“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu

Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged is the expression that Maker’s Mark enthusiasts have been dreaming of for years. Well, more generally: the idea of an age-stated Maker’s Mark expression has been the holy grail for hordes of the brand’s fans, and it’s easy to see why. With Pappy Van Winkle standing as perhaps the most coveted American whiskey on the market, Maker’s Mark devotees have long wondered when their favorite wheated bourbon would get its time in the sun. That’s not to say that Maker’s Mark is at all overlooked on the American whiskey landscape. To the contrary, Maker’s Mark is a mega brand with a storied history to rival that of any Kentucky bourbon you can name.

That history was forged by Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Famers like T. William Samuels, Bill Samuels Jr., and Margie Samuels. Today, Rob Samuels, the eighth generation distiller who currently serves as the distillery’s managing director, is charting a course for the future of the brand’s legacy.

Let’s begin by talking about what exactly Maker’s Mark’s legacy is. As Rob told me when I had the chance to visit the distillery recently, T. William Samuels had a pioneering flavor vision for his brand. His goal was to create a bourbon that was full of flavor but absent of the harsh bite that so many people associate with the spirit. Bill Sr.’s idea was a popular one, and it helped propel Maker’s Mark into the hearts of adoring imbibers across America.

It’s that flavor vision that has continued to be Maker’s Mark’s North Star, even as recent line extensions such as Maker’s 46, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, and Maker’s Mark Private Select were introduced in the last dozen or so years.

The challenge Rob Samuels faced in ideating this latest edition, Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged, was to deliver a whiskey that the brand’s fans have long been calling for while also remaining true to his family’s legacy. His solution? Utilize the newly created limestone cellar – built in 2016 to consistently produce Maker’s 46 and support their stave-finished program – to ease the influence of oak tannins on Maker’s Mark whiskey.

The brand takes fully mature whiskey aged the traditional way in their warehouses and then puts those barrels in the limestone cellar, where the constant temperature of 50 degrees drastically slows down the typical aging process. Those six-to-seven-year-old barrels then spend the rest of their life cycles in the cool climate, where they continue to oxidize, enhancing the richness of their flavor without absorbing the harsh tannins that result in a sharp finish.

For a brand that’s long been adamant about doing things the traditional way, and doing them their own way, it’s a highly inventive gift to their many adherents. Now, at last, Maker’s Mark has an annual, age-stated release to satisfy wheated bourbon fans the world over.
That just leaves one question, dear reader, and that is how does it taste? Before I answer that question let’s dispense with the rest of the specifics.

Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged is a blend of 225 barrels with 87% of the whiskey aged for 12 years and 13% aged for 11 years. Again, those barrels spent roughly half of their life cycle in a traditional warehouse where they were rotated every three years. Finally, they were transferred to the constant climate of Maker’s Mark’s limestone cellar in 2016 until they were ready to make their debut. Bottled at 115.7 Proof (57.85% ABV) and featuring a mash bill of 70% corn, 16% red winter wheat, and 14% malted barley Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged has an MSRP of $150. Though I first sampled Cellar Aged courtesy of Maker’s Mark – which will not affect my notes or score – this bottle was purchased by me.

Will Rob Samuels’ inspired innovation result in a whiskey to rival his most heralded competitors or serve more as an alluring alternative for the brand’s core fans? It’s time to find out!

Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged – Review

Color: Deep amber with auburn glints.

On the nose: Citrus and cinnamon lead the way before macerated cherries, thyme, and black pepper amble in. Caramel slowly grows in influence as does leather with subsequent nosings. Finally, there’s a bit of sweet oak that belies its age, but it exists in the shadow of several other concentrated classic Maker’s Mark aromas.

In the mouth: I know comparison is the thief of joy, but this quite naturally reminds me of Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, though the depth of flavor is more striking, and the baking spice is simultaneously more pronounced yet more mellow and approachable. It really is remarkable to experience such a fine-tuned Maker’s Mark expression. A second sip sees notes of bright cherry and vanilla soar. Soon, nutmeg and oak mark their appearance on the gentle finish which is only slightly drying in a way that encourages repeat sips more than insisting on a swig of water. All told I keep returning to the phrase “fine-tuned” as this work of art clearly exhibits its craftsman’s touch.

Conclusions:

Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged showcases a unique aging process that raises the ceiling of their cask strength distillate’s richness, while retaining the approachability that stands as one of their defining features. That said, Cellar Aged has more character and even more spice than, say, Pappy Van Winkle 15, but slightly less balance and a more restrained mouthfeel.

While it isn’t enough to outright supplant its most obvious competitor, where Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged succeeds is in taking the quintessential flavors in the brand’s flagship product and elevating them to heights hitherto unseen. While the trophy hunters looking for a Pappy replacement will be disappointed, fans of the brand will be blown away to find their favorite whiskey is finally all grown up. To quote Malt’s Scoring Bands, “In an ideal world all whisk(e)y would reach this level: great balance, some real interest beyond the cask, where the spirit shines out, too.” That can most certainly be said here.

Score: 7/10

CategoriesAmerican
  1. Black Bourbon Maverick says:

    Fully understanding the malt scoring scale, I completely agree with the score. Furthermore, I completely agree with the conclusion and it’s comparison to Pappy Van Winkle. It may not be ready to eclipse PVW or WLW, but this is definitely a great release. Something to be said about aging in the cold climate that exists in that cellar. I can only imagine what future cellar aged release could like in the future. Could there ever be a 17 or 20 year release? Hmmm

  2. John says:

    Wow. I haven’t really been following Makers Mark for the longest time. So I’m glad and surprised that they finally came out with a double digit aged bourbon.

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