The wheated American whisky brand of Maker's Mark has debuted the inaugural bottling of its Cellar Aged expression. The whisky is planned to be an annual small batched release going forward. For this expression Rob Samuels, 8th generation whisky maker and grandson of the brand's founder, has taken regular Maker's Mark (which is aged for just over six years on average) and then placed the casks in a purpose built limestone cellar for an further extended maturation period.
The limestone cellar was constructed in 2016 and maintains a constant temperature of 8°C/ 52°F. This stabilises the whisky and allows for much longer maturation without the harsher wood influence that happens at higher temperatures and humidity. For this first batch of Maker's Mark Cellar Aged the whiskies have been in the cellar for a further five or six years, meaning the whiskies are 11- and 12 years of age. They have then been married together in a ratio of 13% and 87% respectively.
Maker's Mark was founded in 1953 by T. William Samuels Sr. He purchased the 170 year old Burks Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky and decided to produce a premium whisky there. He changed the recipe to make wheated bourbon in 1954 - a wheated bourbon is one with wheat as the next highest percentage grain after corn when compared to regular bourbon mash bills - and the first bottling was released in 1959. It is also unusual for an American whisky in that the mash bill contains no rye.
Samuels' wife, Marjorie, is attributed with creating the name, designing the square-shaped bottle and label, and instigating the now-famous red wax seal. Each bottle is still dipped in wax by hand. The Maker's Mark distillery has an annual capacity of eight million litres and is owned by Beam Suntory.
The Maker's Mark Cellar Aged is bottled at the natural strength of 115 Proof/ 57.5% ABV and will be available in selected world markets. A bottle will cost £145. For more information on Maker's Mark Cellar Aged, please visit www.makersmark.com.
Our Tasting Notes
The colour is deep copper gold and the nose is vibrant and uplifting. Aromas of vanilla, oak and charred orange zest mingle with milk chocolate, cinnamon, gingerbread and a pinch of cocoa powder. A hint of dark cherry and caramelised peach comes through at the end.
On the palate this whisky is intense and bright, but also velvety and silky. This is surprising given the high ABV. Super ripe stone and orchard fruits lead the way - think of apricot jam and peach compote with a hint of caramelised apple and pear. These notes are followed by plenty of sweetness in the form of vanilla fudge, caramel, milk chocolate and toffee. There is a hint of hazelnut praline underneath also.
The second half of the palate is dominated by wood and spice. This leads the whisky to becomes drier and more peppery towards the finish. The spices have a lovely warmth to them - imagine cinnamon and clove married with clove oil and gingerbread - and this drives the whisky on. The distinct oaky note is never far away but comes to the fore towards the end and creates great balance with the sweetness. A late hint of candied orange peel is also detected.
The finish is long and warming. The oak and spice dominate, especially once the sweeter and fruity elements fade away. Hints of cocoa powder and orange remain, as does the clove-like characteristic.
What's the verdict?
This is a superb whisky from Maker's Mark and one that shows clever and controlled innovation. The flavours are incredibly balanced and nuanced compared to a regular bourbon that has been aged for 11-12 years. The extra maturation in a much cooler environment must have contributed to this and makes us consider that what if age is not just about time. What if it is about how that time is used and where the whisky is maturing? Both concepts seem to have given a great deal to this whisky and it is well worth a taste if you get the opportunity.