Tasting The 2020 Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series With Jane Bowie

For the longest time Maker’s Mark only made one thing: Maker’s Mark.  There’s nothing wrong with that – they were REALLY good at it. But eventually, Jane Bowie came along and started to experiment. Maker’s 46 was a result of lots of research between Bowie and Bill Samuels, Jr. that eventually snowballed into the Maker’s Mark Private Select program. Now Bowie and her team together with folks from Independent Stave work together to create periodic special releases using the knowledge gained from all these programs and experiments, the most recent of which is the 2020 Limited Release SE4 x PR5.

“Since the introduction of Maker’s Mark 46, wood staves have become our tool of choice for unlocking and amplifying natural flavors already present in our classic Maker’s Mark – always purposefully and with a specific taste vision in mind,” says Jane Bowie, Director of Innovation at Maker’s Mark. “Where Maker’s Mark 46 was about creating a ‘bolder’ Maker’s, and the 2019 release was all about boosting the notes of baking spice and fruit, our 2020 Limited Release has been a quest to amp up those rich vanilla and buttery-caramel flavors that typically stem from our unique approach to seasoning our barrel wood outside for a full year.”

This release is a batch of Maker’s Mark whiskey that has been aged with additional staves, much like the Private Select program, except with different staves. The result is whiskey treated with two different staves, one of which is used with two different ages.

“This is the hardest one we’ve ever done,” says Bowie. “We wanted to stick with the taste vision.”

Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

Independent Stave plays a major part in this project, as well. According to Bowie, the wood spends a minimum of 12 months air drying, which leaches out all the tannins. When it rains, she says, it looks like rust is being washed onto the ground. As the wood breaks down it produces vanillin.

“My role at ISC is focusing on oak science, listening to what our customers taste vision is and then working in the lab to review species, seasoning and toasts to create the tools for them to bring their whisky to life,” says Andrew Wiehebrink, Director of Spirit Research and Innovation at Independent Stave Company.  “While this year’s effort was more complicated to get to the finished product, we did far fewer stave trials as they found stave profiles they were looking for pretty quickly.  The tricky part was figuring out the threshold of flavor from each of the staves and how the whiskies they created blended and worked together.”

 “To me, this whisky showcases the marriage of art and science,”  Wiehebrink says. “We typically focus on the science of the oak and how it finishes with the already produced whisky,  but this year they brought  the art of blending into the mix to nail the taste vision Maker’s Mark was really striving to achieve.”

This particular release took about 19 months because of all the testing and blending and batching. It took 50-60 staves and hundreds of blending trials to reach the final product.

Another monkey wrench in the machinery for this release was the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were all blending at home,” Bowie says.

Also because of the pandemic a media tasting for this release was conducted via Zoom, which was both a nice diversion from pandemic life as well as an interesting new way to try a new offering.

Interestingly, Bowie reports that “We take the liquid home and see how it drinks on our natural environment. We do both home and lab to see how it translates.”

As to whether this type of release will be done in regular increments, it seems more like it will be ready when it’s ready. In fact, they have already begun research for the next release.

That taste vision Bowie mentioned? This particular release was meant to play up caramel and vanilla notes that Maker’s Mark is known for. If you like the vanillas and the caramels in your whiskey, this is a good bet for you.

This 110.8 proof whiskey will retail around $60 and will be available in stores sometime in September.

Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

Cover image courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

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