Maker’s Mark is interesting in that they only produced one product, produced the same way, but for over 50 years (our standard Maker’s Mark). Until August of 2010, when they released this whisky, Maker’s 46, just before the retirement of Bill Samuel’s Junior, the son of the Bill Samuels who started the Maker’s Mark (as we know it today with new recipes and the famous red wax bottles). The wood going into this is air dried for 12 months (called “seasoning”) which changes the character of the oak – most oak is seasoned in some way, but usually not this long.
What makes this whisky special is the wood, and it was developed as a joint project between Maker’s Mark and the owner of Independent Stave Company, which supplies most of the barrels for the big Kentucky distilleries. The whiskey starts as standard Maker’s, with a recipe of 70% corn, 16% wheat, and 14% malted barley, and goes into barrels at 130 proof (65%). After about 6-6.5 years, the head is taken off the barrel and the whisky is taken out, and 10 seared French oak staves are put in the barrel and it is further matured. French oak is different than American oak in the flavour it provides, giving a bit more spice and dried fruit character and less vanilla. It is also bottled at a bit higher proof, 47%, giving a bit more flavour (or value, depending on if you add water!).
Nose: Very nice. There’s a nice bit of oak in the background – with wonderful spice notes – cinnamon hearts and cardamom – amidst a rich corn backbone with a butterscotch note that grows with time. There’s caramel, light fruit (fresh apricot, peaches, pineapple, honeydew melon), apricot jam, and even a touch of dark chocolate. There’s a bit of an elegant, silky feel to the nose which I quite like. It’s close to a better score, but at times there are wafts of bitterness and harshness which detract from the nose significantly, and I keep finding them. The wheat notes, also, seems to grow with time. 26/30 (87%)
Taste: A bit of a drawing, almost acidic entry (very engaging) – brimming with cinnamon before oak starts to take the reins with some dried fruit (raisins and dried apricot) and some woody earthiness. This one is a fair bit different than the standard Maker’s. It has more cinnamon, raisins, more tannins, and is dryer and spicier. The tannins almost seem to encroach upon advancing the bitterness too far – but it’s fairly well done. The sweetness level is just about right, too – and there is nice, controlled, defined movement. Lots of honey and tobacco too. Delicious. 28/30 (93%)
Finish: Nice and rich corn and oak, with a good bit of spice – largely cinnamon and nutmeg, and some pineapple . Again, compared to the standard Maker’s, it’s much more pronounced, and more broad – with more cinnamon, mint, even a bit of cardamom. Again, coming close too over-doing the oak bitterness – but it’s just short of too much, I find. It certainly has decent length. 18/20 (90%)
Conclusion: Richer and a bit more intense than the standard Maker’s, but very drinkable. The nose is a better, but I find that the delivery treads too closely to having too much wood-derived bitterness, as does the finish. However, I do like it a tad bit better still, and it seems that if not for a few out of place bitter notes, this one would be up a bit more – but it’s still very well done. It’s really too bad about the off-notes in the nose – I think it would really up the experience if they were not there. 18/20 (90%)
Overall Score: 90/100