It seems the latest release in Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series has led to a little confusion, or even consternation, among some whiskey fans, so let’s clear it up here. These two new bourbons, simply called BRT-01 and BRT-02, are inspired by flavors particular areas of the Maker’s Mark rackhouses (warehouses where the barrels are aged) elicit from the whiskey, and were not actually matured in those specific areas. So let’s back up a bit to provide some context for the meticulous whiskey fans who, understandably, desire some transparency.
The Wood Finishing Series has been around for several years now, with the 2022 duo of bourbons being the fourth release. This concept can be traced back to Maker’s 46, the bourbon that launched over a decade ago that’s infused with flavor through the addition of French oak staves into barrels of cask-strength Maker’s Mark. From there, you can follow a direct line to the Wood Finishing Series. Each release is an attempt to reflect nuances from custom-cooked wood staves. These two new expressions evoke flavors from both the hotter top portion of the rackhouse and the cooler bottom area.
Barrels at the top tend to age “faster,” meaning there’s more interaction between wood and whiskey because of higher temperatures and humidity.
Maker’s Mark is one of the few distilleries that hand rotates its barrels—every single one of them, according to a rep for the brand. It’s a labor-intensive process, no doubt, moving barrels from the top to the bottom of the rackhouses as they mature to even out flavors and maintain consistency.
The easier method would be the more common practice of dumping a bunch of barrels from the top and a bunch from the bottom into a tank, then blending them all together. But, as we mentioned, Maker’s Mark was after nuance. So about those two new additions to the Wood Finishing Series…
BRT-01 is meant to evoke the flavors picked up from the hotter top of the rackhouse via 10 virgin oak staves that were inserted into the whiskey. Indeed, this is a big, oaky bourbon, with tannic notes surrounded by brown sugar, honey, caramel, and a splash of ripe red berries and stone fruit. The finish is dry with a bit of spice on the final drop.
BRT-02, on the other hand, is meant to evoke the cooler bottom of the rackhouse. This is a very different bourbon with much softer caramel and candy apples notes, followed by butterscotch, creamsicle, grape candy, and a bit of molasses on the finish. Both are very good in their own right.
So yes, this whiskey thought experiment has been actualized by the use of Maker’s oak stave finishing—a method other whiskey brands have taken on in recent years as well. As to whether each one really captures the essence of warehouse placement, well, that’s arguably a bit subjective and the marketing influence cannot be counted out.
That said, these are tasty new limited-edition whiskeys from a distillery that’s consistently putting out solid bourbon. Some might even say Maker’s Mark is even under-recognized compared to flashy new releases from Buffalo Trace, Michter’s, and even its sister distillery Jim Beam.
Maker’s is far from finished, having just launched the Wood Finishing City Series, two bourbons meant to encapsulate the essence of New York City and Sydney (travel retail exclusives). But we’ll leave that analysis for another time.