Maker’s Mark BRT-01

Ever get the feeling that something is missing?

I am not talking about FOMO; there’s plenty of that in the whiskey community to go around. He who has never sworn off purchasing another bottle, only to find himself irresistibly tempted by a shiny new expression on the store shelf, may cast the first stone. Rather, I am referring to a sense of incompleteness, a gnawing anxiety that there has been some omission or oversight.

Whisk(e)y makers understand this well, and some of them use it against us, for their benefit. In Scotch whisky we have examples like the numbered Macallan Edition series. What are the odds that someone who picked up Editions 1 through 4 is not going to plump for the fifth bottle (and sixth, and seventh, and so on ad infinitum)?

On this side of the pond, I’ll cop to being a sucker for a couple of distilleries’ sequential sets. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is one that I buy whenever I see it, with my library of back releases growing regularly. Frequent readers of this site will be familiar with my fondness for Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. If you asked me to prove it, I’d point you to the time that I reviewed 14 of them spanning six years.

Speaking of Maker’s Mark: when they’re not churning out a perfectly respectable mainstay bourbon or another (typically above average) batch of Cask Strength, the distillery has been providing us annual limited editions in their Wood Finishing Series. While these have been mixed in terms of the outcomes, they have the benefit of being comparatively inexpensive and easy to find, versus limited editions from other distilleries.

Thus, despite not always loving them, I’m happy to roll the dice and pick up a bottle of the newest expression whenever one crosses my path. That same ease of access means that I don’t feel any hesitation in opening and enjoying these. They’re uncommon enough to be interesting, but common enough that they don’t need to be hoarded jealously.

Matt Kusek recently bemoaned the end of the Wood Finishing Series, of which the bottle I’ll be reviewing today is a member. In contrast to my normal practice described above, this bottle had sat unopened since I first purchased it a few months ago. Reading Matt’s piece prompted me to pull it off the shelf, open the red wax seal, and dig in.

I (or rather, my wife) initially picked up the second twin in this set, the BRT-02. Consult that review if you’d like an in-depth look at the story behind this pair. For a more succinct refresher, here’s the summary of this duo provided by Maker’s:

“The name BRT was given to these expressions because of the influence our consistent practice of hand-barrel rotation (BRT) and temperature has on our whisky process. Made to be enjoyed as a pair, BRT-01 is inspired by the tasting notes found at the hotter top of the rickhouse.”

If anything, I am more excited about BRT-01 than I was about BRT-02. The reason for that is that I prefer high proof barrels of bourbon, which often come from the upper (hotter) parts of the rickhouse. This is not typically a style I associate with Maker’s which, as they pointed out, rotates barrels for consistency. I could see it going either way, but at least it will be a novel experience, I hope.

Final specifics: As with BRT-02, SRP for this expression was $60. This comes to us at an identical 109.4 proof (54.7% ABV) and uses a different recipe of 10 virgin toasted American oak staves (BRT-02 used French oak staves).

Maker’s Mark BRT-01 – Review

Color: Medium golden orange.

On the nose: A fruity – almost winey – topnote is the dominant aroma at first. Additional sniffing reveals a piquant whiff of acetone, as well as the creamy and nutty scent of peanut butter. There’s a sharp and juvenile-smelling woodiness to this as well. Some time in the glass allows this to evolve a note of cherry ice cream and a garrigue note reminiscent of red Rhône wine.

In the mouth: This starts off exuberantly, with a burst of ripe cherry flavor at the front of the mouth. This takes on the flavor of orange juice with some floral accents as it moves toward the middle of the mouth. There, a rounded fruitiness is suddenly pierced by a sharp dagger of astringent, tannic woodiness. That note calms down a little bit as the whiskey is carried into the finish by a zesty nip of freshly cut ginger. This lingers for a while, with the accompaniment of a radiant heat that lingers on the back and roof of the mouth.


The woody note on the nose created a sense of foreboding in me, knowing as I did that this was augmented with ten staves. The wood accents on the palate, while not as potent as I feared, still felt unbalanced at points. I would have liked that initial cherry note to carry through to the midpalate, but felt crowded out by the wood.

Whereas I will be happy to scoop up any remaining bottles of BRT-02, I can’t say the same about this BRT-01. To reflect that, I am giving a score one notch below the middle of the range.

Score: 4/10

While Matt may be sad to see the Wood Finishing Series go, I’m happy that Maker’s is moving in new and different directions. Between the seven bottles in the series, plus the endless amount of stave combinations in the Private Select program, I feel like the possibilities of this approach have been thoroughly exhausted. My relationship to Maker’s will remain as follows: a steadfast consumer of Cask Strength at home, a regular enjoyer of the mainstay expression abroad, and openminded about whatever comes next, so long as it remains reasonably priced and widely available.

Lead image courtesy of Maker’s Mark.

  1. PBMichiganWolverine says:

    The first few in this series were reasonable priced, but I think it was starting with BRT, retailers were marking up 2-4x of the $60 price suggestion. I think this experiment set a pricing precedent unfortunately for the next series run.
    At $60-70, I was a buyer. Can’t seem to justify over that price, me personally at least.

    1. Taylor says:

      PB, I would also not be a buyer of these above SRP, much less at a multiple. There’s just too much other god stuff out there, including MMCS. As always, cheers for the comment and GO BLUE!

  2. Greg B. says:

    Not that this or any of the other variations will be available to me locally, but I have many questions regardless. Those mostly deal with the term “cask strength” as it relates to Makers.

    The recent explosion of popularity for cask/barrel strength whisky leads to questioning the meaning of the term. In the case of MM we do see some consistency, with their offerings labeled as cask strength coming in at around 55% ABV +/- some small variation. Yet this is generally lower than many other CS bourbons, where CS usually means something 60% and above, sometimes considerably above. What I have trouble grasping is whether “cask strength” means zero dilution whatsoever, or if there is any regulation or other sort of guidelines around the use of that term.

    If MM is indeed at 55% ABV out of the barrel then it would have to mean their distillation process produces significantly less alcohol than other distillers. I have never heard that discussed or explained, so it would be worthy of further info on that point.

    One side point: for many distillers, CS offerings must be considerably more profitable given that they sacrifice about 30% of the number of available bottles but gain a pricing advantage of 50% or more as a result, particularly in the current manic market where high markups for special products are commonplace. I don’t find sipping CS 60+%ABV whisky straight up to be particularly pleasant most of the time – I’m not one of the he-man types – but do see some interest and benefit if you open it up with a tiny amount of water. Whether that is worth the price premium is open for debate though.

    1. Taylor says:

      Some good questions here, thanks Greg. A quick explanation: the strength at which a whiskey comes out of the barrel is a function of two things: the strength at which it entered the barrel, and whether it rose (or fell) in proof as it matured. Maximum barrel entry proof is set at 125 (62.5%) by law, but the whiskey doesn’t have to enter the barrel this high. Some (such as Maker’s) believe that a lower barrel entry proof creates a better flavor development, so the whiskey is proofed down more (water added) prior to going into the barrel. In the case of Maker’s, barrel entry proof is 110 (55% ABV).

      Next, maturation. Simplistically: higher and hotter parts of the rickhouse will see barrels proof up, as water evaporates faster than alcohol in these conditions. Conversely, lower and cooler parts of the rickhouse will have barrels that drop in proof, as alcohol evaporates faster than water. The barrel proof expressions you’ve seen with high 60% or 70%+ ABV (for example ECBP) entered the barrel at 125 and then were stored in higher parts of the rickhouse, resulting in a much higher barrel proof.

      Maker’s rotates barrels between parts of the rickhouse to try to achieve consistency. This is why all their Cask Strength expressions are close to (but not exactly) 55% ABV, which you’ll notice is also their barrel entry proof. There’s no shenanigans, as far as I am aware.

      However, there is no legal standard for use of the term “barrel proof” or “cask strength,” in the way that “bourbon” and “straight” are defined by the TTB. Thus you could hypothetically bottle whiskey at any proof and call it “barrel proof.” Two that spring to mind are the Ezra Brooks and Rebel Cask Strength expressions, which are consistently 120 proof, meaning that water has likely been added to keep them at that level.

      Hope this helps? Thanks again for asking!

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