What Is Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky?

What's the Difference Between Maker's Mark and Knob Creek?

Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky

Photo from Beam Suntory 

Maker's Mark is a premium brand of bourbon whiskey produced in Loretto, Kentucky. It is distilled from corn, malted barley, and red winter wheat, then aged in charred oak barrels for five to eight years. Instantly recognizable, when you see red wax dripping down the long neck of a whiskey bottle, you know that it's Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky.

This iconic American whiskey has a sweet flavor profile. It is fantastic neat and on the rocks, and Maker's Mark can create impressive whiskey cocktails. Whether you're a long-time fan or anticipating your very first taste, it is a bourbon that will not disappoint.

Maker's Mark vs. Knob Creek

Knob Creek is another popular brand of Kentucky bourbon. Part of Jim Beam's Small Batch Collection, it is competitively priced with Maker's Mark and other mid-range premium bourbons. Though made in similar ways, the two whiskeys have entirely different characteristics.

Knob Creek is considerably bolder than Maker's Mark, in part, because it is bottled at a stronger 50 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 100 proof). The barrels Knob Creek is aged in also have a deeper char, which imparts a darker oak flavor. At 45 percent ABV (90 proof), Maker's Mark does have a kick, though this bourbon is sweeter. Both whiskeys are excellent straight or in cocktails, and stocking the two bottles in a bar offers a full spectrum of bourbon options.

Fast Facts

  • Ingredients: Corn, malted barley, red winter wheat
  • Proof:  90
  • ABV: 45%
  • Calories in a 1 1/2-ounce shot: 97
  • Origin: Loretto, Kentucky
  • Taste: Sweet, caramel, vanilla, oak
  • Aged: No age statement (between 5 and 8 years)
  • Serve: straight-up, on the rocks, cocktails

What Is Maker's Mark Made From?

Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky is produced, aged, and bottled at the Loretto, Kentucky distillery. They even print the old-fashioned labels and hand-dip each bottle in red wax on-site. It is one of the most picturesque industrial sites you will find, which is why it's a popular stop for travelers.

The family behind Maker's Mark has a long whiskey-making heritage and claims the title of the oldest family in the bourbon industry. Not much has changed since 1953 when Bill Samuels Sr. and his wife Margie first developed the bourbon. Though Beam Suntory now owns the brand, it has remained under the watchful eyes of the Samuels family. For years, it was led by Bill Samuels Jr.—a legend in the whiskey world—who has since turned over the reins to his son, Rob Samuels.

Maker's Mark is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Like all bourbons, it is distilled primarily from corn, with some malted barley thrown into the mix. Adding red winter wheat to the mashbill (rather than the more common rye) is the twist that defines this bourbon. That single ingredient imparts a soft, rich sweetness that propelled Maker's Mark to be one of the most popular bourbons in the world.

The grains are transformed into a mash using limestone-filtered water, which naturally filters out the iron. The mash is then fermented with an heirloom strain of yeast in 100-year-old cypress plank tanks, where sugars are converted into alcohol. Double distillation in copper stills creates a high-alcohol distillate that is ready to be barrel-aged.

As required for all bourbon, the then-clear whiskey is placed in new charred oak barrels. These are rotated in the rackhouse throughout the aging process and are tasted regularly. In the barrel, the whiskey draws flavor from the wood and develops its golden-amber color. Maker's Mark carries no age statement. Instead, the distillery prides itself on pulling the spirit "when it's done." Once ready, the bourbon is blended with the same limestone-filtered water to bottling strength.

Why Is it Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky, Not Whiskey?

The Samuels family has Scottish-Irish roots. This heritage is why Maker's Mark takes on the scotch spelling of "whisky" and drops the "e" commonly used for American whiskeys.

What Does Maker's Mark Taste Like?

Much like Jack Daniel's, Maker's Mark has an unmistakable signature taste. Once you get to know it, you will be able to recognize it instantly, even without seeing the bottle.

The inviting aroma of this bourbon is marked by soft caramel and vanilla accented with wheat and oak. On the palate, the balance of tongue-caressing sweetness, vanilla, caramel, and wood creates a medium-bodied whiskey. The finish is exceptionally smooth, with subtle spice notes that dissipate quickly.

Types

For decades, Maker's Mark was a single-bottle producer. It's said that Bill Sr.'s main goal for the legacy was not "screwing up the whiskey," a motto the following generations have adhered to.

  • Maker's Mark: The original bottle, this whiskey defined the brand's style and taste. At 90 proof, it is slightly stronger than most whiskeys.
  • Maker's Mark 46: The brand's first portfolio expansion, this whiskey was created by Bill Samuels Jr. and released in 2010. To make it, the aged cask-strength bourbon is finished for nine weeks in a limestone cellar with seared French oak staves. The taste is more complex than the original, and the whiskey is bottled at 47 percent ABV (94 proof).
  • Maker's Mark Cask Strength: Following up on 46, the distillery released Cask Strength in 2014. It's the original bourbon, but it is not watered down before bottling. Determined by which barrels are chosen for a particular bottling, the strength varies between 54 percent and 57 percent ABV (108 to 114 proof).
  • Maker's Mark Wood Finishing Series and Private Selection: Similar to 46, these whiskies are finished with 10 staves for nine weeks of finishing in a cold cellar. Several combinations of different wood staves can be added to the barrel to impart subtle variations in the cask-strength bourbon. The distillery releases a limited edition bottling each year, and partnering retailers choose the staves for the Private Selection whiskeys.

How to Drink Maker's Mark

Because it is so smooth, Maker's Mark is a delight to sip straight. Add a splash of water to open up the aromas and flavors, or serve it on the rocks.

The mixability of this whiskey knows no bounds. If you're in doubt about which whiskey to pour into a cocktail, Maker's Mark is a good choice. The soft sweetness makes it mixable with various flavors, but the whiskey still has a punch, so it will never get lost.

A perfect place to begin is with any of the best-known bourbon cocktails, including the old-fashioned, mint julep, and Manhattan. It's also an ideal bourbon for modern cocktail recipes that call for either bourbon or whiskey in general.

Maker's Mark pairs very well with berries (particularly strawberries), citrus fruits, ginger, coffee, and chocolate. It can handle Campari's bitterness in the Boulevardier and the sweet-sour balance of a whiskey sour. Maker's takes sparkles well, too. Try a shot with ginger ale or explore its possibilities in sparkling wine cocktails.

Cocktail Recipes

Maker's Mark is so popular and versatile that many impressive cocktail recipes have been developed to showcase this particular whiskey.

Cooking With Maker's Mark

Beyond drinks, Maker's Mark is an excellent choice for whiskey food recipes. While good in savory things like homemade barbecue sauce, this sweet whiskey shines in desserts, especially with chocolate and anything with pecans. Try it in Kentucky bourbon balls, pecan pie, or any sweet dessert.