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Maker’s Mark Limited Release SE4 x PR5 (2020) Review

Maker’s Mark Limited Release SE4 x PR5 (2020) Review

After the success of Maker’s 46 and its Cask Strength sibling, the Development Team at Maker’s Mark was given the green light to push forward with more wood finishing experiments. They already had their Private Select program going full tilt, but wanted something that could be standardized and sold nationwide. Maker’s Wood Finishing Series was the idea they came up with and it was officially launched in 2019.

The first release was called “RC6” which was the code they gave to the stave profile that Maker’s wanted to put into the barrel for a finishing treatment. RC6 was comprised of American Oak staves that were seasoned for 18 months outdoors before being oven-toasted. It was a hit. Maker’s continued the trend by introducing the bottle you see before you today, SE4 x PR5.

SE4 x PR5 Stave Profiles

Just like RC6, the SE4 and PR5 stave profiles were commissioned by Maker’s Mark to their barrel supplier, Independent Stave Company. The SE4 profile was made up of virgin French oak, baked in a medium-heat convection oven and toasted for a short time. The PR5 stave profile was made up of virgin toasted American oak.

The concept of the series was to create batches of bourbon finished with these unique staves and then blend them all together to create a final product. Maker’s puts the staves into the barrel not by cutting them up and putting them into the bunghole, but by removing the tops off the barrels and inserting the entire stave inside before sealing it back up. They then monitor the barrels with frequent tastings in order to ensure the whiskey gets just the right amount of oak influence. Of note, these barrels took only 3 to 5 weeks of additional finishing before being declared ready.

The Final Blend

Strangely, Maker’s final ratio of barrels used to make SE4 x PR5 was not 1:1. Instead, the press release claimed that only 45% of the barrels used were finished with SE4 staves and the remaining 55% used PR5 staves. What we don’t known is if this was intentional from the start or if Maker’s declared that a handful of SE4 stave finished barrels were not worthy of the batch.

All of Maker’s Limited Releases are bottled at cask strength. SE4 x PR5 is no exception and comes in at 110.8 proof. This is only slightly above its barrel entry proof. It’s also probably the best proof for enthusiasts seeking higher ABVs to enjoy as well as novice bourbon enthusiasts who don’t want too much heat in their drink. But the only way to truly know is to fill up my glass and start writing down notes. Here’s what I thought. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Sweet and buttery scents mix with a blend of baking spices that really hits all the right notes with me. The spices are more than just cinnamon – there’s also nutmeg, allspice and a bit of pepper. The toasted wood aspect is easy to detect when I find vanilla and the scent of (charred) marshmallows. Traditional Maker’s notes of chocolate can be found too. It’s almost like smelling a S’mores. The sugar notes are all caramelized and smell toasted, like the top to Crème brûlée. 

Palate: The first sip is a dead ringer for a Vanilla Bean Latte. It has a caramel drizzle on top coupled with spices like cinnamon, mace, cardamom and allspice.  There are also a decent amount of fruit notes too. Cherry, strawberry and raspberry all combine with mellow oak notes. The oak seems more restrained while the spices dance around it resulting in a tasty combination. It’s not the most complex dram I’ve had, but the flavors keep my mouth entertained for the whole sip.

Finish: Long with a lot of toasted wood notes hanging around.  The wood brings extra vanilla along for the ride and more of that mace flavor but it also begins to dry your mouth out a little after multiple sips. The sweetness can’t really stop that from happening, but it tries.  What impresses me most about the finish is how impactful it is. Long lasting finishes are not new, but ones that retain this degree of flavor after the sip is complete certainly are.

Score: 8.1/10

This is Maker’s Mark at its best. Actually, scratch that, this is sipping whiskey at it’s best.  The proof seems perfectly suited to either sit back and relax or to really dig in and study. The extra spice adds a nice kick here and there but is quelled by the layers of toasted oak.  The fruit on the palate helped to push it into the territory of a “great” bourbon. I don’t think I made enough mention of that during my notes.

Final Thoughts

This review is coming pretty late to be of much use. Either you bought a bottle when it was released or you missed out. If what I wrote makes you want to find one, I’m sure these can be found on the secondary market for a decent price (probably around $100 or $125). This was a ~$60 bottle when it came out which makes it a great value no matter what.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I always underestimate Maker’s Mark only to have a taste later on that reminds me how much I love it. The second release of their Wood Finished Series begs to be savored because it showcases one of the few times that a wonky experiment actually does what it promises. I’ll be reviewing the remainder of the WFS in the coming month and honestly can’t wait.

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