For over a half a century, Maker’s Mark did one thing and, darn it, they did it well. Then they introduced their 46 expression. Since the success of that line, they have continued to add other products added to their repertoire, but are any as good as the original?
Maker’s Mark was born in 1953 when T. William “Bill” Sanders Sr. purchased the historic Burk’s Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky for the princely sum of $35,000. Five years later, the first batch of bourbon was finally bottled and the spirit has been flowing ever since.
The distillery and its associated brand were sold in 1981 to Hiram Walker & Sons, starting a long line of acquisitions which eventually ended in their current position with Beam Suntory in 2011. The company is the third largest manufacturer of alcoholic beverages, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois (with the holding company located in Osaka, Japan).
Introduced in 2010, Maker’s Mark 46 was the first new variant produced by the distillery since it opened. It starts off life as a typical barrel of Makers Mark but then gets a little extra special sauce.
Maker’s Mark is interesting among bourbons in that there’s no rye included in the mix of grains. The requisite amount of corn (70%) is present and the typical malted barley (14%), but what makes up the remainder of the mix is actually wheat (16%). It’s said that Bill Sanders didn’t have enough time to distill and age each batch to pick a “winner” for his new production line, so instead he made a loaf of bread from each and decided based on which one tasted better. Which (if true) gives the wheat content more logical reason.
The grains are fermented using some of the previous batch to kick-start the fermentation process, so the yeast fermenting the current batch of Maker’s Mark is always a distant relative of the Maker’s Mark of days gone by. Batches are kept rather small to make sure that the quality can be better controlled.
Once distilled, the spirit is aged in charred oak barrels for around six years — there’s no specific time listed on the bottle because the distillers bottle the bourbon “when it’s ready”, whenever that might be. Something unique for the aging process is that the barrels are regularly rotated from the top of the warehouse (where the temperatures vary much more throughout the day) to the bottom (where temperatures are more stable) which makes for a more consistent batch.
At some point, Makers Mark selects specific barrels for their 46 process. These special barrels get a chunk of charred French oak added and set to continue the aging process. The variant gets its name from the fact that the specific oak being used was identified as “Stave Profile #46.”
The original Maker’s Mark bottle is a variant of a French cognac bottle, with a bulbous base and a long slender neck. The 46 variation of Maker’s Mark is a departure from that mold in an unfortunate way, in that it’s much closer to a traditional bourbon bottle. There’s a round body, gently curved shoulder, and short neck topped by a cork stopper. The whole neck is dipped and sealed in red wax.
One thing I appreciate about this design is that the majority of the bottle is open clear glass. The normal Maker’s Mark bottle is mostly wrapped in paper, but in this case the deep amber color of the liquid inside is on full display. And it looks great.
I absolutely love how this smells. It’s rich and delicious with just a hint of sweetness on top. The first thing that comes to mind from the smell is a heavy helping of rich caramel and toffee, which is consistent with the original Maker’s Mark product, but the alcohol has been significantly mellowed out and there’s some additional fruit notes as well. I think I get some crisp and fruity green apple in there now, like a delicious caramel apple from the state fair.
The taste mostly delivers on that promise. It’s warm and delicious, and the caramel and vanilla flavors are front and center. I don’t particularly get the apple flavor from the nose, but there is some fruitiness in there that’s making things interesting. There’s also a significant bit of burn from the alcohol in here that slightly detracts from the enjoyment, but in general it’s pretty good.
This is so much better with a little bit of ice.
The only thing that was really holding this back was the alcohol burn. It threw things a bit out of balance, and with the added ice that burn is almost completely gone. What’s left is the delicious caramel and toffee flavor and it’s great.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
It’s well balanced and delicious, much better than the standard Maker’s Mark expression. The caramel and vanilla flavor pairs perfectly with the orange bitters for a great cocktail.
The only thing missing is a bit of sweetness. There’s not really much inherent sweetness in the spirit so a bit of simple sugar or a well doused cube of sugar would go a long way.
This is just right. There’s a good bit of caramel and vanilla to balance out the bitterness of the ginger beer, and there’s a touch of oak-y flavor that comes through to add some extra special something to the mix.
For a good Kentucky Mule, I typically appreciate a bit of extra rye in the grain bill to contribute some peppery spice to the flavor, but there’s none of that here. Instead all we’ve got is the caramel and vanilla flavor. The end result is that there isn’t a lot interesting happening here, but it’s still a decent mule.
I actually like it better than the standard Maker’s Mark expression. The added oak stave and extra maturation time reduces the alcohol burn that I find annoying and adds some unique notes to the aroma. It’s still not perfect, but it’s absolutely worth the price.
Maker’s Mark 46
Owner: Beam Suntory (Owned by Suntory Holdings, Japan)
Production: Kentucky, US
Grain bill: 70% corn, 16% wheat, 14% malted barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $30.99 / 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Better than the original.