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Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky

Review: Maker’s Mark  Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky  (86/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted June 18, 2014

Maker’s Mark is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky brand distilled in Loretto, Kentucky, and owned by Beam Global. Bill Samuels Sr. is credited with creating the first version of Maker’s Mark in 1954, and the folks at the Maker’s Mark Distillery have been producing this whiskey since 1958.

The process of producing the bourbon begins with pure limestone fed spring-water, yellow corn, red winter wheat, and natural malted barley (note the absence of rye grain which was replaced by red winter wheat in the mash bill). It continues with a unique milling, cooking, fermentation and small batch distillation process; and it ends with the spirit being aged in new oak barrels. Of course the final whisky is tested and tasted to make sure it is just right before being bottled at 45 % alcohol by volume.

Makers mark SAM_1130In the Bottle 4/5

Maker’s Mark is sold in a long-necked squarish (pot shaped) bottle which is sealed with a red screw cap closure which was dipped in red sealing wax. According to the information I received about the brand, Bill Samuels’ wife, Marjorie “Margie” Samuels, not only gave the whisky its name, she also drew up the label, and came up with the idea of using the sealing wax to give the bottle its unique look. (Perhaps she had traveled to Bermuda and encountered Gosling’s Black Seal Rum which began to use sealing wax on its bottles almost thirty years earlier.)

The bottle is nice; but the small red plastic screw cap closure has only two threads. It seems strange to me that after I remove the red sealing wax, the closure under the sealing wax appears flimsy and inconsequential.  As well I find the beige label on the bottle front seems to lack ‘pop’ on my bar shelf.

In the Glass  8.5/10

The whisky in the glass displays itself with a nice amber/copper colour which leans towards the orange side of the colour spectrum. After I tilt my glass, some moderately thick leglets form which seem to hang and droop a short period of time before they crawl back down into the glass. The whisky is bottled at 45 % alcohol by volume, and this higher than normal bottling strength no doubt accounts for the sluggishness of the legs.

As I nose the glass, I find the breezes are filled with dry oak and cedar scents with a bit of the ‘sappiness’ which I have come to expect from straight American whisky. The firm scents of wood grain and fresh sap are soon joined by orange peel, honeycomb and bits of maple and caramel. There are also indications of baking spices (vanilla cinnamon and cloves), dry grassy cigarette tobacco, and bits of almond.

The dryness of the nose surprised me, as did the lack of any undue astringent notes of alcohol which I expected to find in a 45 % alcohol by volume offering.

In the Mouth  52/60

The dryness I sensed on the nose reveals itself upon the palate as a dry spicy oak and sandalwood spices. This peppery spice seem to dry and pucker the mouth and taste buds. Fortunately a soft butterscotch follows the dry spice and the combination of dry spice with lightly sweet butterscotch is quite nice. As I sip I also I taste impressions of wood sap, orange peel, dried apricots and raisins, and some grassy tobacco. Vanilla and baking spices seem to bob in and out of my consciousness as well, and underneath is a lightly bitter almond flavour. The combination is very nice and my sense is that we have a moderately complex whisky which prefers to lean on the dry side of the bourbon path.

Although this is nice to sip, the dry nature of the bourbon seems to pushing me towards my cocktail shaker. I experiment with a few cocktails including a Mint Julep, and a Buckeroo, and I decide that the whisky is equally at home mixing cocktails as it is in a rocks glass with or without ice.

In the Throat  13/15

Considering that the Maker’s Mark is a 45 % alcohol by volume spirit, I am pleased by its relative smoothness. The exit is of medium length and carries some peppery oak spice softened by soft butterscotch and maple. Each swallow seems to dry my throat further, which of course encourages me to steal yet another sip.

The Afterburn  8.5/10

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky straddles that line between smooth sipper and quality mixer rather easily, and I suspect the red winter wheat which is in the mash bill in place of rye is responsible for some of that soft smoothness which I have been enjoying. Although I am a huge fan of rye, my whisky heart has found a place for wheat as well. Maker’s Mark is just another example of how well wheat grain can work in a quality whisky.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe

To be honest, you cannot go wrong sipping the Maker’s Mark neat, or adding a cube or two of ice. However, as indicated in the review the Maker’s Mark is also a great cocktail whisky. The recipe I have decided to showcase is an old whiskey cocktail I found in Leo Engels 1878 book, American and Other Drinks. In his book, Leo simply calls the recipe a Whiskey Cocktail, and I suspect his recipe is close to the original version of what we today call, the Old Fashioned Cocktail.

His recipe uses lemon peel instead of orange, and asks us to shake and strain the ingredients rather than serving over ice.

1878 Whiskey Cocktail SAM_1175The 1878 Whiskey Cocktail

Wine Glass of Bourbon Whisky (say 2 oz)
2 to 3 dashes of Bitters (Angostura or fees Cocktail bitters)
3 dashes of plain syrup
Lemon Peel

Fill a metal shaker 1/3 full of ice
Add 2 dashes of bitters and 3 dashes of sugar syrup
Add Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky and a piece of lemon peel
Shake and strain into a suitable glass

Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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