Maker’s Mark Bourbon
Maker’s Mark is an iconic Kentucky “wheated” bourbon whisky, produced by Beam Suntory.
Maker’s Mark is unusual in that no rye is used in the mash. Instead, “soft red winter wheat” is used for flavouring, along with corn (the predominant grain) and malted barley. According to this fun Maker’s Mark infographic, the mashbill is 70% corn, 16% wheat and 14% barley. There is no age statement, but standard Maker’s is reportedly aged for around six years.
Wheated bourbons are relatively uncommon, as most makers focus on rye flavouring (with Weller/Van Winkle, Larceny, Old Fitzgerald and Rebel Yell being the notable wheated competition to Maker’s). Wheated bourbons are considered sweeter, fruitier and “softer” in style, with more syrupy/creamy notes and less spicy cinnamon/cloves rye flavours (although they can still contain considerable wood spice, of course).
Maker’s Mark is bottled at 45% ABV and sold in distinctive squarish bottles sealed with red wax. Apparently, it was the wife of Maker’s founder Bill Samuels Sr. – Margie Samuels – who gave the whiskey its name, drew its label, and thought up the wax dipping that gives the bottle its distinctive look.
Production began in 1954, and ownership has changed hands many times over the years (it was even owned by Hiram Walker here in Canada at one point). It has been part of the Beam family since 2011.
Here is how Maker’s compares to competing wheaters, in my Meta-Critic database:
Maker’s Mark: 8.24 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark 46: 8.75 ± 0.31 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.72 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Old Fitzgerald BiB: 7.99 ± 0.35 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon: 8.39 ± 0.50 on 6 reviews ($$)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 8.95 ± 0.19 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.39 on 10 reviews ($$)
Larceny Bourbon: 8.36 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 15yo: 9.24 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 20yo: 9.26 ± 0.35 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 23yo: 8.74 ± 0.54 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Rebel Yell: 7.60 ± 0.57 on 11 reviews ($)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.69 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.82 ± 0.15 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.41 ± 0.37 on 11 reviews ($)
William Larue Weller: 9.17 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
My sample came from Redditor 89Justin. Here is what I find in the glass:
Colour: Medium amber.
Nose: Heavy sweetness, honestly a bit overwhelming if you aren’t used to it. Honey and caramel mainly, plus vanilla. Candied fruit cocktail. Red (strawberry) licorice. Orange peel. Moderately spicy, with classic oak spices. Vaguely nutty. Wheaters are often described as “creamy”, and that word certainly fits here. Acetone off-notes, mingled with artificial sweetener. Yes, this really is that sweet.
Palate: Heavy caramel/honey sweetness up-front – and that acetone note really comes across too, unfortunately. Fair amount of wood spice. Fruits are mainly cherry and apple – plus that citrus (more lemon than orange now). Getting some barley malt now too, which I didn’t notice on the nose. Still a bit nutty. Not as ethanol hot as I expected for 45% – decent mouthfeel, and quite sippable neat (but try it with some water, see below). Settles down to a drier finish after a few sips.
Finish: Medium. Vanilla, caramel and oaky wood spices persist the longest. Despite the sweetness, there is a lingering woody bitterness and dryness underneath it all that I don’t enjoy. Bitterness builds with time.
With water, a simple syrup sweetness increases on the nose (although the off-notes are unaffected). Water lightens the mouthfeel, and brings up more cinnamon. I actually think it is better with a bit of water – or dare I say it, an ice cube.
I first had this years ago in a bar and wasn’t impressed. I’m afraid the controlled environment at home hasn’t helped it much. Although it doesn’t strike me quite as artificially sweet this time around, that characteristic is still there. Personally a bottom-shelf wheater for me, I would score it a few steps lower than the Meta-Critic average. I would also recommend the Weller range over this, if you can find them.
The most positive review I’ve ever seen is Fred of Whisky Advocate. But Jim Murray, Thomas of Whisky Saga and Josh the Whiskey Jug are similarly fairly positive. Jan of Best Shot Whisky gives it about the Meta-Critic average. Oliver of Dramming, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, My Annoying Opinions and Michael of Diving for Pearls all give it lower scores (which are more consistent with my own rating).