I've not had a glass of Makers Mark in at least two years, as I have been preoccupied with various other bourbons and single malts. This is somewhat shocking considering it was one of the first bourbons I convinced myself that I enjoyed. I'm 27 and about 10 years ago, I managed to get my hands on a bottle of the stuff courtesy of a dear, well-meaning family friend who considered this the only bourbon worth sipping neat. It was to be a bottle of this stuff coupled with the latest Tom Waits record at the time "Real Gone" that would be the experience of a particular memorable weekend. The album, I had procured on a rugged tour working a showcase with 4 other bands across the country. The touring experience was unfortunately cut short by the death of my dear granddad whom I was very fond of. I was 16 or 17 at the time.
I took a flight back to my homestate of Virginia from Jersey or Philly, i honestly can't remember. What I do remember is a night that occurred a few weeks after the family situation had settled down and I had begun to get a grip on everything.
I remember the night fondly. I arrived at a party in the middle of nowhere. A cabin in the wood. With my prize bourbon hidden away for the time being, I scoped out the "scene" looking for a peer to have some intimate conversation with, low and behold I ran into a friend of mine whom i'd gotten to know rather well when i was in highschool ( he was to be a music critic & radio show host years later). Everyone was having a grand wild social time, yet our mutual passion for Mr Waits and a bit of old fashioned introversion led us to hiding away in my car(parked of course) in a muddy makeshift space among the other patron's vehicles. We found ourselves enjoying this ultra gritty album, on my vehicle's rather balanced stereo system playing the cuts in a grand fashion…all the while company of this rather sippable whisky while the other patrons raged on inside the house.
We decided, as a couple of hedonistic young bucks often will, to sip this bourbon together straight from the bottle and one thing led to another… Our singing turned to howling my friends, all in the light that the full moon overhead as it would happen. I don't remember much of the experience after a certain point given my lack of experience drinking straight bourbon at the time, but i consider it the beginning of my journey into creating "moments" with whisky.
Fast forward 10 or so years. I must say that I have had several bottles of this stuff in the years leading up to my whisky exploration breakthrough. Perhaps for novel reasons, or some kind of naive brand loyalty I bought the stuff over the years when I was feeling it. Yet, for whatever reason, once i started my journey into my real whisky obsession, I somehow always overlooked it while exploring. So about 300 bottles since my last dram, i think it might just be appropriate that i give my first review of tonight's experience with the old familiar yet unfamiliar bastard i was once fairly close to. She was a gift from a friend as well, so i'm rather optimistic!
Nose: A contradictory combination of rich yet delicate dried floral notes, perfumed subtle woodiness and a raisin like quality with a bit of crisp apple with an interesting clean polish note. Quite clean. All of this of course alongside the basic vanilla, caramel and cinnamon qualities i'm always annoyed to read about given their inherent existence in most bourbons. Also a bit of meatiness, which i associate with wheated bourbons (anyone else detect meaty notes in wheated bourbons?). There is a bit of a dusty wood and subtle tobacco like quality which is a bit misleading for me personally given what happens on the palate. A touch of oregano and hint of dried basil. Makes me think of giant new york style pizza slices you get at the odd amazing hole in the wall pizza joints up north with the salt shakers of spices available at the counter.
Palate: Buttery and a bit of a light oily feel. Lots of corn presence, almost reminds me of the corn quality i enjoy in George Dickel.. . The nice raisin note detected in the nose speaking its voice on the tongue which reminds me somewhat abstractly of Edradour whiskies i've tried. Nice and soft. I feel this is a completely approachable whisky experience, which one could either contemplate and tease a bit more from, or just relax and enjoy in a simplistic comforting style of this whisky.
Finish: Its very "tidy". I don't sip anything which i would consider tidy very often. It's unique to me compared to most of the whiskies which i sip regularly these days in that the finish doesn't really deliver an additional aspect to the experience of tasting it. I wouldn't be surprised if this is seen as a virtue to this whisky by some drinkers and i wouldn't judge anyone for enjoying that style. Its certainly not overwhelming and its softness is adorable, and i mean that the best sense of the word. Perhaps it is this quality that is quintessential in the maker's mark profile. It seems to be providing consumers with an access point to some quality bourbon flavors without some of the louder fireworks that can be found in some other more challenging whiskies. I can see why people might say that this seems a bit spirity, given its very clean ending which I associate with more neutral styles of spirits.
Overall: I'm glad I have a bottle to explore again, perhaps, i'll pour to enjoy casually and not feel like i have to withdraw from conversation to appreciate but there are definitely some moments to be had with many aspects of this whisky or many different styles of whisky drinkers, though its clean nature could disappoint one who is fond of more character driven whiskies. It's not that Maker's Mark isn't a character whisky, is just a bit too well behaved and rarely acts out or surprises beyond the nose.