For decades now, Maker’s Mark has only been available to US consumers at a low proof (mostly 86 to 90) and rarely sported an age statement. This soft, sweet wheated bourbon was the quintessential starter whiskey for most people. Maker’s played it safe at that proof and probably did not want to scare off any new drinkers by coming off as too hot.
One of the reasons why Maker’s resisted bottling their bourbon at high proofs probably boils down to money. Maker’s is one of the few original Kentucky distilleries to have shunned increasing their barrel entry proof over the years.
In 1962, the Federal Government changed the maximum barrel entry proof from 110 to 125. This allowed distilleries to add more water into their final products to stretch the amount of bottles that a typical barrel would yield. Maker’s Mark was one of the few who opted not to follow suit and continues to barrel theirs at 110 proof to this day.
So why did they decide to keep it this way? Because lower barrel entry proofs tend to create a sweeter whiskey overall. This is because there is more water in the barrel that can dissolve various wood sugars better than alcohol. In theory, this would create a sweeter, more robust bourbon even when it was proofed down to 90 proof before being bottled.
So when Maker’s eventually announced they were starting to release a cask strength bourbon back in 2014, it was a shock to most and a welcome change to many. This would mean that they potentially stood to make even less money per barrel since no water could be added at all. Maker’s cask strength bourbon ended up being a hit and continues to rival other wheated bourbon competitors (like Weller) to this day.
But For the next 4 years, Maker’s creativity stalled when regarding new releases. Rather than following other distilleries by offering true single barrels or limited editions that had high age statements, they concentrated on projects that saw what would happen when additional staves were added to barrels. Maker’s 46 and the Private Select program were all well and good, but the bourbon being used still was coming from the same large batch that all of their other products were using. Their rationale for this was all in the name of consistency. They stated many times that they would never consider releasing true single barrels or aging them past 6 to 7 years.
Maker’s Mark 101 was born
While the enthusiasts clamored for a true single barrel release or barrels with double-digit age statements, Maker’s has seemed to have ignored their fans by releasing a new label that nobody asked for. This new label would bottle their standard bourbon at a new proof that was basically in between barrel proof and their standard 90 proof. Maker’s Mark 101 was born.
It seems as if even the execs at Maker’s were unsure on how this new product would be perceived so initially, they only released it at Duty-Free shops around the world. But when the pandemic hit and people stopped traveling, the existing bottles of 101 collected dust at airports around the world. The decision was made to release them for national distribution.
I am just as skeptical as the next person if the contents inside of this new bottle justify its existence. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength was already such a great product and seemed tame enough that it could be enjoyed by even new bourbon drinkers.
So do we really need this? There’s only one way to find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The nose comes off as light and fruity initially. Scents of raisins and cherries along with caramel and butterscotch pudding eventually become overwhelmed by a sharper cinnamon spice. There are also notes of butter pie crust too.
Palate: Cinnamon spice and a bit of oak may be the #1 culprit behind the drying effect and thin-ish mouthfeel I first come across. There are still a lot of fruits like cherry compote, raspberries, dates and plums but they’re not as influential as I’m making them sound.
The sweetness I was expecting is somewhat lacking because the caramel notes taste more burnt and the chocolate note tastes slightly more bitter, like a baker’s chocolate.
Finish: Over-done cinnamon rolls couple with oak on the finish and start to block the tiny bit of fruit juice flavors that are present. The finish is moderate and I like it enough, but it’s surrendered something here that I just can’t put my finger on.
If I were to sum up my experience with Maker’s Mark 101 in just one sentence, it would be that it’s a simple, easy-to-drink bourbon that’s dry and fruity and does what it’s designed to do.
But of course I have more to say that just that. I just don’t see the huge need for this label extension. Fans of Maker’s Mark and those that know the ins-and-outs of the brand know what they’re capable of. Maker’s has the capability to be so much more magical if their bean counters weren’t so hell-bent on making their bourbon so boring.
They know how good it can be with extra age and without all of the damn barrel rotations that they do to achieve a consistent flavor profile. And yet they still deny us. They play it safe by giving us a new product that is so vanilla and predictable that it’s basically the Toyota Camry of the bourbon world. But even Toyota saw that the Camry was perceived as the most boring car in the world and purposefully addressed that stigma with their most recent redesign. Can Maker’s do that too?
Either Maker’s is playing the waiting game by letting a bunch of their barrels finally age for more than 6-7 years (maybe for a new limited edition?!) or they’re just out of touch with what bourbon enthusiasts want.
I sincerely hope it’s the former. Bourbon enthusiasts already tend to ignore Maker’s Mark Cask Strength and Private Selects because they’re so uniformly predictable across the board.
The crazy part is that the Maker’s overlords at Beam-Suntory have seen the hype that can be had when they allow Knob Creek barrels age for 15 years and release those at close to barrel strength. The market went crazy and those barrels are now long gone because we all knew what an unbelievably good deal they were.
So is Maker’s 101 worth it? Probably not. For about $15 more, just buy the Cask Strength product if you want to taste Maker’s at its best.
There’s nothing wrong with the 101 but it just seems so pointless to continue to release such boring products year after year when they could dedicate something like 1 warehouse of barrels to giving enthusiasts the highly aged, cask strength products we crave.
If ever there was a time to announce that a 10 year age stated product was on its way, that time would be now.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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