Maker’s Mark is a wheated bourbon icon. While its expressions haven’t reached the award-darling, price-gouging heights of Weller or Pappy, it remains absolutely delicious and (perhaps more importantly) easily accessible.
The beauty of this whisky (Maker’s prefers the Scottish/Canadian spelling) goes beyond just the addition of red winter wheat over rye grain. The Ozark oak used in crafting the barrels is seasoned outdoors for a longer stretch than your average barrel before assembly and charring. The barrels are also specifically made for Maker’s, with 32 staves instead of 34. The whisky goes into those barrels after they’ve taken on a medium char. Six to seven-ish years later, the whisky is blended, proofed with soft Kentucky limestone-touched water, bottled, and then dipped in Maker’s signature red wax.
There are, of course, more details we could go into about the production process, but you should head to Loretto, Kentucky, and take the tour yourself to learn the rest. Our purpose today is to rank Maker’s Mark’s core line of bourbons. A final note before we dive in: we’re not including the Private Selection or Wood Finishing Series. Those releases are one-off releases and will vary greatly depending on which liquor store you’re standing in. They’re often great but they’re not the core line, whereas each of the bottles below are the same across every shelf out there.
If any of these pique your interest, make sure to click on the prices to try one yourself.
4. Maker’s Mark 46
Average Price: $44
This was the whisky that launched Maker’s Wood Finishing Series and eventually the Private Select program. This particular expression takes cask strength Maker’s and then adds in virgin French oak staves to the barrels for a final nine weeks of maturing. The whisky is then cut down with that soft Kentucky limestone water.
The “46” on the label refers to the staves used in this expression — “Stave Profile No. 46.”
The soft water texture (think Evian on a hot day) and mildly sweet wood greet you alongside slight touches of caramel and vanilla. That caramel and vanilla take a back seat to the deeper sense of toasted oak and spicy tobacco, with a hint of fruit similar to an apple dipped in caramel. The end is full of that woodiness next to a light edge of creamy vanilla as it slowly fades away.
It’s kind of disingenuous to rank this “last.” It’s a great bourbon with a very unique feel to it. But I’d argue though that this is too fussed with compared to the clean lines of the rest of the whiskies on this list. It feels more “crafty” than the classic Maker’s expressions.
That being said, you cannot go wrong drinking this bourbon, in general. It’s a workhorse that rocks in a cocktail or over some ice.
3. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength
Average Price: $70
This wheated bourbon is a small-batch masterpiece. The juice is a blend of up to 19 barrels from the Maker’s warehouses. The whiskies are hand-selected according to distinct flavor characteristics to build a masterful end product. Once the whisky is married, it goes into the bottle at cask strength, unfiltered, and ready to drink.
There’s a clear sense of bourbon vanilla on the nose with touches of burnt caramel, charred oak, and a hint of dry bales of straw. The taste brings about a spicy tobacco chewiness that’s cut with more vanilla and hints of dried apricot. The end is slow, leaves your tongue buzzing with tobacco and spice, and has a mellow vanilla roundness.
This is the only whisky on the list where you’ll find slight variation in the ABVs but not really in the taste. The one drawback here is actually the lack of water. Bear with me. Maker’s has this beautiful, soft rainwater minerality that makes it incredibly drinkable. That’s missing in this expression. That’s not to say this is somehow undrinkable. This is delicious. It’s just that it’s not distinctly Maker’s.
It feels more like a cask strength bourbon … of which there are already plenty on the market to choose from.
2. Maker’s Mark
Average Price: $30
This is Maker’s signature expression. You know the drill: Red winter wheat, seasoned Ozark oak, six to seven years in the barrel. This expression’s juice is then sourced from only 150 barrels (making this a small batch, if you want to call it that). Those barrels are then blended, proofed, bottled, and dipped in red wax.
The nose is full of those heavily charred oak barrel notes next to classic hints of caramel and vanilla with a grassy underbelly. That grassiness becomes vaguely floral as slightly spiced caramel apples arrive, along with a chewy mouthfeel that leads towards a soft mineral vibe — kind of like wet granite. The end holds onto the fruit and sweetness as the oak and dried grass stays in your senses.
This is one of the greats. When it comes to mixing cocktails, you cannot go wrong using this expression, thanks to the slightly higher ABVs. This also works really well in a highball or on the rocks. Hell, you can drink it neat and always find something new. It being cheap and on every shelf around the country does not take away from this being a unique and very drinkable whisky.
1. Maker’s Mark 101
Average Price: $42
This is Maker’s Mark classic wheated bourbon that’s bottled at “a higher proof” to bring about a “richer flavor.” Well, that’s what the label says anyway. Beyond that, this was a “Traveler’s Exclusive” up until the pandemic. Now, you can find it on most shelves, making this one finally accessible to the masses.
This is classic Maker’s that’s treated with a little less of that limestone water to let the barrel techniques shine a bit more while still holding onto the Maker’s vibe.
This is a bowl of stewed apple over vanilla ice cream that’s been drizzled with extra caramel. The taste really focuses on that caramel, with hints of oak next to roasted almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg, dry wicker, and a drop of soft mineral water. The end lingers while it fades through salted caramel apples towards a mellow floral spiciness with a dried reed finish and a touch of vanilla tobacco chew.
This bridges the Cask Strength and standard Maker’s perfectly. It’s a higher-proof, which brings out bolder flavor notes. But that touch of limestone water really helps make this a quaffable dram of whisky. Seriously, this is so easy to drink neat that you’d think it cost a few hundred bucks, not $40.
This is also the perfect cocktail whisky. The flavor notes and ABVs stand up to any mix. Overall, we’re lucky this is hitting more and more shelves these days. It’s truly a masterpiece.
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