These days it’s easy to take for granted the number of options when it comes to whiskey. More specifically, the sheer volume of choices one has when considering traditional whiskey and finished whiskey has become downright overwhelming. Maker’s Mark is just one example of this. Where they were previously known for their standard 90-proof, hand-labeled and wax-dipped bottles, they’ve now become synonymous with stave finishes and unique store picks. Much of this can be attributed to the introduction of Maker’s Mark 46 in 2010. However, in 2019, the brand went a step further by introducing a limited annual release (bi-annual in 2021’s case): Wood Finishing Series.
The first of these releases was RC6, which took cask strength Maker’s Mark bourbon and finished it with a proprietary 10-stave profile. In the case of RC6, the virgin American oak staves were seasoned outside for 18 months and baked in a convection oven. Once added to the aforementioned bourbon, the barrels were given an additional aging period. The goal with RC6 was “to feature more pronounced fruit notes and a brighter finish while retaining the balance of baking spice and sweetness found in the original Maker’s Mark.” I was late to the game by the time I found out about RC6, but was fortunate enough to be sent a sample by a fellow whiskey fan. Time to see what the original Wood Finishing Series release had to offer.
Nose: Slightly fruity bread, like a cherry croissant. Baked apple and fresh cornbread. Mash is fairly obvious, but it’s soft and inviting. Tobacco and honey. Traces of traditional wheater caramel, butterscotch, and vanilla with a bit of brown butter.
Palate: Honeyed apple crisps. Orange peel with a touch of oak and tobacco tannins soon followed by vanilla. Bit of a smoked cherry note as well.
Finish: Fairly lengthy. Vanilla custard and brown sugar. Oak, though not strong, becomes more apparent over time. Some caramel sauce with a soft, mellow orange note perseveres. Has an undercurrent of slight bitterness that makes the experience just a bit less enjoyable.
It’s a shame I wasn’t able to obtain a full bottle of this by the time I legitimately got into whiskey, because I could see this becoming a personal favorite over time. As it stands, this is an expression I appreciate more than I outright enjoy. The nose is easily my favorite aspect thanks to a plethora of inviting notes. Coming off of that, the palate falls a bit short in my book, but the finish mostly brings the momentum back. As for the goal of achieving more pronounced fruit notes, I’d say the final product elevates the fruit profile with other complementary flavors. The experience stops a bit short of being truly rich, which makes RC6 a fairly easy sipper but not one I’d necessarily grab to completely savor.
Despite my critiques, RC6 is a great offering and one that I’m glad Maker’s Mark didn’t make a one-and-done experiment. Between it, SE4xPR5, and FAE-01, the brand has amply shown just how far they can stretch the base bourbon with stave finishing. Maker’s Mark appear to be all-in on their picks and Wood Finishing Series, and even just based on the results RC6 brings to the table, it’s a direction worth being excited over.