Here’s a head scratcher: why would a company that had a controversial announcement about lowering the proof of their core product due to production shortages (and then reversing that decision) go ahead and release a cask strength expression of their whiskey? The answer is Cask Strength Maker’s Mark Whiskey is only available in extremely small quantities, and only at the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto, as well as a few select retailers in Kentucky. Even though it’s a small limited release, Cask Strength Maker’s Mark is an important release. Marker’s Mark is famous for their 50 year stretch as a single product company (which ended in 2010 with the release of Maker’s 46), so any time they bring out something new, it’s cause for significant attention. Released without an aged statement in 375 ml bottles, Cask Strength Maker’s Mark gives us a rare glimpse into the heart and soul of what makes Maker’s Mark the whiskey that it is.
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey (113.2 Proof / 56.6% ABV, $39.95 per 375ml) – Maker’s Mark’s nose is typically so soft and sweet, it’s a little bit of a surprise to nose Maker’s Mark Cask Strength and be hit by oak. The oak here isn’t overpowering, just much more pronounced than in the standard 90 proof version of Maker’s. The nose on Cask Strength Maker’s also features stronger cinnamon, deeper caramel, and a more pronounced wheat grain. There’s a subtle marzipan note in the nose that is more difficult to pick out in the standard release. Side by side with 90 proof Maker’s, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength makes the standard release seem very tame and restrained. Cask Strength Maker’s is fuller, spicier, and more inviting without being overly fiery.
Everything that makes Maker’s Mark so enjoyable is right there in the entry, with a foundation of sweet caramel that supports bright cinnamon and oak spice. Even at the beginning of the taste experience the integration of flavors is superb. Cinnamon spice builds sequentially towards the midpalate where it’s joined by wheat grain. Here in the midpalate you have the core of what makes Maker’s Mark so affable: a combination of caramel, cinnamon, and wheat, all well balanced with great integration and solid flavor. Towards the end of the midpalate the cinnamon spice peaks and is joined by black pepper and clove. Even though it’s cask strength, the alcohol never loses its supporting role, and although there’s some heat here, it doesn’t eclipse the flavors. The finish is medium length and slightly dry, driven by the cinnamon spice, soft wheat, and black pepper. There’s a noticeable cooling effect on the finish, the hallmark of impeccable distillation.
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is a gentle giant if there ever was one, and even though it’s over 50% alcohol, it never loses its easy, affable character. It’s easy to understand what a revelation it must have been in the 1950s when Maker’s first launched, even when tasted straight out of the barrel. A world with a cask strength edition of Maker’s Mark is a world we want to live in, and so we’re happy that the company has made the move to pull some whiskey from their stocks for this release (even as limited as it is). It’s unfortunate that Maker’s Mark isn’t able to make this a much wider release as Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is beautiful whiskey, brightly flavored, perfectly balanced, and oh so good. 97 points.