When Maker’s Mark refer to their Loretto distillery as “little,” it honestly feels disingenuous. Sure, they’re not the biggest bourbon brand out there, but they aren’t far off as far as cases sold. And that level of volume practically necessitates a sizeable facility to meet demand. Not to mention the grounds offer plenty of walking room and pleasant visuals to boot, be it inside or out. Point being: Maker’s Mark are hardly a small player, and their distillery is a testament to that.
Be that as it may, Maker’s Mark 101 was once a distillery-only offering, effectively bridging the gap between standard Maker’s (90 proof) and Maker’s Cask Strength (roughly 110 proof). Then 2020 came and, like Jim Beam with Old Tub, Maker’s decided to test the waters by bringing a limited offering to the wider public. Although Maker’s 101 was released with an MSRP of $40 (more on that later), it seemed to end up on discount before long, with mine being acquired for $20. Small side note: Both Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark are owned by Beam-Suntory.
Nose: Vanilla and butterscotch candy exterior with a festive, borderline potpourri or autumn scented candle backbone. Pumpkin and clove. Fresh cherry pie crust—like you scraped off the cherries immediately after pulling from the oven. A little ethanol and yeast in the background, maybe some tobacco too. Gets better and better after sipping; easily the highlight of the entire experience.
Palate: Cherry upfront followed by a breeze of caramel, then a coarse pepper on the mid-palate which holds on. Pumpkin pie with a slightly toasty graham cracker crust.
Finish: Warms the throat nicely. Presence of wood (heat) without so much of the actual flavor, but it’s pleasant. Slow-emerging vanilla and lightly honeyed toast.
There’s no surprise to find here: Maker’s 101 is the regular bottling taken to the next level without going all-out. Triple-digit proof points are often preferred by bourbon’s more enthusiastic consumers, especially when it comes to use in cocktails. Yet some individuals find cask strength to be a bit too aggressive at times, and the Maker’s bottlings have been criticized by a few for this very reason. To that end, Maker’s 101 feels like a nice compromise, in spite of the “simply water down the cask strength to your liking” argument. I do think the mid-palate can come across as a bit abrasive at first, but it gradually finds a groove and becomes more pleasant over time.
Yet this brings us to my hesitation with Maker’s 101: the relative price. When the Loretto distillery changed the design of their Cask Strength bottles to be more uniform, its list price seemingly crept down. I’ve seen it as low as $38, but more frequently find it in the $40-$50 range. Since Maker’s 101 hit the greater market with a $40 (or so) MSRP, it makes the Cask Strength look that much better. If we factor in the aforementioned discount, Maker’s 101 becomes a no-brainer since it’s more in competition with the brand’s 90 proof flagship. Were this a standard offering, I don’t think I’d ever choose it over the Cask Strength, if only because it feels like a self-cannibalizing product.