26 Feb 2013
Maker’s Mark stunned many in the bourbon world recently by announcing it was reducing the proof of its bourbon from 90- to 84-proof. The bourbon was staying the same (the same mash bill aged the same number of years), except the ABV was dropping from 45% to 42%.
But when the backlash was more than expected, Maker’s Mark said “never mind” on the reduced proof. While that may have been the right decision, it leaves unresolved the problem that the watering down was meant to address: Demand for Maker’s Mark outpaces the supply of fully aged Maker’s (a problem that will take years to fix.)
So fans of Maker’s Mark may have trouble finding their bourbon. Given Maker’s Mark’s “wheated” recipe, which emphasizes sweetness over spice, here are a few other bourbons to try if you can’t find that iconic red wax bottle, or if you just want to try something new.
Maker’s Mark 46 – Instead of going into to the bottling line, some Maker’s Mark is diverted to a second period of aging with a barrel using seared French oak staves. The result is a more complex, more complete bourbon. It’s $10-15 more per bottle, but well worth it in my opinion.
Old Fitzgerald – Whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery says he’s heard stories that Pappy Van Winkle gave Maker’s Mark creator Bill Samuels Sr. his Old Fitzgerald recipe for what would become Maker’s: “Put it in a fancy bottle and charge an arm and a leg for it.” Today Old Fitzgerald is made at Heaven Hill Distillery. The regular 80-proof gold label is slightly less refined than Maker’s but also half the price ($13).
Larceny – This newcomer, also from Heaven Hill, impressed me when I tried it. Just as sweet as Maker’s but richer in character, it’s more my style. And at $25 a bottle it’s the same price as Maker’s.
Old Weller Antique 107 – Weller is the “wheated” recipe from Buffalo Trace Distillery. At 107-proof, this is a bit hot straight. A splash of water opens it up nicely with banana, vanilla, and caramel notes. Also around $25 a bottle, it’s a great substitute for Maker’s Mark.
Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 – This special 18-year-old bourbon is a pricy, limited bottling of some of the last remaining bourbon distilled at the Stitzel-Weller distillery, which closed in 1992 (meaning it’s the pretty much the same stuff that goes into the super-elusive Pappy Van Winkle 23). While $80-100 per bottle makes it a big step up in price, if you want to see what extra long aging can do to a “wheated” bourbon, this is the tasty result.
photo credit: Stogie Guys