MAKER’S MARK WOOD FINISHING SERIES
Batch FAE-01 (2021)
MASH BILL – 70% corn, 16% wheat, 14% malted barley
PROOF – 110.6
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Maker’s Mark
PRICE – $65
WORTH BUYING? – Oh my yes. Get a bottle of this.
I’m realizing this is the first bottle of Maker’s Mark I’ve posted about.
The classic, standard Maker’s Mark release was among my early whiskey purchases as a casually curious drinker, prior to the true advent of my whiskey journey. I liked it. Later, once I had become more intentional with my whiskey interests, I found I preferred Maker’s 46 to the standard release. Sometime after that, as my palate continued to develope, I began to find the standard Maker’s release medicinal. The cask strength release was better, without shaking that medicinal edge. I continued to try the occasional Maker’s Private Select store pick, with their varied finishing staves adding nuance. But my interest in the full Maker’s line waned.
Then this past March I watched Chad and Sara of It’s Bourbon Night review the Maker’s 2021 FAE-01 release. Their relationship to Maker’s is very like mine. But they were quite taken by this release. So when I then happened upon a single bottle of the FAE-01 behind glass at a local BevMo, I gave it a go.
Here are some brief notes, taken about a week after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – a pale orange-amber smearing into richer red-oranges
NOSE – fresh vanilla custard, lemon zest on a lemon custard tart, baked peaches in cream, doughy breakfast bread with cinnamon, rosemary, a fresh floral bloom, very organic sugars in its sweet aspects
TASTE – Oh my… The promises of the nose carry through here, with the cream and custard aspects like a steady wave carrying the fruit and herbal elements
FINISH – doughy breakfast pastry breads, more caramel now, some black pepper, a nice warmth lingering
OVERALL – sweet without going saccharine, a lovely balance of cream and fruit aspects complimented by nicely restrained floral and herbal elements
I remember my early experiences with the 1792 line of bourbons being too floral for my tastes, in a sweet soapy way I just didn’t take to. Over time the 1792 line opened up for me. Standard Maker’s Mark conjures that medicinal memory for me enough that, as I said, I don’t pay much attention to the brand. And so this FAE-01 release comes as a welcome surprise. It is unusually well balanced, and it’s juggling a lot!
I can’t recall off the top of my head another whisky that quite achieves the particular blend of dairy, caramel, floral, herbal, and spice elements that the FAE-01 offers. Each element is very present. And yet none overdo it. The combination of restraint and unabashed flavor is remarkable. It seems it shouldn’t work. But it does.
When I did up notes on the Old Fitz Bottled in Bond 14 Year, I tasted some of this FAE-01 next to it and my eyebrows went up. They are both wheated bourbons—different recipes of course, as well as quite different ages, barrels, and prices. So they intend to offer distinctly different experiences. Both are considered “limited edition” wheated bourbons, so, as both a consumer and whiskey fan, I feel compelled to compare them side by side.
On the nose, where the Maker’s FAE-01 is floral and sweet like an old fashioned candy store, Old Fitz is dusty and spicy like an old fashioned bakery. I then sip at the Old Fitz and get caramels amongst old oak and crusty bread loaves. I sip at the Maker’s FAE-01 and now it too goes bakery, with homemade pastries, cobblers, and sweet sauces. On the finish, Old Fitz leaves dusty oak and dry but flavorful caramel fudge. The Maker’s leaves a bouquet of dried herbs and flowers alongside a variety of fruit and custard filled tarts. Overall, the Maker’s is more complex, offering a great variety of flavor elements. The Old Fitz is more streamlined, offering fewer flavors and less complexity, but still a refined experience.
If I had to choose–and of course I don’t have to choose, capitalism simply conditions us to do so—I’d go for the Maker’s Mark FAE-01 for the great complexity and exquisite balance it offers. At two to three times the price, the Old Fitz offers a fancier bottle and a far less nuanced or complex whiskey.
I believe no small part of my enthusiasm for this Maker’s Mark limited release is that I had low expectations. Also, I don’t care for overly sweet whiskeys, especially when the sweetness tastes sacharrine or synthetic. The FAE-01 is very sweet, but with a sense of restraint resulting in a very active sensation. The whiskey tastes alive. That’s the best way I can think to explain the experience. This bourbon is doing the work with the ease of expertise. It’s not resting on laurels. It feels at once effortless and energized.
This has certainly renewed my interest in the Maker’s Mark 46 stave finishing programs. Whether these annual releases or the various store picks coming out, I may well have a new obsession on my hands akin to my Four Roses single barrel obsession. It’s an opportunity to explore the possibilities that a whiskey recipe can offer when subjected to other tightly controlled conditions—in this case, the impact of further aging with very specific wood staves added to the mix.
The journey continues…