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Marker's 46

Maker's 46
Bourbon Whisky


By Robert Plotkin

American whiskeys are the Bruce Springsteen of spirits—captivating with absolutely no pretense or snob appeal. One doesn't need a refined palate to appreciate their assertive characters. They're loaded with big complex flavors and have about the most enticing aromas of any spirit. Unlike many imports, American whiskeys are also affordable. You don't have to spend a week's paycheck to bring home a world-class contender. These are whiskeys Americans can relate to.

However, things weren't always so rosy for our indigenous whiskey. By the mid-1970s, bourbon was conventionally perceived as staid and conservative. It sat on the shelves like a forgotten spirit, out of step with the times. The category's reversal of fortune came in the form of Maker's Mark. As the country's first small batch whiskey, it delivered an array of elegant flavors and a captivating aroma. By the end of the decade, the brand's iconic red wax-dipped bottle could be found on top shelves across the country.

In June 2010, the distillery launched its first new whiskey since the brand debuted in 1958—Maker's 46 Bourbon Whisky. The premium 94-proof bourbon is produced at the Star Hill Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky, a small facility listed on the registry of National Historic Landmarks.

The new handcrafted expression begins with pot-distilled Maker's Mark, whose singular mash bill includes corn, barley malt, a sour mash component and red winter wheat, making it one of only a handful of bourbons to not include rye. After the whiskey has been aged to maturity, it is dumped and 10 seared French oak staves are affixed to the inside of the barrel. The staves are seared just enough so that the caramel and vanilla flavors from it are released and only a small amount of tannin, which adds bitterness, comes out of the wood. Afterwards the bourbon is returned to the barrels and allowed to age for another 2-3 months. It's bottled at 94 proof.

Maker's 46 is essentially a bigger, bolder version of itself. The golden amber whiskey has a satiny lightweight body and a generous nose saturated with the aromas of caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and butterscotch. The bouquet alone qualifies this new expression as a classic in the making. The whiskey has a soft, creamy entry that promptly bathes the palate with a boatload of bakery-like flavors. It has a long, thoroughly satisfying finish with the pronounced flavors of cinnamon, cocoa, vanilla and caramel.

Maker's 46 is decidedly spicier with more caramel and vanilla notes on the extended finish than its older sibling. It enjoys the same unlimited applications behind the bar as the original, yet because of its tremendous depth of flavor, may prove more versatile in cocktails.

Kudos, Maker's Mark. Makes me curious what new expression they'll release in 2060.