Face Off

For a company that was once adamantly against having more than one product on store shelves, Maker’s Mark has done a hard 180 this past decade and changed with the times. It’s no longer enough to put all of a company’s eggs in one basket, as bourbon drinkers expect more and more variety in their bourbon products nowadays. As a result, Maker’s has added to their growing portfolio, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, Maker’s 46, the distillery-only Maker’s 46 Cask Strength that was replaced with the now ongoing Bill Samuel's Private Select, in addition to one of the most unique private selection programs in the industry. Their latest brand extension is the “Travelers’ Exclusive,” Maker’s Mark 101.  

It wasn’t always like this. When Maker’s Mark decided to release a cask strength version of their brand in 2014, it shocked the industry. After all, it was only a year prior that the company announced that they were going to lower the proof of their standard release from 90 to 84 proof in an attempt to meet demand. After the ensuing backlash and a company reversal of their plan, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength was released and it was everything a Maker’s Mark fan ever wanted from the brand. A bolder version of a bourbon classic.

In late 2018, Maker’s Mark announced they would release a 101 proof version of their brand with the caveat that it would only be available at travel duty free shops. This move isn’t unheard of, as many brands often offer a special edition of their product at such locations. Perhaps the company is testing the waters to see if there is demand for yet another version of their flagship bourbon, as Maker's Mark 101 lands in between them proof-wise.

But the question still remains, is Maker’s Mark getting too granular with their products at this point? Do drinker’s really need three options, all with the same mashbill, aging process (Maker's rotates their barrels to maintain consistency), and within 20 proof points (Cask Strength’s proof varies from batch to batch)?  Does one of these releases need to be voted off the island, or does Maker’s 101 need to lose the exclusivity part and deserve a permanent place in the Maker’s Mark lineup?

Maker’s Mark - 90 Proof

Price: $30

Full Review

Nose
: A blast of sweetness immediately greets you with this one. Notes of vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, and even a bit of strawberry are present. It’s a surprisingly strong scent for a 90 proof bourbon.

Palate: Notes of toffee, vanilla, and oak are most prevalent with fainter hints of toasted nut and cinnamon. Overall it has a thin but buttery mouthfeel that goes down smooth.

Finish: The palate’s flavors that carry over to the finish are by no means deep and layered, but overall they’re pleasant and hard to find fault with.

Maker’s Mark 101 "Travelers’ Exclusive" - 101 Proof

Price: $50 (1 Liter)

Nose
: A perfect amount of intensity greets you on the nose. Apple, vanilla, and caramel swirl to create an inviting and pleasing aroma.

Palate: A touch sweet at first sip that quickly transitions into a spicy and oak filled palate. Burnt caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, and toasted nut round out its flavor profile.

Finish: A strong cinnamon burst before transitioning into a dry and hot aftertaste. Lingering amounts of caramel, vanila, and oak make for a very traditional tasting bourbon.

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength - 113.5 Proof

Price: $55

Full Review

Nose
: Faint hints of cherries, cinnamon, and vanilla. It’s overall on the sweet side. The nose is in-line with the standard Maker’s Mark profile, but surprisingly not as potent as I would have thought being over 113 proof.

Palate: Nice full-bodied mouthfeel that coats your tongue. Notes of caramel, toasted nuts, and cinnamon provide a wonderfully flavored sip. The palate also follows the standard Maker’s flavor profile, but it has much more life in it.

Finish: Medium to long finish that has a great mix of sweet and spicy. These contrasting notes play off each other nicely as they keep the high and lows in check. The tail end of the finish concludes with earthy tones. It may be on the low end of the proof range for a cask strength bourbon, but it still packs a decent amount of heat.

Maker’s Mark is a lot of things to a lot of people. For some it’s their first experience with bourbon. For others, they find it incredibly boring and don’t give it a second look. Yet the brand has its superfans. It’s also a bar staple, reliably found in most bars you walk into around the world. I often fell into a few of these categories from time to time. Nowadays, I believe in the brand’s virtues and remain a big fan of their Cask Strength release.

It’s easy to dismiss the standard 90 proof Maker’s Mark for most bourbon enthusiasts. It’s quite tame overall and hard to impress fellow enthusiasts when throwing your acclaim at it. This is where the Maker’s 101 really shines. It’s bigger, bolder, and more robust. This is also how I described Cask Strength in my initial review years ago.

Most surprisingly, Maker’s 101 tastes more potent compared to my 113.5 proof Cask Strength. Both being new bottles, the 101 proof is noticeably hotter, drier, and less sweet than the Cask Strength. How this black magic is accomplished is anyone’s guess. Joking aside, Maker’s 101 reminds me a lot of Old Weller Antique’s characteristics. It also features a potency I don’t often associate with Maker’s Mark.

In contrast, the Cask Strength wears its wheated mashbill on its sleeve much more so than the Maker’s 101. While still potent at times, the Cask Strength tastes sweeter overall with more caramel and butterscotch coming through.

So that leaves the standard 90 proof release. I get it, it’s hard to get excited about it, but it most certainly has a job to do. Acting as the the brand’s welcome wagon, it’s a starting point, and without it, new bourbon drinkers might be scared off by the robustness of the 101 proof or 110+ proof Cask Strength.

Where does that leave us? Besides Maker’s 101 surprisingly tasting a bit more robust and less sweet than the Cask Strength, this lineup is what you’d expect it to be. Simply put, there aren’t any night and day differences. Sure anyone could proof down the Cask Strength version to 101 proof, but there is something less exciting about doing it that way. The 101 proof release might not win over any naysayers of the brand if they weren’t convinced by the Cask Strength release, but for bourbon drinkers curious about a middle-of-the-road proofed Maker’s, the 101 proof is a fun and enjoyable tasting experience.

In the end, who can complain about having more options? With many drinkers citing 100/101 proof as their sweet spot, Maker’s Mark needs to do drinkers a service and make Maker’s 101 a standard everyday addition to their lineup.

If widespread distribution never comes to pass, is the new 101 proof release worth searching out and going out of your way to procure? If you consider yourself a fan of the brand that’s an easy yes. If not, I’m not so sure otherwise. It’s certainly better than the standard 90 proof, but not so much so that 101 proof Maker’s is somehow the brand’s magic proof point that the company was not aware of for all these years. Because of how Maker’s rotates their aging stock, they’re one of the most consistent brands when it comes to flavor profile. This results in proof differences not having the same drastic results that they can with other brands. Maker’s Mark is better at 101 proof than 90 proof, that point is very clear, just don’t expect it to blow your mind. Who knows though, that extra proof just might be a sweet spot for you that makes you give Maker’s Mark a second look.

The sample bottle used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Breaking Bourbon reader Ken. We thank him for the sample and for allowing us to do things with it with no strings attached.

Written By: Eric

May 3, 2019
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Maker’s Mark 90/101/113 Proof Face Off
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