Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Maker’s Mark. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
There are certain bourbon brands that stand out in the mind above the rest. The combination of masterful marketing and lasting, classic flavors place those distillers in the annals of the bourbon hive mind. Maker’s Mark out of Loretto, Kentucky is one such brand. From the recognizable label and custom red wax topper, Maker’s Mark will forever rise to the tip of the tongue when referencing the best of the best small-batch bourbons.
Made from two different stave styles, Maker’s Mark 2020 Limited Release collaborated with the brand’s barrel producers Independent Stave Company (ISC) to create the perfect blend of caramel and vanilla. The first stave, SE4 is made from virgin French oak which brings forth the caramel flavor, while the second stave, PR5 is made from virgin American oak and furnishes the vanilla.
As stated by Jane Bowie, Director of Innovation at Maker’s Mark, “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.”
These factors were apparent in my tasting, as well as a few other surprisingly unique flavor profiles. For the 2020 Limited Release, the fully matured bourbon is rested an additional four-to-six weeks in secondary barrels containing the proprietary wood staves, creating a one of a kind mellow bourbon that is well worth the 50 to 60 stave trials and twelve months of experimentation with ISC.
I believe there is a good reason Maker’s Mark has kept its high ranking in the years since its creation in 1953. There is a real sense of home and family in the bourbon, a feeling that the creators of this spirit weren’t concerned about selling the most or being the best, and in turn their love for the process has helped give rise to one of the most recognizable flavor profiles I personally enjoy. With the Maker’s Mark 2020 Limited Release, they’ve proven that it’s worth it to take a risk and have given us, as founder Bill Samuels Jr. once said, “a bourbon that won’t blow my ears off.”
Maker’s Mark 2020 Limited Release (image via Maker’s Mark)
Tasting Notes: Maker’s Mark 2020 Limited Release
Vital Stats: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in secondary barrels containing proprietary wood staves. bottled at 110.8 proof (55.4% ABV). Priced at $69.99-$89.99/750ml where available.
Appearance: Tangerine and Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup. Pours clean and clear with thin tears.
Nose: I really do get those vanilla and caramel scents, but the longer I stay with the smell it opens a little wider to give a way to plum, then I sense a slight bit of jasmine, but the floral takes a backseat to that sweet, buttery caramel.
Palate: I could pick Maker’s Mark out a line-up and this 2020 Limited Release is no different, but I do think it is special. It tastes of all the flavors I’ve grown to love in Maker’s Mark with some pleasant additions. There are hints of coffee and that familiar burn that doesn’t mar the flavor profile but definitely opens up the palate to explore the bits of spice and caramel, at times maybe slightly over-cooked caramel, just minutes too dark so there remains a bitter tinge.
All in all, I am pleased with this Maker’s Mark 2020 Limited Release, as are others I assume as it seems hard to find on the market. But I think if you manage to get your hands on some you will be as pleased as I was. I will revisit this bourbon with a bit of ice and some good company.
Jerry Sampson is a freelance writer, editor and screenwriter. Her creative work is ever improved by her love of whiskey and craft cocktails. She enjoys taking cool fall days to explore the great distilleries around Portland to get a closer look at the inner workings of her favorite spirits.