Maker’s Mark 2021 Limited Release FAE-02

MAKER’S MARK WOOD FINISHING SERIES
Batch FAE-02 (2021)

MASH BILL – 70% corn, 16% wheat, 14% malted barley

PROOF – 109.1

AGE – NAS

DISTILLERY – Maker’s Mark

PRICE – $56 (normally ~$65)

WORTH BUYING? – almost

This is the second of a two-part 2021 Limited Release from Maker’s Mark, the first being FAE-01—without question my favorite Maker’s Mark experience to date.

I should say I’m generally not a Maker’s Mark fan. The standard release has an edgy medicinal quality I don’t enjoy. The cask strength release amps everything up, including that medicinal note, so it’s a no-go for me as well. Maker’s 46 I like better, though I haven’t bought a bottle since 2016, which says something. Since then I’ve bought a handful of Maker’s 46 Private Selections, where the added staves are selected by the store doing the pick. These have been interesting and enjoyable, though never enough to compel me to pursue them with any regularity.

Then came the FAE-01. I was blown away. It wasn’t just the best Maker’s I’d had, but counted among my top 2021 whiskey experiences. Sweet, creamy, fruity, herbal, floral, wood-spicy, the FAE-01 offered a bit of everything in vibrant, perfect balance. I enjoyed that bottle from first pour to last. Inspired, I picked up a bottle of the previous 2020 Limited Release, featuring a name worthy of a Star Wars robot, SE4 x PR5, referencing the staves used. That bottle was also excellent.

Naturally I was very excited to see what FAE-02 would bring. Both 2021 releases are non-chill filtered to retain their natural flavors and viscosity. Where the FAE-01 aimed at a balance of robust fruit and oak barrel flavors, the FAE-02 explores texture. It is produced using virgin French Oak barrel staves subjected to two toasting processes, an initial exposure to infrared heat followed by a flame toast finish. The FAE-01 used American Oak staves to amp up fruit and wood-spice. The FAE-02 intends to offer gentler flavors by comparison, in order to reserve emphasis for the mouthfeel.

That’s the idea. What’s it like in practice?

These brief notes were taken near five weeks after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – toasted yellows fading into waves of soft vibrant oranges

NOSE – lovely dusty oak notes, a bright almost antique fruitiness like in some old-fashioned apricot coffee cake, sweet baked cherry, cherry syrup, a caramel apple, dry cut milk chocolate fudge

TASTE – syrupy and thick, those lovely oak notes now thicker and with more of a tannic edge, the fruit notes now more muted behind a thin but dark caramel/chocolate note

FINISH – an initial flare of peppery spice gives way to oak, subtle caramel, and the tang of the fruits without their flavors…

OVERALL – As advertised, a texture-centric bourbon, with a complex nose that doesn’t quite carry through into the taste and finish

Maybe what these two FAE variations are demonstrating to me personally is my preference for flavor over texture—if I had to choose between those two aspects. The nose promises a lot! I could sit with it forever. It’s lovely and layered. It surprised me, then, how stuck the taste and finish were on the oak notes.

It’s almost impossible not to compare the FAE-01 and 02. And I don’t have any 01 on hand to compare them side by side. But my memory of the 01 is strong. And anyway the relationship may be in the “FAE” name only. The first aimed to push the inherent Maker’s Mark fruit notes to the fore, and succeeded mightily. This second aims to offer an experience with texture, and it does. But without the accompanying richness of flavor, the textural experiment lands on me somewhat academically. Why choose between texture and flavor? Ever?

I doubt the people behind these 2021 releases would say they were in any way choosing between texture and flavor. Their own word is to “focus” on one and the other. The 01 had both, though, and I loved it. Here the texture is so much in focus as to blur the flavors for two thirds of the experience, making it a less sensual experience for me overall.

Despite this disappointment, I remain a fan of the Wood Finishing Series. I look forward to the 2022 release!

Cheers!

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