The Whiskey Review: Maker’s 46 is Like Fight Club in a Bottle

[Originally published October, 2012 at Manarchy Magazine]

Thirteen years ago this month Fight Club began a rather lackluster theatrical run, only making 11 million the first weekend. Even though the studio’s hopes were rather low going in to the release, this figure was still a bit less than they’d expected. Quickly dubbed the “ultimate anti-date flick”, the film grossed around 37 million above production cost (of just over 67 million). Ouch. As with most movies based on books, the film is almost always a bit of a letdown, and this is what people expected.

However, despite its less-than-enthusiastic reception in theaters, Fight Club has since become a cult classic and enjoyed an award-winning DVD release. I can say with confidence that this is one of those rare instances where the film and the book stand on their own artistic merits, each serving to compliment the experience of its counterpart. 

Personally, I’ve seen Fight Club over twenty-five times–with my girlfriend, who later became my wife (anti-date flick my skinny white ass). As such, we decided to have people over for a 13th Anniversary screening, and like any movie night, there was plenty to drink. The only problem with this scenario is that the recent heat wave coupled with my lack of air conditioning (honestly, it almost never gets that hot in SoCal) meant the house was simply baking for several days on end. A few days the thermostat hit a sultry 92, and there was nothing our little fans could do about it.

I mention the heat wave because during that period I simply forgot to take all the booze off the mantle and store it somewhere cool and safe. When the magnitude of this mistake dawned on me, it felt like that scene in the Fight Club, when Jack’s (Edward Norton) entire life is blasted out of his apartment and onto the street below.

It’s not that I don’t love stocking up at BevMo (the Price Club of alcohol, if you’re not familiar), I just hate how this most recent trip directly followed pouring out a whole slew of bottles turned bad. It was like an intervention I hadn’t even had the chance to earn.

On my checklist was at least one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer… and an absinthe, just to get things rolling. Maker’s Mark is my go-to, entry-level bourbon that just about everyone likes. It’s smooth, easy to drink, and not so expensive that I mind if someone insists on mixing it. I had the bottle in hand, ready to move toward the scotch section when I noticed that slightly more rounded, subtly understated bottle of Maker’s 46 on the next shelf. Even the extra bit of red wax on the front with the little seal seemed to call out to me.

“Why haven’t I ever tried that?” I asked myself much more out loud than is socially acceptable, even for a liquor store. I looked around to see if anyone heard, but the coast was clear, so I grabbed the Maker’s 46 and put it in my basket. I hadn’t even made it home, though, before I began questioning that decision.

Pseudo-premium whiskies often come across like movies based on a book. The original is nearly always better. Cases in point: Knob Creek’s 9 Year Small Batch is fantastic, but their 9 Year Small Batch Special Reserve simply isn’t worth the extra dough; same goes for Jack Daniel’s Special Reserve over their basic whiskey; Redbreast’s new, limited run 15 year single malt is basically okay versus their fantastic 12 year (compared here).

In light of all that, I couldn’t have been more surprised when Maker’s 46 turned out to be the drink of the night. And being a movie night rather than a proper tasting, not only did the few whiskey snobs present approve, but even those who were worried about the burn and smoke typical of (cheaper) bourbon seemed to become fans. An unexpected hit, indeed.

Maker’s Mark

This very sip-able bourbon has a very mellow nose with wheat and honey at the forefront and even a bit of oak, if you let it breathe a few minutes. Actually, I would recommend that.

The palette is a warm mix of buttered toast, maple syrup, roasted nuts and a subtle smokiness. All of this moves nicely toward a clean, slightly dry, toffee-sweet finish.

Moreover, this is one of those rare bourbons that can be enjoyed over ice, chilled with whiskey stones, or cut with water without losing anything. Each experience is a little different. My preference is to drink it neat, but there’s no style I dislike.

How can you possibly top that?

 

Maker’s 46

What you do is take a barrel of Maker’s Mark, empty it and remove the head, then insert ten French Oak staves, securing them to one side of the barrel. Next, you cook or “season” the barrel, literally searing the new French Oak staves in order to caramelize the sugars in the wood. I mean, even that sounds delicious.

With the original Maker’s at 90 proof, this one rings in at a slightly higher 94. One might expect slightly more burn or smoke, but that toasted oak really hits the mark here.

Every aspect of this bourbon is broader, mellower, slightly sweeter.

The nose maintains the Maker’s Mark typical wheat and honey, but the oak is a little sweeter and comes forward more quickly. Letting it breath is still a good idea, but you’re merely coaxing more notes out than waiting for something to materialize.

The palette is broad, adding a slight vanilla note and pushing the toasty oak note forward here as well, but you never lose the maple sweetness or the buttery, nutty elements. Everything feels more mature, a little more subtle and refined.

The finish follows suit, supporting the toffee and toasted oak flavors with a lighter sweetness, not quite vanilla at this point, but more like crème brulee. These notes broaden, drying slightly at the end to leave just the oak and a touch of sweetness before everything dissipates and you need another sip.

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