2021 was the year I visited Kentucky for the first time—I probably don’t need to tell you what I did. During that trip, I visited almost a dozen distilleries. Since the state welcomes many people throughout the globe, there was no shortage of inquiries throughout the tours and tastings. Of the many questions asked, the most common one (to my surprise) was whether a given distillery rotated their barrels. Only one answered affirmatively.
The idea behind rotating barrels around a rickhouse is easy enough to grasp: move it to better control a desired profile. Realizing that process, however, is something of a logistical (and laborious) nightmare. Yet Maker’s Mark, one of the more traditionally minded distilleries, continue to rotate their barrels (200,000 per year). So in 2022, the then-latest entries in their popular Wood Finishing Series were used to emulate the effects of this barrel rotation. Henceforth, two batches identified as BRT-01 and BRT-02 were born.
Described as “the easiest way to taste your way through the rickhouse,” BRT-01 utilizes virgin toasted American oak staves to highlight Maker’s Mark’s first three years of maturation. These formative years occur at the top of the rickhouse where heat is at its strongest. As with its predecessors, BRT-01 is non-chill filtered, bottled at cask strength, and released with a suggested retail price of around $65.
Nose: Has a somewhat light and dry tone, complete with a new oak personality. Big punch of vanilla, buttermilk pancakes, and fresh pastry. Burnt crème brulee layer with underlying hints of apricot. Some candied honey, nougat, and almond torte too.
Palate: Comes in swinging with bright caramel, vanilla cupcakes, and buttered toast. Moderate, building viscosity. Immediately tangible barrel spice barely keeps the sweet profile at bay. A grazing of nutmeg and cinnamon sugar as it sits. Pleasant, albeit uninspiring.
Finish: Toasted oak shines here. More toast (light on the butter here) lingers while drying vanilla and wood close things out. Maybe an occasional hint of cinnamon and pepper, too.
My reaction to the Wood Finishing Series has been positive overall; it’s a fun line that showcases a more fun and developed side to Maker’s. That said, 2020’s SE4xPR5 has proven to be a tough act to follow. This was demonstrated by my slightly diminished enthusiasm for the FAEs. Part of me hoped that either of the BRTs could elicit a more enthusiastic response, especially since I only ever found BRT-01. And though my fond regards for the Wood Finishing Series still hold true, BRT-01 also feels like a continuation of the marginal slump, all while encapsulating my more recent reactions.
Attempting to emulate the first three years of maturation that a barrel of Maker’s sees is an interesting endeavor. Realizing it through finishing staves is even more curious. The intent here was to showcase higher temperature swings with a greater emphasis on barrel extractive characteristics. To that end, BRT-01 is a success. It seems to prioritize the brighter (and arguably rougher) nature of the core Maker’s profile while delivering added richness for good measure. This is represented and carried out well from the nose to the palate, but seems to stumble on the finish, where things get toasty and spicy in a way that feels counterintuitive to the whole experience. What ultimately surfaces is an experience that somehow feels both overdone and underdone.