Maker’s Mark has one of the more interesting stories in bourbon, especially when we compare their past to their present. Bill Samuels, Sr., one of the two key players behind the brand’s creation, was a traditionalist with regards to maintaining and ultimately preserving what made Maker’s Mark, well, Maker’s Mark. Conversely, Bill Samuels, Jr., has overseen a variety of additions that have allowed Maker’s Mark to grow while retaining the original bourbon in its tried-and-true form, albeit with a short-lived attempt to lower the proof. Chief among these additions was the introduction of Maker’s Mark 46, which sees the standard bourbon mingle with 10 French oak staves. The launch was so successful that two new lines, Private Select and Wood Finishing Series, were added to the distillery’s portfolio.
Today we’ll be looking at the latter with last year’s Wood Finishing Series release: SE4xPR5. Although the name is hardly basic, the actual idea behind the process is fairly easy to follow. SE4 and PR5 are stave profiles and, as part of the attempt to distinguish the 2020 release from its predecessor, RC6, Maker’s Mark added both staves simultaneously. Furthermore:
“Each virgin American oak stave is seasoned outside for 18 months – six months longer than usual – and baked in a convection oven. These staves are added to a barrel of fully matured Maker’s Mark® at cask strength. The barrel is then aged for an additional period in our limestone cellar.”
With SE4xPR5, the goal was to emphasize the vanilla and caramel notes of Maker’s Mark. I recently polished off the bottle I bought for myself last year, so it only made sense that I give it a final look for a definitive verdict.
Nose: Strong vanilla with a deep, dark butterscotch aroma. Maker’s typical wheat note is present but dialed down thanks to the dessert-y oak characteristics. Toasted brown sugars and some crème brulee. Overtime a juicy, syrupy cherry note emerges, as well as a bit of apricot.
Palate: Medium, fairly syrupy, and well rounded off. Butterscotch, vanilla, and toffee bomb. Spot-on wood notes on the front and middle with more charred personality and tobacco on the back with caramel, even more vanilla, and eventually some cherry.
Finish: Fairly soft, lightly warming, but ultimately a bit anticlimactic. Caramel and oak notes transition into coffee and hot buttered rum.
From start to finish this has been a personal favorite. SE4xPR5 takes my favorite wheated bourbon (wheater) elements and elevates them to fantastic results. Many wheaters make their secondary grain known loud and clear, with Maker’s Mark being a key example. The yeasty, bread-like qualities can sometimes make the whiskey taste younger than it actually is, and while this still comes through on SE4xPR5, it’s woven into the stave influence so well that I welcome the wheat notes with open arms. Butterscotch proves to be the key flavor of note here, which is a perfect complement to the standard Maker’s Mark profile. It may not be the most adventurous pour out there, but each element comes together in a way that produces a proper, elevated drinking experience.
My only regret with SE4xPR5 is that I didn’t purchase a backup. I had multiple opportunities, but I’m not one to buy second bottles since I constantly like to try something different than before. This goes even more so for slightly more expensive bottles, which are that much harder to justify doubling up on. Yet this particular release is one of the few times that I wish I’d made an exception to my usual purchasing philosophy.