Classification: Straight Bourbon Finished with Oak Staves
Company: Beam Suntory
Distillery: Maker’s Mark
Release Date: March 2023
Mashbill: 70% Corn, 16% Wheat, 14% Malted Barley
Color: Aged bronze
MSRP: $70 (2023)
In 2019 Maker’s Mark introduced their Wood Finishing Series, which was the brand’s first-ever nationally available limited release. Over the next five years, the brand would go on to release multiple expressions, with 2021 and 2022 seeing two releases each respectively. For this year’s expression, Maker’s Mark says the brand's focus is “showcasing the influence of our unique 110 barrel entry proof (BEP). It was crafted to amplify the balanced wood sugars, softer tannins and lasting finish achieved with our low 110 BEP. Special finishing staves were used to amplify notes of vanilla and sweet spice that naturally occur from lower BEPs.”
Maker’s BEP starts off as standard Maker’s Mark, which is a wheated bourbon made in batches of less than 1,000 gallons. Then ten virgin toasted American oak staves are placed in just-emptied standard Maker's Mark barrels, which are then refilled and returned to the warehouses to finish aging for an undisclosed amount of time. This is different from the standard Maker’s Mark 46 process, which uses 10 French oak staves instead. However what doesn’t change is the barrel entry proof, which at 110 proof, is the standard used by Maker’s Mark for their bourbons.
The release is cask strength, with proofs ranging from 109.9-110.7. BEP represents the 7th and final expression in Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series.
A rush of brown sugar and caramel sweetness greet you as you lift the glass. Inhaling deeper brings about graham crackers, dry cinnamon sticks, and hearty charred oak along with a large dose of baking spices. Joining these scents is an undeniable ethanol presence that stands out more than you’d expect for the proof of the bourbon. The dryness of the scents and ethanol note is noticeable and seems to tamper down the potential the nose has. While it is a rich opening that will please many, there’s no denying this nose still has room to spread its wings.
Transitioning to the midpoint of the sip sees all of the scents found in the nose amplified even more. Bold flavors of brown sugar, rich toasted oak, and brown butter pop and are immediately entwined with undeniable spicy cinnamon, dry aged oak, and baking spice notes. The flavors eschew being intricate or exotic, instead focusing and executing on the basics. This is a delicious palate that most people imagine when they think of a well-developed classic Kentucky bourbon.
A rush of cinnamon spice bellows forward and is immediately followed by notes of dry cinnamon stick, leather, and aged oak. As the finish progresses, dry cinnamon spice and dry aged oak pull forward to ride into the sunset together. Medium in length, the finish much like the rest of the sip isn’t overly complex. Instead, it focuses on simpler flavor notes that wrap things up in a very pleasing way and make you excited to go back and experience more of what the bourbon has to offer.
They say that life has a way of coming full circle, and Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series is a great example of this. When this limited edition series started in 2019 with RC6, I noted many of the same traits that BEP now contains. In particular, a prominent ethanol note in the nose, and sweet yet prominently dry notes in the rest of the sip.
As the series went on, each release tended to differentiate itself from a standard Maker’s Mark 46 Cask Strength bottle. Not in gigantic leaps, but more in subtle tweaks here and there throughout each of their respective sips. With rare exception (I’m looking at you FAE-02), it allowed the majority of the bottles to deliver a sip that was slightly elevated from the standard Cask Strength bottle. In this case, BEP carries on that tradition right to the finish line
BEP doesn’t deliver anything off-brand from the wheated cask strength pour that Maker’s Mark fans have come to appreciate. Much like RC6 or say SE4 x PR5, BEP uses a stave variation over the standard Maker’s 46 Cask Strength to differentiate itself. In this case, like last year's BRT-01 release, 10 virgin American oak staves were used versus the French oak staves that the standard version features. The premise is that this change allows BEP to showcase how well of a sip the brand's low barrel entry proof can produce. Simple in nature, yet the results speak for themselves. It accomplishes what the brand claims: enhanced wood sugars, more barrel characteristics, and yes, a slightly more flavorful sip.
With each passing year it seems bourbon brands are in a race to see how far they can push pricing increases on consumers. Triple-digit price tags used to raise eyebrows and now if a limited special release is priced at $150, consumers just shrug their shoulders since this seems to be more and more of the norm nowadays. When the Wood Finishing Series was first introduced, it carried a $60 price tag. Fast forward five years and the price has only gone up by a relatively low $10.
Wouldn’t it be great if more brands adopted this pricing strategy? Yes, Maker’s Mark and Beam Suntory in general have economies of scale going in their favor for keeping prices low, however, not every whiskey release need be a cash grab either. In BEP’s case, the bourbon delivers a sip above their standard offering at a price tag that’s only $10 more. This is a great value plain and simple and I hope to see this trend continue with future limited releases from the brand.
Full of rich flavors, BEP completes the Wood Finishing Series in the same way it started, with a pour that stands out and a price tag that’s still reasonable compared to other limited releases in the market.
As I tasted through BEP, I kept coming back to the simple fact that Maker’s Mark stayed the course through the Wood Finishing Series. Each release brought a subtle flavor profile change compared to the standard version and did so at a very reasonable price. None ever entered the realm of #1 Whiskey of the Year, however, the majority stood out in their own right. In BEP’s case, it delivers a classic sip that is well-rounded and full of rich flavors. If you’re a fan of Maker’s Mark, BEP is a no-brainer bottle to try. For those who normally aren’t a fan of bourbon that flows from that classic red wax dripped top, the Wood Finishing Series was a chance for the brand to highlight their ability to deliver elevated pours, and once again they’ve succeeded in this realm.