Friday, April 9, 2010

Hell Freezes Over

Or, put differently, Maker's Mark has come out with a new bourbon.

For years, nay decades, Maker's Mark has made hay out of the fact that it makes one thing, and one thing only. Why mess with perfection, they trill. It's like a religion with them, this single-minded attending to The Great Waxy One. I was out there in Loretto, Kentucky, and heard the line when I asked them why they didn't  bottle an "over mature" bottle of Maker's, which I tasted and liked. Because the original is so good, they said. Why divert stock from a product the demand for which they can't even begin to satisfy?

Little did I or the world know that all that time—or at least the past few years—they've been working on a line extension. It's called Maker's 46, and it will be unleashed in June, with 10,000 cases shipping.

Maker's 46 is made of the same stuff and made the same way as the regular Maker's Mark, except for one critical aging fillip. When the bourbon is ready, the barrels are dumped of all liquid. Then, inserted into the barrels are twelve seared staves of French Limousine oak. Seared, not charred; the staves never catch on fire. The booze is poured back in and it ages for two to four more months before being bottled—at 46% alcohol, a notch higher than the regular bourbon. According to a spokesman, the new bourbon is targeted cocktail people and "original adapters of the brand."

The name derives from the fact that the approved formula was chief distiller Kevin Smith 46th try to get it right. Like WD-40. And despite the unorthodox aging twist (no bourbons I know are made using anything but American oak), the government has decreed it can still be called bourbon. New packaging, however, as you can see above. It'll be priced at about 20% above the benchmark Maker's, making it around $65.

Maker's Mark has not increased production, so whatever distillate goes into making Maker's 46 will be taken from what might otherwise be made into standard Maker's.

So what's it taste like? Well, it tastes like rye. Honestly. It's drier and leaner than the regular Maker's, and the sweetness one associates with Maker's is replaced like a tangy, zippy spiciness, which I, frankly, prefer. Not too spicy that it would scare of Maker's faithful. But certainly a step away from smoothness. I see it as working much better in classic cocktails like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned that does the standard Maker's.

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