When it comes to hype in whiskey, even a newbie can tell you that limited releases tend to generate all the biggest buzz for their parent distilleries. Still, some of the major distillers out there have largely been content to operate without a busy slate of attention-grabbing limited releases, confident in the strength of their core product. For many years, that was Maker’s Mark—they have their flagship wheated bourbon, its cask strength version, and a few additional, regular releases like Maker’s 46 and the personally customizable Private Selection series. It’s a pretty tidy product lineup, all in all.
Still, just about everyone has to get into the limited release game eventually, and Maker’s took the dive in 2019 with their first ever nationally available limited release, simply titled Maker’s Mark 2019 Wood Finishing Series. And today, they’ve announced the 2020 version of that project, debuting two new styles of wood staves that make this particular bourbon unique.
The Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series program can be thought of as an extension of the philosophy and processes that first began with Maker’s 46 a decade ago. That whiskey takes Maker’s classic wheated bourbon and then finishes it with an array of specially charred barrel staves to infuse the final product with a bolder and more expansive flavor profile. The Private Selection series then followed suit, allowing customers to customize their own barrel of Maker’s Mark with a variety of different stave types.
The limited release Wood Finishing Series, on the other hand, comes up with new stave types, in order to create versions of Maker’s Mark Bourbon that the world has never seen before. Last year, that stave was called RC6, which the distillery says amplifies “fruit flavors inspired by the proprietary Maker’s Mark yeast strain.” This year, however, is a bit different, as Maker’s Mark has developed TWO new staves dubbed SE4 and PR5, from Independent Stave Company.
“Since the introduction of Maker’s Mark 46, wood staves have become our tool of choice for unlocking and amplifying natural flavors already present in our classic Maker’s Mark—always purposefully and with a specific taste vision in mind,” said Jane Bowie, Director of Innovation in the company’s press release. “Where Maker’s Mark 46 was about creating a ‘bolder’ Maker’s, and the 2019 release was all about boosting the notes of baking spice and fruit, our 2020 Limited Release has been a quest to amp up those rich vanilla and buttery-caramel flavors that typically stem from our unique approach to seasoning our barrel wood outside for a full year.”
The SE4 staves are air-dried Virgin French Oak, which is “convection cooked at medium heat with a short toast period and responsible for much of the caramel flavor.” The PR5, on the other hand, is American oak that is “convection cooked at low heat very slowly over time to bring out vanilla.” Together, the company says they make for “a rich Maker’s Mark reminiscent of butter pecan.” The batch is bottled at a (relatively low) cask strength of 110.8 proof, and will retail for an MSRP of $60 beginning in September, while supplies last.
It will be interesting to see if retailers honor that particular MSRP, or mark it up significantly, considering the frenzy that surrounds many sought-after wheated bourbons, particularly those from Buffalo Trace. Maker’s Mark is a distillery that almost invariably leans toward good value in its products, but limited release whiskeys are often another matter entirely. Let’s hope that some of it remains on shelves, and it doesn’t pull a W.L. Weller-like vanishing act.