Maker’s Mark was lagging behind when it came to new product releases after the start of the bourbon boom. Other distilleries were keen on giving consumers all the things like single barrels, increased age statements, more barrel strength options, finished whiskies and new mash bills.
But not Maker’s. They continued to drag their feet until it became obvious that they had to do something more to stay relevant.
Maker’s reluctantly enters the cask strength market
In 2010, they finally released a truly new product in the form of Maker’s 46. I won’t go to bat for this release being hugely innovative or anything, but it was a good start. It was also the most economical way they could have went about making a new product too.
To make Maker’s 46, they took the heads off of their used bourbon barrels, added in 10 seared French Oak staves and sealed it up by putting the head back on. Then they filled it with the same bourbon that would have gone into their standard lineup.
Those barrels were then rolled into their giant limestone cave and left to rest for about 9 weeks. If you’ve been to their distillery, you’ve seen what I’m talking about – It looks like a mini-NORAD bunker on the side of a hill.
Since the cave is a steady temperature all year round, the whiskey would interact with the seared French Oak staves much less intensely.
I can say first-hand that Maker’s 46 is a unique product that really does present a different profile from standard Maker’s. The success of the 46 line inevitably led to the creation of the Private Selection line.
This “create your own single barrel” program allows customers to customize their bourbon with stave profiles that they pick. Then their single barrel is rolled into the same cave as Maker’s 46 barrels are for a period of time.
Maker’s took a while to arrive at the conclusion that they should release a cask-strength version of Maker’s 46. They finally did in 2015, but it was a distillery-only release. In a true demonstration at how much they hated change, they held off on true nationwide distribution for this product until at least 2020.
Nowadays, Maker’s 46 Cask Strength can be found everywhere that Maker’s is already sold, usually for $5-$10 more than a bottle of standard Maker’s Mark Cask Strength.
So is Cask Strength Maker’s 46 a bottle worthy of buying? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: There is a particular smell that only French Oak can impart on a whiskey – and the nose on this Maker’s is full of it. Not familiar with what French Oak can smell like? It’s a deeper, more impactful and more dessert-like experience.
There is also a heavy concentration of vanilla and toffee. The aroma of Tollhouse chocolate chips probably stems from the French Oak. Each sniff also contains some well-integrated fruit scents like fig and cherry.
Palate: The one thing I’ve underlined multiple times in my notes is how impressively woody this tastes. No, it’s not over-oaked or bitter but yes you’re going to find it all the time. It’s spice-forward too with notes of white pepper, cinnamon and allspice.
There’s a hint of Chai spice that I think deserves to be mentioned separately of the rest. Fruit notes are hard to find but probably would be exposed with some added water (or just buy a bottle of standard Maker’s 46).
But I don’t miss them as much since there are a few more curious flavors like chocolate and coffee beans.
Finish: What note would you expect to be the most dominant on the finish? If you said oak, you’re right. The finish is largely a tannin-heavy experience with tobacco leaf also joining the mix.
The coffee bean note hangs around from the palate and vanilla kind of rounds everything out. It still stays sweet enough to be a really satisfying experience overall.
Color me impressed by how good the Cask Strength version of Maker’s 46 ended up being. I won’t say that I’m surprised though because secretly, I’ve always found Maker’s releases to be great.
I’m ashamed that I don’t give them their due but then bottles like this remind me how ashamed I should be. They’re a consistently reliable sip every time and I always forget about them.
So here’s my apology, Maker’s enthusiasts, I will give more of an effort to highlight these great bottles. They really do deserve it.
Your choices are pretty limited for good wheated bourbon these days. Face it, you’re not going to find Weller unless you want to pay stupid money. And frankly, Weller isn’t as good as Makers at most levels. What about Heaven Hill/Luxco wheated bourbons?
Forget about it. Heaven Hill needs to throw that wheated recipe they’re using and start with a blank canvas. Apologies if you like Larceny or Old Fitz!
This leaves the oft-forgotten Maker’s Mark on your shelves. It’s a pity that people like me forget it’s so good. And if you’re a fan of high proofs? Then they’ve got you covered with their regular Cask Strength and this version of Cask Strength 46.
Personally, I would take this one any day of the week and you should too if you haven’t explored it yet. For the price, taste and the availability, you can’t do much better.
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