In our daily lives, the term “value” is overused without a real agreement on what it means. A handful of definitions exist for different contexts, but the one most relevant here is “a fair return in goods, services, or money for something exchanged.” The challenge with this description is the notion of fairness which – like beauty – lies in the eye of the beholder.
Another way to describe value is “proper quality at proper cost.” Here as well, “proper” indicates an element of subjectivity. To talk about value in perhaps a more illustrative way, I’ll borrow from SAVE International, a professional organization leading an industry focused on improving value. In industry terms, value is expressed as the relationship between what something does – we’ll call it “performance” – and the resources expended to get that performance.
I’ll explain: performance is measured in whatever attributes matter to the customer. In whiskey terms, that could be aroma, taste, color, rarity, history, perceived trustworthiness, bottle aesthetics, or anything else that attracts one to buy a bottle. This is essentially what the customer really wants; people don’t buy things just for the sake of having things, people buy things for what the thing does for them. If you like buying rare whiskey, part of the reason you buy it is that rarity is important to you. This makes total sense; we encourage people to drink what they like however they like.
We all have different tastes, for sure, but we also have different priorities. This concept can be difficult to grasp since – like art – it can be so personal. For that reason, I remain wary of making decisions based on tasting at a distillery; those environments are crafted to enhance your experience and artificially inflate your impression of the whiskey. My best advice is to ponder those attributes that are important to you and proceed as neutrally as you can manage.
Resources, on the other hand, are easier to quantify. Resources include money, time, effort, or any other way we could express what we do to actually secure a bottle. It’s important to think beyond the sticker price, because there’s always more to it. Let’s say you’re going to go hunt for a bottle around town. Think about the cost of gas these days! And what about time? Your time has worth; maybe you don’t consider your personal time worth as much per hour as you charge your employer for your services, but it must be worth something to you.
Now, think of this formula not so much as an actual equation; rather, recall to your math lessons from [redacted] years ago and ask how you can manipulate the formula to increase the overall result. There are two choices: increase the numerator (better performance) or decrease the denominator (reduced resources).
To illustrate, I’d like to review two bottles that I consider to be among the most valuable in my collection: the Maker’s Mark Community Batches from 2020 and 2021. These bottles are special to me for a few reasons: firstly, my father went out of his way to buy me a bottle without knowing much of anything about bourbon (2020). Secondly – but no less importantly – buying these bottles supported the local restaurant industry at a critical time in the pandemic through a partnership with the LEE Initiative, a nonprofit organization run by famous chef Edward Lee.
Each batch was created by blending 20+ barrel picks from whiskey clubs with “exceptional palates,” as they put it. Buying these allowed me to support a great cause, and that added to my willingness to buy both.
Aesthetic note: The lead photo is of unopened versions of these bottles, only because my open bottles are nearly empty and far less photogenic.
Maker’s Mark Community Batch September 2020 – Review
This is a bottle I originally received as a gift from my father, the first bottle he’s ever given me. I refuse to open that bottle (to save it for sometime very special down the road) but I was able to secure a second bottle and taste it.
On the nose: This starts off with the typical Maker’s cherry note, followed by a strong dose of honey. From here the show starts, with what seems like a parade of wheat, corn, and vanilla. All of it is rich, full, and almost indulgent. Continued nosing reveals brown sugar, tannins, and generally a nice balance of everything I could personally want in a bourbon.
In the mouth: Medium viscosity, with nearly all of the sweetness from the nose carrying through. A nice dose of heat gives the “Kentucky hug” feeling, but overall it seems to be well balanced. Repeated tasting brings vanilla, caramel, and something reminiscent of fall without being smokey.
In terms of the “performance” I mentioned above: wow. I rarely buy a backup bottle of anything, but boy am I glad I have another one of these. Tasting this again reminded me why I was so hesitant to share it with friends; as I am reminded, I enjoyed this so much I worried that if others didn’t enjoy it, I was wasting fantastic bourbon.
Grading on the whiskey itself, this is among the best I’ve ever had. Further, the concept of community hit home for me, and I was delighted to support an industry that was under significant duress at the time. Considering the high marks and the price point of $80, this is a huge value in my opinion.
Maker’s Mark Community Batch October 2021 – Review
Color: Brown-amber (nearly identical, to be honest.)
On the nose: Not as sweet. Similar notes to the 2020 batch but in different proportions; definitely more in favor of oak and cherry than the sweetness from the previous offering. Sweet, but not cloyingly so. At the time of this writing, my take is that this is one of THE most well-balanced noses I can recall experiencing.
In the mouth: Thicker than the 2020; not sure I’d consider it highly viscous, but coats the tongue well. If you are worried about the “burn,” this does have a bit more punch to it, but I think it’s at an excellent place considering the proof. Nearly all notes carry through, which is abnormal. Front to back, I get those wonderful caramel and wood notes again. The finish is delightfully long.
The 2021 release is extremely similar, with only slight differences in the balance of flavors. Like its predecessor, this is wonderful.
Thankfully, the folks with the LEE Initiative kept this at the same price point. A nearly similar review across the board gives me the pleasure of considering this release another bottle of very high value.
On a related note, the LEE Initiative is currently focusing on supporting efforts to help in the Eastern Kentucky floods that recently devastated that area. Please consider contributing to their cause.
SAVE International (www.value-eng.org)
“Lawrence D. Miles: Recollections,” Miles Value Foundation