I finally got my hands on some of the new Maker’s Mark 46 the other night at Foundation, a nice little bar in downtown Raleigh. I attempted to obtain a sample bottle from the nice people at Maker’s Mark in advance of its official release, but they must have known that I wouldn’t be impressed because they never put one in the mail. So just like everyone else, I waited for the “bourbon” to ship on July 9th and bought a double from a local bourbon bar, neat with ice in a side glass. I put the word bourbon in quotation marks when referring to the 46 because in my opinion this one pushes the limits (can you feel the bourbon snobbery emerging?).
The best part about this “bourbon” was the bar that I ordered it from. Nestled under Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, you will walk right by the place and never even know it is there. But like all great taverns, Foundation has no use for a big fancy sign or flashy advertisements. This place is legendary and its bourbon collection is second to none! Did I mention that they make all of their cocktails from fresh ingredients purchased at the North Carolina Farmer’s Market and they make their own sodas (cola, ginger ale, and tonic)? Uniquely incredible!
Backstory aside, Maker’s Mark has been talking about this new “bourbon” for several months now which has piqued the interest of the close-nit bourbon community. I for one was expecting to loose my socks over this one, but ended up a more than a little disappointed. The stuff isn’t terrible, it just isn’t real bourbon in my book. When they are aging the 46, after a few years they dump the barrel, suspend 10 additional staves of seared wood in the empty barrel, then put the bourbon back in the barrel to age a little longer with the additional wood. I guess this technically fits within the official definition of bourbon, but it represents a significant change in the aging and maturation process that I am not totally comfortable with. When I taste a bourbon, I often think about the fact that it developed over several years in that barrel, unadulterated and minimally disturbed. To know that this bourbon was essentially re-barreled during the aging process sort of deprives it of tradition. Had my first sip unveiled a pleasurable taste that surpassed all expectations of what a bourbon can be, perhaps I would not be so critical. The truth is that this “bourbon” is nothing special and certainly not just cause for tampering with a time honored tradition to produce. My hat’s off to all of the premium bourbon distillers who have learned to make fine bourbon without altering the 220 year old process. My advice to Maker’s Mark: stick to what you know and stop trying to get fancy with one of Americas oldest traditions.