Maker’s Mark is one of those quietly appreciated bourbon brands, churning out reliable, high-quality whiskey minus the fanfare that other distilleries sometimes operate under. One thing that has been on many whiskey fans’ wishlists, however, is an older, age-stated expression from Maker’s. At long last, that has arrived in the form of Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged, and we got an early preview of the liquid.
I visited the distillery earlier this month to taste the new bourbon and talk to the team about how it came to be. Regular Maker’s is aged for an average of six to seven years, and according to a rep for the brand every single barrel is rotated by hand and moved from the upper levels of the rickhouses down to the lower levels to ensure flavor consistency. Innovation manager Beth Buckner said that even with that barrel rotation, Maker’s aged for much longer doesn’t quite fit the brand’s “taste vision.” “The number one objective for our taste vision is ‘yummy,’ which for us means bitter free,” she said. “For years, people asked if we could go older. . .We listen to what consumers want, but we’re never gonna innovate solely on that. If we did, we’d have RTDs and all of these trends that last three years and then [disappear].”
That all changed when the distillery opened its proprietary limestone maturation cellar in 2016. The temperature here is always 50 degrees or colder, making this an environment more akin to Scotland than Kentucky. “What if you could take fully mature Maker’s Mark and move it out of the warehouse and into the cellar?” said Buckner. “You change the aging environment where you stop or slow the tannic extraction from the barrel, but allow the whiskey to continue to oxidize and age and create more complex flavor notes.”
That’s exactly what they did, moving six-year-old bourbon from the rickhouses into the cellar to mature for another five to six years. The final blend of Cellar Aged is 13 percent 11-year-old bourbon and 87 percent 12-year-old bourbon bottled at cask strength of 115.7 proof (the TTB label some people saw online erroneously had the proof at 90). According to senior director and head of innovation, Blake Layfield, they sampled about 100 different blends before deciding on the final one.
Cellar Aged is a delicious bourbon, starting off with a strong whiff of honey on the nose. It’s still recognizably Maker’s Mark on the palate, but with deeper, more tannic notes and a huge amount of fruit. There is dried fruit and fresh dark berries, along with caramel, citrus, cinnamon, and other baking spices, and just a hint of menthol on the finish. I was able to sample a 12-year-old Maker’s bourbon aged entirely in the rickhouses to compare, and while that was also pretty good the palate was entirely different with much drier oaky notes.
Buckner said there are more barrels aging in the cellar, and that Cellar Aged will be an annual release going forward with the ages and percentages of the whiskey in the blend changing each year. 30,000 bottles are being released globally, and the whiskey will be available here in the U.S. in September. The price tag is $150, but who knows if this whiskey will go the way of Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old and sell for triple that on the secondary market. In the meantime, you can find the entire Maker’s Mark lineup, including some of the recent Wood Finishing Series releases, available for purchase from ReserveBar.
For more information please visit https://www.makersmark.com/distillery