Maker’s unadorned. Maker’s and Coke is great. A Maker’s mint julep is a cup full of joy. But I didn’t have much experience with Maker’s neat.
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The red winter wheat they use makes their whisky fairly soft and smooth on the tongue. The nose is sweet… vanilla, fruit, and a hint of citrus. The alcohol isn’t overwhelming. The finish is dry and clean with a little cinnamon spice and oak.
Kurt, a fairly recent bourbon convert and owner of one of those 2008 Four Roses Mariage Edition bottles, agreed that the classic Maker’s had a “spicy spiciness” and was generally “good.”
The Maker’s 46 had a more complex aroma with stronger notes of oak and cinnamon layered on top of the classic Maker’s sweetness. On the palate, the 46 is a very pleasant balance of sweet and spice. The flavor fills your mouth without being overwhelming. The finish is longer than that of the red wax Maker’s with lots of vanilla, caramel and just a hint of spice.
Kurt proclaimed that the 46 was “really good.”
Well said, Kurt.