Maker’s Mark isn’t a brand I normally associate with high-value products. Many of my peers even consider the entry-level bourbon to be a more premium offering than other, similarly priced expressions. Branding certainly plays a part, which only goes even further if you visit the distillery in Loretto. Maker’s Mark also produces several of the few readily available wheated bourbons on the market, making them a rather easy choice when you seriously consider the alternatives. This is doubly so when we look at high-proof options. Although their Wood Finishing Series and Private Selections are well documented for being strong, often excellent bottlings, their standard Cask Strength selections don’t seem to generate much discussion.
On one hand, bourbon’s ongoing boom has people looking for the next best thing. Combine that with Maker’s Mark capping their premium selections off at well south of $100 MSRP, and it’s easy to see why their baseline Cask Strength bottlings would fall by the wayside. Alternatively, many drinkers are still primarily concerned with the best bang-for-buck options. This is where, statistically speaking, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength would seem most likely to stand out. The distillery recently updated the bottle design to keep it more consistent with other Maker’s Mark expressions, combined with batch numberings and a seeming price decrease to around $40. Oh, and did I mention this is uncut and non-chill filtered, unlike a certain other high-proof option that regularly fetches triple-digit prices on secondary?
Statistics are one thing, however, the whisky itself is another. I’ll be looking at batch 20-03 today, which has been seriously overdue for a review.
Nose: Sweet and yeasty like a fresh pastry with soft fruit notes—thinking apricot and orange marmalade with some honey. Has an air of astringency and faint nuttiness. Light, sweet rickhouse aromas that come full circle with the wheat funk. Caramel and cinnamon notes with occasional butterscotch.
Palate: Rather crisp mouthfeel with some viscosity. Soft and sweet vanilla/caramel combo upfront with brown butter and a light to moderate oak flavor. Slightly overbaked pastries with orange spice rounding out the backend. Orange and a slow build of mild baking spices pave way for the finish. Retains astringency from the nose.
Finish: Lengthy with orange spice cake, toasty oak, and dry vanilla. Cherry and caramel seem to reveal themselves more here. Each sip makes it increasingly syrupy, but never overly so.
I’ve been somewhat back and forth with this bottle. For a while I got a lot of spice and alcohol punch, despite generally gravitating towards higher proof options. Later on, I used it for some recipes and, after getting it down to 1/3 of a bottle, left it alone for a while. My first revisit brought a lot of the pleasant notes and characteristics mentioned in this review, while my most recent tasting brought more of the astringency back into the equation again. The best thing I’ll say about this particular bottle is that the nose made me feel like I was back inside a Maker’s Mark rickhouse, with the wheat and not-so-heavily-aged wood marrying together so wonderfully.
Of course, that’s if I omit coming full circle with the value comment I made in the opening paragraph. I would definitely say batch 20-03 has its shortcomings, but it still makes for a solid pour that stands up well in cocktails. If other batches have the potential to round out the rough edges I found here, then Maker’s Mark Cask Strength could be to wheated bourbons what Wild Turkey Rare Breed is to non-wheated bourbons: available, affordable, and reliable.