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Whisky Reviews

We Taste Maker’s Mark's Oldest Bourbon To Date: Maker's Mark Cellar Aged 2023, 57.85% ABV

 

When it comes to taste, what makes a "good bourbon" can really depend on who you’re asking – arguably more so than with Scotch. Bourbon makers will wax lyrical about their mashbills, how a high-wheat recipe brings out the sweetness, while those with rye-heavy expressions focus on the power, spice and complexity. And that's even before we consider how a bourbon ages; the depth of flavour in Scotch undoubtedly hinges on time, but with bourbon, barrel char, warehouse placement, and even the Kentucky weather play equally important roles.

The bottom line? Bourbon-lovers' preferences are quite diverse. You'll find hardcore enthusiasts seeking out those challenging profiles, all bold oak and spice, but there are also distillers focused on approachable smoothness above all else. Both camps are valid, and while both Scotch and bourbon offer a range, bourbon's got that extra layer of subjectivity.

Take Maker's Mark, for instance. They've built a whole image around consistency – a flavour that's rich, yet incredibly smooth and mellow, with minimal bite or tannins. This philosophy explains why, for years, they weren't keen on older releases. Kentucky heat tends to make bourbon over-oaked (think dry, tannic) pretty quickly, which clashes with the "flavor vision" of founder Bill Samuels Sr. – sweetness up front, balancing into a long, gentle finish.

 

Maker's Marks limestone cellars, located in Kentucky.

 

That perspective shifted slightly recently. Last year, Maker’s Mark announced the Maker's Mark Cellar Aged  – the distillery’s oldest whisky yet. To guarantee they could retain that signature Maker's Mark profile while still creating an older expression, they even built a temperature-controlled limestone cellar for a further stage of aging.

First, barrels of whisky spend roughly six years in the distillery's traditional warehouses – this is how the typical bottles of Maker’s Mark are made. Then it's off to the limestone cellar for another five to six years, where the cool environment tames those tannins and encourages deeper, richer notes while preserving Maker's Mark's legendary smoothness. It's a limited annual release, landing in the US and Europe late last year, and very recently in Tokyo and Singapore.

 

 

Well, I managed to be among the first in Singapore to try it in the company of Rob Samuels, the current Maker's Mark MD who was present at the launch event at Singapore's Manhattan Bar. Here are my notes!

Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged 2023, 57.85% ABV – Review 

 

Nose: Sweetness leads the way – think rich caramel and toffee, with a touch of wood polish for a classic bourbon note. Baked goods add warmth, suggesting cinnamon rolls with a dusting of demerara sugar. There's a hint of chocolate milk, a touch of sarsaparilla, even a distinct but light herbaceous liquorice sweetness like Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa (Chinese herbal cough syrup). The oak is very very restrained, allowing much of those sweeter notes to shine. It's also very approachable despite the higher ABV.

Palate: The sweetness continues with caramel, now joined by brown sugar and a hint of caramelized maple syrup. Baking spices emerge, adding a gentle warmth that gradually builds on the tongue, becoming more robust, yet never overwhelming. Delicate, well-integrated oak weaves through these flavors, while subtle notes of strawberry jam and a touch of raspberry add a touch of fruitiness.

Finish: The heat peaks at the end, with a satisfying touch of sharpness that lingers alongside hints of dark chocolate shavings and a whisper of earthiness.

 

My Thoughts:

This bourbon feels incredibly intentional. It delivers a luscious sweetness that's clean and balanced, defying all expectations of those heavy oak tannins typically associated with older bourbons of 10 years and above. The signature Maker's Mark smoothness is on full display and this seems even fresher than their flagship younger expression, with an elegant, gradually unfolding warmth in the mouth.

Overall, this is one of the very few high-age bourbons that will easily appeal to people who appreciate smooth and balanced bourbons. I imagine this would really appeal to Scotch and Japanese whisky lovers too.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

@CharsiuCharlie