The whole idea of customization in whiskey is pretty awesome. To me, that goes beyond the basic barrel pick, where you simply choose the best barrel you can find. While I've never been on a Maker's Mark Private Selection pick before, I'm fascinated by the notion that by adding staves, there is a potential for 1,001 combinations. That's what Maker's Mark claims.
The Private Selection program works as follows: You have a fairly basic Maker's Mark 46 and then there are ten barrel staves available for customization. The choices are, Baked American Pure 2 (P2), which offers notes of sweet honey and vanilla with soft oak, Maker's 46 (46), which brings dark fruits and baking spices, Roasted French Mocha (Mo), which brings tobacco and cocoa, Seared French Cuvée (Cu), leading to caramel and molasses, and Toasted French Spice (Sp), with ripe fruit and baking spices. You select any combination of those five.
Where do these barrels and staves come from? None other than Independent Stave Company, so this isn't any wacky cooperage no one has ever heard of.
Maker's Mark is made from a mash of 70% corn, 16% wheat, and 14% malted barley. Its entry proof is lower than average at 110°. It rests about six years more or less in new, #3-charred oak barrels. That's the standard release.
From there, the Maker's 46 program comes into play, and that's interesting in its own right. First, Maker's Mark only fills Maker's 46 barrels between October and February. It is strictly a finishing program. Bottling happens in May. The idea is that the Bourbon is not exposed to the very hot temperatures in the spring and summer months, which limits the volume of tannins the whiskey absorbs. Maker's prefers to work with Maker's 46 when temperatures are 60°F or less.
Today I'm reviewing a customized version by Mahen, with six stores in Wisconsin. They're located in Sauk City, Lodi, Oregon, and three stores in Madison. Store names and addresses are provided at the bottom of this review. Mahen chose six 46, three Mo, and one Sp stave. It was bottled at 111.6° in January 2020. The barrel number is 20-0034, carries no age statement, and a bottle will set you back $78.37 after taxes. There is no pretty sticker or a fancy name.
That's approaching the pricey end of Bourbon. Is the Private Selection program worth it? Time to #DrinkCurious and find out. But first, the disclosure. I was not involved in any way with this pick and, in fact, I'd never heard of Mahen's before being presented this bottle by their distributor, Frank Liquors. I'd like to thank them for a sample of this Bourbon for a no-strings-attached, honest review.
In my Glencairn glass, Mahen's 46 presents as a deep, dark amber. It left an ultra-thin rim on my glass that produced very, very fast legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.
Here's where things became interesting. It was a complete caramel bomb on my olfactory senses. But, hidden under the caramel was a definitive oak and cinnamon. And as I kept sniffing, I picked up berry fruits and new leather. When I inhaled through my lips, flavors of cocoa and smoked oak ran over my tongue.
When I sipped the Bourbon, it offered a thick, viscous mouthfeel. There was no harshness from alcohol burn, which was pleasant considering the proof. The front of my palate enjoyed an unusual marriage of coffee, old leather, and nutmeg. As the whiskey moved to the middle, flavors of chocolate, plum, cherry, and cinnamon. Then, on the back, it became cocoa and tobacco leaf.
But it wasn't done there. A finish of plum, leather, clove and very dry oak refused to give up. In the end, the clove hung around the longest, until cocoa came in for a brief encore.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: To say that this Maker's Private Selection was complex would be an understatement. There was so much going on, each time I sipped I thought I'd miss something, and that kept me coming back for more. Not only was I simply enjoying this Bourbon, but I also became engaged in trying to identify everything. This is one of the more unusual, delicious Bourbons I've had in 2020, and I've had some great ones. Obviously, this runs away with my Bottle rating. Cheers!
- Liquor Baron, 813 Phillips Blvd, Sauk City
- Mahen’s Liquor East, 4276 East Towne Blvd, Madison
- Mahen’s Liquor University Ave, 2909 University Ave Ste D, Madison
- Mahen’s Liquor Oregon, 905 N Main St, Oregon
- Main Street Liquor, 216 Main St, Lodi
- Sadhana Wine Shop, 36 S Bassett St, Madison
My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:
- Bottle = Buy it
- Bar = Try it first
- Bust = Leave it