Maker’s Mark has been a household name in bourbon for decades. Starting in 1953 with the husband and wife duo of Bill Samuels Senior and Margie Samuels, this tasty brand has been delivering high-quality and consistent bourbon since its iteration.
Maker’s Mark 46 is a newer addition to the Maker’s Mark family so it seems only fair to compare the two. While one is classic, tried, and true, the other is a more recent concoction and therefore open to more scruples than the original Maker’s Mark.
Let’s talk about the history of the distillery, which is intricately tied into the Maker’s Mark founding family: the Samuels, and what each of these two bourbons has to offer.
The Maker’s Mark Family and History
Bill Samuels Senior founded Maker’s Mark with his wife Margie in 1953 in the famous Bardstown, Kentucky.
Samuels started working with his family’s mash bill to make his own bourbon. It was a 170-year-old recipe, he believed himself to be the fourth-generation distiller.
Through both good and bad luck (Samuels accidentally set his family’s recipe on fire during the process) and ingenuity, Samuels ended up concocting his own version of bourbon that was softer than his family’s former recipe.
He even sped up the experimentation process by using bread instead of fermenting wheat, which led him to choose different grains than his family originally used! That choice made his bourbon much softer than the former recipe produced.
The next step was marketing, which Samuels handed off to his wife Margie. She used the “maker’s marks” that pewter whitesmiths put on their best work as inspiration.
(Whitesmiths are people who work with tin and metal to create tools, pewter simply indicates the specific metal these craftsmen use.) For this reason, she also chose to name her husband’s new bourbon Maker’s Mark.
And an American legend was born.
The Maker’s Mark Process
According to the label on the Maker’s Mark bottle, Bill Samuels Senior wanted to create a bourbon that was soft, creamy, and full-bodied.
Samuels Senior achieved that goal by using red winter wheat in his mash bill rather than the popular choice of distiller’s rye. Rye can make the whiskey spicy and sharp, two things that Bill Samuels Senior was trying to avoid.
The water used for Maker’s Mark is filtered naturally through limestone in the distillery’s own personal watershed.
The water from that limestone watershed is packed with pure calcium and magnesium, two chemicals that contribute to making a superior sour mash. Furthermore, the calcium and magnesium create an environment that yeast loves and can thrive in.
And speaking of yeast, every Maker’s Mark (including the Maker’s Mark 46) begins its life with the same yeast strain that’s a whopping 150 years old. That’s right, the yeast itself is older than Maker’s and so are the tanks used for fermentation!
The tanks are made of cypress, which doesn’t impact flavor and is hard to come by these days. The Maker’s Mark tanks are more than 100 years old, purchased from Burks Distillery, which is now the Maker’s Mark distillery, in 1953 by Bill and Margie Samuels.
That distillery, once Burks Distillery and now Maker’s Mark, has been producing whiskey since 1889.
Now we get to the distillation process! Maker’s Mark double-distills their bourbon in copper stills. Meanwhile, somewhere outdoors, their virgin American oak barrels are being aired out or “seasoned” for at least nine months to remove bitter-causing tannins that often happen in young wood. (Those bitter tannins can also make the whiskey bitter as it is aged.)
Next, the wood is charred three times and finally, the barrels are filled with whiskey.
Maker’s Mark boasts that despite the lofty amount of whiskey produced, they still hand-rotate each barrel while they age in their warehouses. Each barrel spends three summers in the top level of the Maker’s Mark rack house. (A rack house is simply where whiskey is stored in barrels on racks.)
The heat of the summers causes the whiskey to expand and permeate the wood, adding the brown color we all recognize in bourbon, and the caramelized and vanilla flavors as well.
The barrels are only removed from the top tier of the rack house once the Maker’s Mark tasting panel approves that the bourbon is ready to be transferred. Once they do, the barrels are moved to a cooler area of the warehouse, which slows the aging process.
The Maker’s Mark website describes their aging process beautifully. They say, “Maker’s tells us when it’s ready, and not the other way around. Unlike most distillers, Maker’s Mark isn’t satisfied simply setting a clock. That’s why we age to taste, not time. It usually takes between six to seven years for the whisky to be ready.”
The Maker’s Mark Bottle
There are few bottles that are more recognizable than Margie’s design for Maker’s Mark. Everything on Margie’s bottle has a reason for being there.
The star is for Star Hill Farm, which was the farm where the family lived in Bardstown, Kentucky. Yes, the Bardstown where bourbon was born. The ‘S’ on the bottle stands for Margie and Bills’ last name: Samuels.
The Roman numeral for four symbolizes Bill Samuels’ being the fourth-generation distiller of his family. (Fun fact: Bill Junior discovered at some point that his father was not the fourth-generation distiller he believed he was.
In fact, Bill Senior was a sixth-generation distiller! But, that Roman numeral Margie placed on the bottle had the history and just plain looked good, so Maker’s Mark left it as is!)
Even that paper label was by Margie’s design, and her vision is still used today. Originally cut by a 1935 Chandler and Price printing press, Maker’s had a replica made when the original eventually broke.
And what’s more iconic than the wax seal of a Maker’s Mark bottle? Margie chose that too, taking her inspiration from 19th-century cognac bottles, which she also used to design the bottle shape itself!
Legend has it that Margie hand-dipped the first Maker’s Mark bottle in her home-fryer for that signature wax seal. I’d say it was worth ruining the fryer!
Maker’s Mark Specs
- 45% alc./vol.
- 90 proof
- Aged: at least three years
Maker’s Mark Tasting Notes
So with all that history and process down, let’s discuss what this bourbon actually tastes like!
On the nose, I get a lot of salty caramel notes. I’m also getting the smells of oak from the charred, virgin American barrels that this bourbon is aged in for at least three years.
The palate is very smooth with more caramel and now vanilla. It is softer than the nose with a really nice roundness as far as texture goes.
The finish of this bourbon is just as soft as the palate is and very smooth. There is no burn in this bourbon. When Bill Samuels Senior set out to make a soft bourbon, he certainly succeeded, in my opinion!
This is the epitome of what most people think of when they think of what a bourbon tastes like, which makes sense because bourbon is a trendsetter and has been since its creation. When we think of bourbon, we think of this nose, this taste on the palate, and this finish. Do other profiles exist?
Yes, of course, it all depends on the mash bill and aging process. However, bourbon has more of a reputation of being soft, smooth, and round with vanilla and caramel notes, amongst others. Maker’s Mark simply delivers on all of those tasting notes.
Pros of Maker’s Mark
- Great price (I paid $33.99 in Rhode Island)
- Consistent product
- What you expect from a bourbon
Cons of Maker’s Mark
- No surprises on the palate
- You can support a smaller distillery’s bourbon for a similar price
The Maker’s Mark 46 History
Maker’s Mark 46 is one of the newer bourbons on the market, only appearing on shelves in 2010. Maker’s Mark 46 is the first new bourbon released by the Maker’s Mark distillery since the original Maker’s in 1953!
And what makes it so special? Well, it’s a creation of the son of Bill and Margie Samuels, Bill Samuels Junior for starters. This is a project that is near and dear to Bill Junior’s heart, as he didn’t want to release anything he wasn’t proud of in order to preserve his family’s legacy and the Maker’s Mark reputation.
Maker’s Mark 46 came out so well and has sold just as well, so the distillery began an annual wood-finishing series. This series highlights a new bourbon that is aged with different staves each year.
And furthermore: the success of the wood-finishing series gave way to the Maker’s Mark Private Selection, which allows retailers to purchase cask-strength Maker’s Mark 46 that is then aged in nine more weeks with up to ten staves of the retailer’s choice in the Maker’s Mark limestone cellar.
The stave choices amount to 1,001 different combinations, making each retailer’s choice unique.
The Maker’s Mark 46 Process
The Maker’s Mark 46 process begins where the inspiration for the new bourbon also came from, Maker’s Mark. The Maker’s Mark original is fully matured at cask-strength, which means it hasn’t been diluted with water so it’s higher proof.
The cask-strength Maker’s Mark is then stored in the Maker’s Mark limestone cellar for nine weeks with ten seared virgin French oak staves. And those staves make all the difference! The name of Maker’s Mark 46 comes from the staves that worked best in this process: “Stave Profile No. 46”.
The Maker’s Mark 46 Bottle
The Maker’s Mark 46 bottle surely draws inspiration from its sister bourbon, Maker’s Mark. Margie’s design of the ‘S’ for Samuels and ‘IV’ for the fourth generation distiller that Bill Samuels Sr. believed he was is present on this bottle as well.
While the Maker’s Mark bottle has those symbols engraved in the glass, the Maker’s Mark 46 bottle pays further tribute to the Maker’s Mark by making it a wax seal. This sits just below the neck of the bottle
And of course, the bottle is sealed with that iconic red wax as well, the company does that with all their bottles, no matter the series.
The shape of the bottle is less squared than the Maker’s Mark original and taller. It’s more narrow at the bottom and expands slightly at the top, giving it a refreshing unique shape. The Maker’s Mark 46 bottle stands tall and is nothing short of regal.
The bottle does not have that signature label from Margie’s creative mind. In fact, only the original Maker’s Mark utilizes that element of her design. Instead of the paper label, Maker’s Mark 46 is a clear bottle with the color of the Maker’s Mark label used as the color of the font.
Maker’s Mark is written below the wax seal in medium font and even smaller in italics beneath it “Stave Profile No. 46” of course with the number ’46’ large and front and center of the bottle. Beneath the 46, in smaller font, are the specs of the whiskey.
The design of the Maker’s Mark 46 is more modern without veering too harshly from the tradition of the Maker’s Mark signature design or the Samuels family tradition.
Maker’s Mark 46 Specs
- 47% alc./vol.
- 94 proof
- Aged: at least three years and nine weeks
Maker’s Mark 46 Tasting Notes
On the nose, this bourbon is what I call in my notes a “butter bomb”. The nose is creamy, but it’s followed by wood and hints of cigar tobacco.
On the palate, the flavors certainly escalate. What smells like a traditional bourbon explodes with woody flavors and spice. The palate really leaves you with that spicy woodiness from the staves. This “butter bomb” is in fact all stave.
Maker’s Mark vs Maker’s 46 Side by Side
- Maker’s Mark is going to be about ten dollars cheaper than Maker’s Mark 46
- Both bourbons are going to be equally accessible
- Maker’s Mark is going to be creamy, smooth, and soft with hints of vanilla, oak, tobacco, and caramel.
- Maker’s Mark 46 is more wood-forward and hotter than the Maker’s Mark. It still has a lot of beautiful vanilla and tobacco notes and drinks almost like a rye.
- Both mix well depending on what you’re looking for.
- I recommend the Maker’s Mark for a classic Old Fashioned but the Maker’s Mark 46 also makes a great Old Fashioned.
- The Maker’s Mark 46 will make a fabulous Manhattan.
- The Maker’s Mark will do well in a shaken drink (anything with citrus).
- Surprisingly the same!
- Maker’s Mark is aged at least three years.
- Maker’s Mark 46 is aged at least three years plus an additional nine weeks.
Pros of Maker’s Mark 46
- Great wood-forward bourbon
- New bourbon with the ties to Maker’s Mark to back it up
- Begins with Maker’s Mark but it is starkly unique
Cons of Maker’s Mark 46
- Steeper in price (I paid $42.99 in Rhode Island)
- Tastes hot
- Needs a cube
Mixing an Old Fashioned with the Maker’s Mark
I like to mix all my new and old whiskies in an Old Fashioned because I think an Old Fashioned is a great way to accentuate the flavor profile of whiskies and see how they will play in other cocktails as well. This concoction allows for the true tasting notes of the whiskey being used to pop.
I mixed the Maker’s Mark in an Old Fashioned and – boy oh boy – did I love this cocktail! The Maker’s Mark worked so well with the sugar and bitters, it’s like they were dancing! I highly recommend an Old Fashioned with Maker’s Mark! It’s soft, sweet, and just plain delightful.
Mixing an Old Fashioned with the Maker’s Mark 46
Of course, I also mixed the Maker’s Mark 46 in an Old Fashioned. This made a wonderful drink as well, and I wasn’t disappointed. The woody notes in the Maker’s Mark 46 really popped here, and all the burn was mellowed by the sugar and bitters.
I recommend an Old Fashioned with Maker’s Mark 46 as well. It’s really fascinating to taste the two side-by-side, especially when you consider these two bourbons have the same exact mash bill. They mix as differently as they sip neat!
Comparable Whiskies to Maker’s Mark
- Buffalo Trace is a beautiful bourbon, nice and soft and comparable to the Maker’s Mark. It is also from Kentucky and has rich roots in American bourbon history. Pricewise, it falls in the same mid-thirty dollar range as Maker’s Mark.
- Knob Creek 9 Year Bourbon is a wonderful whiskey that I feel is too often overlooked. If you like Maker’s Mark, I’m sure you will also enjoy Knob Creek. It usually rings in just under thirty dollars and is a fantastic, flavorful bargain.
- Eagle Rare is a delicious bourbon, also from Kentucky, that’s vanilla and caramel forward. It is, unfortunately, about fifty dollars more than Maker’s Mark. (Fun fact: there is a long-lived discussion over which is superior: Eagle Rare or Buffalo Trace!)
Comparable Whiskies to Maker’s Mark 46
- Hirsch Horizon Straight Bourbon is a high-rye content bourbon that’s similar to the Maker’s Mark 46. This bourbon is oaky, nuanced, and complex. I’d highly recommend the Hirsch for any bourbon or rye drinker. It also usually costs a few dollars less than the Maker’s Mark 46!
- Lost Prophet from the Orphan Barrel line is very oaky and coveted. Since it isn’t made anymore, the cost is about $850 or more, if you can find it!
- 1792 Small Batch Bourbon is a high-rye content bourbon that is priced similarly to the Maker’s Mark 46 and is oh so delicious! It’s going to give you those great oaky notes that the Maker’s Mark 46 also has.
- Elijah Craig Small Batch is nice and oaky and definitely much less expensive than the Lost Prophet! This wood-forward bottle will ring you in at just about thirty dollars.
Answer: It depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a bourbon that is softer, with caramel and vanilla notes, go for the Maker’s Mark. If you want something with more wood and spice that’s going to pack more of a punch, reach for the Maker’s Mark 46.
Answer: I’d buy the Maker’s Mark 46 for someone who is a fan of bourbon but also rye. The woodiness in this bourbon is so wonderful, I think any whiskey drinker would enjoy it.
Answer: I’d recommend trying it at your friend’s house or at the bar, but maybe not buying the whole bottle. As I said in the pros and cons lists, the Maker’s Mark 46 starts its life as Maker’s Mark, but the aging process makes it starkly different from its big sister bourbon.
Answer: I would say that Maker’s Mark does live up to the hype. It’s a solid bourbon at a reasonable price and it mixes well.
Answer: Someone once told me that the forty-six came from the number of attempts it took for Bill Samuels Junior to make a bourbon he was satisfied with. That was a lie! The number forty-six in the Maker’s Mark 46 bourbon is actually the stave profile number that gave the bourbon the taste Bill Samuels Jr. was searching for. It says so right on the bottle!
Answer: I would not add a cube to the Maker’s Mark, it doesn’t need to be cooled down or to open up. A cube will dilute the Maker’s Mark and make it watery. The Maker’s Mark 46 however, definitely does well with an ice cube. I added a small cube to mine and it cooled the burn of that lingering spice I described in the tasting note
Final Thoughts on Maker’s Mark vs. Maker’s Mark 46
I suppose I can’t write this article without choosing which bourbon I favor. The truth is that I see value in having both of these bourbons at your home bar.
While one is a lovely little treat, great for after dinner, the other is more surprising, with a lot more wood notes, and overall just completely different! Truly these two bourbons are a testament to what an aging process can do to a whiskey!In the end, I wouldn’t say either of these falls short of expectations, and I can’t say enough how much I like both of them.
But, I must choose! So I’m going to say that I overall prefer the Maker’s Mark because I prefer my bourbons neat and I like the way it mixed in the Old Fashioned more than I liked the Maker’s Mark 46.
So try either or both, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!