Maker’s Mark, the Kentucky distillery known for decades for putting out exactly the same premium bourbon, has blossomed into a fountain of experimentation.
This year the company is putting out not one but two limited releases in its ongoing wood-finishing series. Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2021 FAE-02 (let’s just called it FAE-02 for short) will be hitting shelves in stores any minute now. You also can buy it at the the distillery in Loretto.
“Our first 2021 release was crafted to hit you in the face with big, bold aroma and flavor, just like standing in a barrel warehouse – wood, tobacco and spicy dried fruit,” said Jane Bowie, the Maker’s Mark director of innovation.
“With FAE-02, we wanted to explore the softer side of our 2021 taste vision by placing more of the focus on rich, consistent texture and tone that stems from fatty acid esters. Just like the things we find so comforting about artisanal butters, olive oils and creamy spreads, FAE-02 delivers a fattier, full-bodied, mature Maker’s Mark bourbon that makes for an ideal sip on a Fall evening.”
The new release, the fourth bottle in the wood finishing series, is bottled at 109.1 proof and has a suggested retail price of $59.99. It also will be included in the September shipment of The Whisky Drop, Maker’s Mark’s direct-to-consumer subscription service.
Bowie described the creation of this one as “a doozy,” taking more than 40 experiments with different staves to find what they were looking for.
Which was what, exactly? The clue is in the name. FAE actually stands for “fatty acid esters,” not something you’d usually be excited about drinking.
But Bowie said they were going for a very specific mouthfeel, a texture rather than just a taste for the fourth release in this series.
They started each with the original Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, a higher-proof version of the traditional bourbon, then experimented in different ways adding staves of wood that had different treatments.
“It was all about making unique, polarizing, extreme whiskeys,” she said in a virtual tasting via Zoom with journalists. “We’re really married to the taste vision, less to the process.”
Their first release celebrated yeast, the second air-dried wood. Then in 2021, they got “real geeky on the inspiration,” she said. She and master distiller Denny Potter got into “a big argument about taste versus texture,” so they put out two different bourbons.
FAE-01 showcases traditional bourbon flavor and FAE-02 showcases texture, something many bourbon drinkers may not even realize is a factor in their enjoyment.
“We were going for a real ‘fatty’ mouthfeel,” she said.
The winning version used French oak staves toasted with two different techniques on one side, with the other side left raw. It was aged in the barrel eight weeks and four days, the held in a tank for a month”to let it fatten up even more,” Bowie said.
What does it mean when a whiskey is fat?
She described it as having a very different texture o the tongue. It coats it, feels almost sticky, rather than thin and astringent. The end result is a satisfying bourbon with a palate of caramel and oak.
She hopes fans will appreciate their unique variations.
“They’re just fun expressions for people to share that love bourbon. ... I hope they do keep getting better but it’s really just about making fun whiskeys,” she said. “It’s a very different whiskey but it’s still grounded in Maker’s Mark.”