“Give me a bourbon that won’t blow my ears off” is what Maker’s Mark original distiller Bill Samuels Sr. was aiming for. And he hit his mark. The legend from Maker’s Mark themselves goes that he held his family’s 170 year old recipe, and burned it, while simultaneously burning a set of drapes, in a mission to redefine what a great tasting bourbon should be.
Living in Kentucky, on Whiskey Road no less, in post-prohibition America gave Bill plenty of advantages. He enlisted a gathering of some of the greatest bourbon distillers of the time, Daniel Motlow of Jack Daniel’s, Pappy Van Winkle, Ed Shapiro of Heaven Hill, Jerry Beam son of Jim Beam, to discuss ways to make a lighter tasting whiskey that played more on the front of the palate as opposed to on the back.
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In an attempt to test out different grain combinations Bill’s mother was brought into the mix to bake loaf after loaf of bread using the grain recipes Bill would come up with. They found that excluding rye entirely from the mash bill, and using Red Winter Wheat instead, they were able to achieve what they set out for, a great tasting bourbon, that won’t blow your ears off.
Over the next couple of decades, Maker’s Mark began to rise in popularity within Kentucky as a superior brand. But it wasn’t until 1980 when The Wall Street Journal featured them in a front page column. From there demand skyrocketed across the nation, and not so slowly, but very surely, Maker’s Mark became the icon of Kentucky Bourbon whiskey that it is today.
Maker’s Mark’s Lack of Variety
Maker’s Mark had never offered anything besides their standard flagship bourbon for decades. While other distilleries began experimenting and releasing longer aged versions, different formulas, rye whiskies, barrel strength, and single barrel series, Maker’s Mark stood by their fine-tuned whiskey-making process and recipe. It wasn’t until 2010 that Maker’s Mark released their first-ever variant with Maker’s 46.
But as their popularity grew their production didn’t quite grow as fast, which meant shortages for distributors nationwide across the years. However, these shortages were due to the company’s unwavering integrity to never compromise the process of making their famous whiskey.
They could have brought in outside spirits to help meet demand, they could have altered the labor-intensive distilling process they had developed, but both of those options would have had a negative effect on the overall quality of the spirit. And it is this loyalty to itself that has kept Maker’s Mark growing in the double digits every year since the early 1980’s. They’ve managed to never alienate even their oldest fans, while managing to wow and gain new drinkers through the years, every year, by keeping the product consistent from the very first batch, to the most recent.
More recently Maker’s Mark has begun releasing their Cask Strength and Private Selection varieties.
With his retirement looming in the early 2000’s now it was Bill Samuels JUNIOR’s time to leave his mark on his father’s company, which he had been running since 1975. Alongside the master distiller of Maker’s Mark at the time, Kevin Smith, and Brad Boswell of the Independent Stave Company (the same company which decades ago had helped Bill Samuels Sr. perfect the original aging process for his whiskey) Bill Jr. had set out to make a “Maker’s Mark on steroids.” He aimed to make a whiskey with a longer finish that didn’t add any more harshness to the overall flavor. And eventually, they realized they could achieve this by charring French Oak staves and simply leaving them in a barrel of finished Maker’s Mark for additional aging. The final result is a higher proof but easier drinking whiskey, with slight hints of cinnamon and vanilla that aren’t present in the original Maker’s Mark.
Once again Marge Samuels was brought in to design one more iconic bottle for Maker’s Mark.
Cask Strength & Private Selection
Anytime you see a whiskey maker releasing a “cask (or barrel) strength” whiskey, it means that the whiskey forgoes the traditional process of dilution with water. This process is to calm down the strong flavors of whiskey straight from the barrel, while also maintaining a consistent alcohol level. Maker’s Mark is no different in that each batch of Cask Strength will have a slightly different ABV (ranging from 108-114 proof) and each will have it’s own slightly unique flavor characteristics.
Maker’s Mark Private Selection follows in the same vein as the cask strength in that each batch will be unique and bottled without dilution.
For this line of whiskies Maker’s Mark is working with retailers who purchase a barrel of finished whisky, then Maker’s Mark adds 10 oak staves to the barrel for additional aging, similar to the process of making Maker’s 46, however here, the purchasing retailer is choosing what types of staves to use and in what quantities. They offer 5 different types of staves to use making over 1,001 possible combinations, leaving every single batch unique to its creator.
Maker’s Mark Pricing and Availability
The days of limited quantities and allocation restrictions are nearly gone for Maker’s Mark original Bourbon. The bottle is available in almost every liquor serving bar and restaurant in America and even across the entire globe. The original Maker’s Mark comes in every size imaginable from 50ml bottles, all the way to up 1.75 liter. While Maker’s 46 is only available in 375ml and 750ml, and the Cask Strength and Private Select only in 750ml.
On the shelf in your local liquor store, for a 750ml of Maker’s Mark expect to pay around $25-$35, for Maker’s 46 $30-$45, the Cash Strength $45-$60, and the Private Select will vary based on the batch, but usually range from $70-$90.
Below are the latest Maker’s Mark prices.
|Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky||750ml||From $27.95|
|Maker’s 46 Bourbon Whisky||375ml||From $21.99|
|Maker’s Mark Cask Strength||375ml||From $23.99|
|Maker’s Mark Private Select||750ml||From $69.99|
|Maker’s Mark Mint Julep||750ml||From $32.99|
When looking for alternatives, it’s usually best to start with the distillers base product. In this instance, because Maker’s Mark came about specifically to be a unique and stand-alone whiskey, the best way to find an alternative is to find whiskies that use wheat in their mash, similar to Maker’s Mark, though not very many distilleries use a lot, if any, wheat in their mash bills. One not so nationally recognized whiskey at around the same price as Maker’s Mark is Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey. Both Bernheim and Maker’s are 45% ABV, and Bernheim is aged 7 years, to Maker’s Mark’s 6 years. If you are looking to go more towards the economical side then Larceny Bourbon from Heaven Hill is the way to go, with a 20% wheat mash bill (compared to Maker’s Mark’s 16%) and at around $25 for a 750ml bottle.
If you’re looking to really go all out, some of the most lauded whiskies available these days are the Van Winkle lines from Buffalo Trace. Both the Pappy Van Winkle and Old Rip Van Winkle usually have 16-18% wheat in their mash bills, and are bottled at varied ages. However these sometimes hard to find whiskies range from over $100 and up to $500 a bottle.
Blue Bourbon Spritzer
- 6 Fresh Blueberries
- 2.0 oz Maker’s Mark Bourbon
- 1.5 oz Fresh Sour Mix*
- Seltzer or Lemon Lime Soda
In a mixing tin muddle the blueberries. Add the fresh sour mix and bourbon, fill halfway with ice and shake vigorously. Pour over fresh ice in a tall glass and top with seltzer or lemon-lime soda if you prefer it a little sweeter. Garnish with blueberries and/or lemon wedge or twist.
*To make fresh sour mix at home simply combine equal parts simple syrup and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Make sure to strain the seeds and pulp out of your lemon juice.
46 Old Fashioned
- 2.0 oz Maker’s 46
- .5 oz Simple Syrup
- 3 dashes Orange Bitters
- 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Orange Twist
In a double old fashioned glass, dash both of the bitters first and then add the simple syrup. Add a few heavy cubes of ice and pour the whiskey over the top. Stir for about 15 seconds. Squeeze the orange twist over the drink and rub along the rim of the glass and drop it in the drink.