Kicking off the week with a unique guest blog post from Rush Thrift. Rush’s post is all about some of the rarer Maker’s Mark releases like the Limited Edition Green & Gold Wax bottles as well as the Select Black Wax bottle. It’s a long post that includes background information as well as two separate Maker’s Mark bourbon reviews. You might want to pour a big glass of bourbon and take your time with this one folks. Please let us know in the comments what you think about Rush’s efforts and if you’d like him to become a regular contributor to Bourbon & Banter. Every comment counts.
Drawn by its unique label, award-winning advertising, that unmistakable red wax drip, and the fact that it was all the older men in my family seemed to order; Maker’s Mark Whisky served as my gateway into the bourbon world. I began to take an interest in America’s native spirit at a very early age, reading all I could about the history of bourbon, how it is made, and the history of the distilleries and their families. I have always had a respect for those who were not afraid to be different, and to make something that they believe in. Maker’s Mark Whisky fits that bill. Ever since they sold their first bottle of bourbon in 1959, the brand has set themselves apart from the rest of the market in every way.
The bottle itself is a unique shape, the label a non-traditional faded color with a hand-torn look, even the spelling of Whisky, without the “e” is different that most other American brands. And last but certainly not least, that beautiful red wax drip to seal it all in. Supposedly the brain child of T. William Samuel’s wife, Marjorie “Maggie” Samuels, who also gave the whisky its name and created the label, the patented red wax seal makes Maker’s Mark easy to spot from the moment you walk into any store or bar with a bottle sitting on the shelf, it simply leaps out at you. Maker’s Mark also points out a key difference in the way they make their whisky. While many bourbons are largely rye based in their mash bill, Maker’s Mark relies more on soft winter wheat, which gives the bourbon a softer taste.
The one thing that I have always thought really set Maker’s Mark apart, is that while other distilleries have expanded their product lines to offer many different labels, Maker’s Mark has chosen to take the road less travelled. Historically offering only one bourbon, bottled at 90 proof, with the motto “No Changes, No Compromises, No Comparisons.” Maker’s Mark did expand its line in 2010 to include another offering, Maker’s 46, which according to their website is aged a bit longer inside barrels containing seared French oak staves. Maker’s Mark says that the staves create bolder, more complex flavors , while still eliminating the bitterness that usually comes with whiskies that are aged longer.
While I have always held a tremendous amount of respect for Maker’s Mark’s business model (one that I believe should be studied in every business school), I have also long yearned to taste different expressions of Maker’s Mark, mainly higher proof ones. My favorite expression of any bourbon, is a cask strength, non-chill filtered bottling. One reason is that it allows me full control over the bourbon, to change the proof as I desire. A few years ago, I discovered that my dream was not entirely impossible when I learned that Maker’s Mark has in fact bottled their Whisky at a higher proof in the past. Maker’s has done three higher proof bottlings, which included a Green Wax 101 proof, a Gold Wax 101 proof, and a Black Wax 95 proof.
Not much is known about this bottle. The rarest of the three higher proof offerings, I have not been able to track down a bottle myself. It appears to have been bottled in the 1970s, and marks the first time that Maker’s Mark decided to bottle their whiskey higher than 90 proof. Unfortunately, this bottle was never sold in the United States, and according to most was available mostly in the Italian Market. All sources indicate that this bottle is the same as the Gold Wax 101 proof bottle, so all is not entirely lost, as the Gold Wax is still being found by collector’s today.
Maker’s Mark Limited Edition Gold Wax 101 Proof
Maker’s Mark Gold Wax 101 proof is the second bottling of the Maker’s Mark Whisky at a higher proof. According to Bill Pickerell, former Master Distiller, the Gold Wax was always the same juice as the Red Wax, just a higher proof. It was originally sold only in Kentucky. Around this time is when the Japan market for bourbon really opened up and offered a higher profit margin than the United States, so Maker’s decided to move the Gold Wax overseas. Around 1996, Maker’s discontinued the Gold Wax in the U.S., making it an export only bottle. The Gold Wax was available overseas until about 1999, when it was discontinued altogether. After a few years of searching, I was able to track down a few bottles of the Gold Wax 101 proof.
The bottle itself is identical to that of the Red Wax bottle, except that everything is in gold. The label, the wording of “Maker’s Mark” and the wax itself are all presented in a beautiful gold. There are a few variations in the labels on the Gold Wax bottle, depending on the country it was exported to and the time-frame in which it was made. Some bottles display the word “Whisky” and others the word “Bourbon,” however all of the bottles read “Limited Edition” across the top of the label. The right side of the label lets you know that this was bottled in a very limited capacity.
Bourbon Name: Maker’s Mark Limited Edition Gold Wax
Age: 5 ¾ to 6 ½ years
How I Drank It: Neat, in Glencairn whiskey glass.
My Nose Noticed: Wood | Vanilla | Caramel | Hint of Cinnamon
First Sip: Upfront boldness of classic vanilla from Maker’s mark, but highly elevated. Next came hints of honey and toffee. Also wood tones and a hint of nuts. Classic wheat mashbill profile, and one of the smoothest I have tried.
The Burn: The finish really seems to linger, for at least a minute or two. The vanilla fades into a pure honey effect with wood notes highly present.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: As with the Red Wax, I enjoyed this neat. As this is a limited edition bottled primarily for the purpose of presenting Maker’s Mark at a higher proof, I would recommend trying it neat before adding any water or ice. Keep in mind this is the same Whisky as the Red Wax, just bottled at 101 proof, adding water or ice will simply lead you back towards the Red Wax taste profile.
Share With: As this is a very rare, limited edition bourbon, I recommend saving this bottle for special occasions and sharing with friends who truly appreciate a unique bourbon. Especially a great one to share with a Maker’s Mark fan.
Worth The Price: Unfortunately this bottle is not available at retail. You may luck upon one while traveling internationally, but your best chance is to find a Maker’s Mark collector who is willing to share.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: If you’re a fan of Maker’s Mark, or just wheaters in general, than this is definitely one you want to add to your collection. Perfect for a special occasion, or in my case, sharing with those who have helped me on my bourbon journey.
Maker’s Mark Select Black Wax 95 Proof
The Black Wax bottle is very similar to the Gold Wax bottle, except most everything is done in mostly black. The label, the wax stamp and the wax drip are presented in solid black. This was the second export only bottle, available only in Japan, never in the United States. Unlike the Gold Wax, the Black Wax was aged longer than the standard Red Wax, approximately 2 to 2 ½ years. There are many variations of the label on the Black Wax bottle, but the Whisky inside is all the same. The Black Wax was also selected from a wider range of seasons, which Dave Pickerell says allowed it to pick up a bit more wood notes.
I share the same opinion as Mr. Pickerell, in that this is my personal favorite expression of Maker’s Mark. While there is a larger presence of wood tones than the standard Red Wax, I think it is the perfect balance. Unfortunately, the Black Wax faced the same fate as the Gold Wax, with production stopping around 2000. It is not entirely impossible to still find a bottle of the Black Wax today, with your best bet being either in a private collection or in Japan. The side of the Black Wax bottle features a short story about the Whisky from Bill Samuels, Jr.
Bourbon Name: Maker’s Mark Select Black Wax
Age: 8 ½ to 10 ½ years
How I Drank It: Neat, in Glencairn whiskey glass.
My Nose Noticed: Very Sweet | Wood | Cherry | Leather | Vanilla
First Sip: The Black Wax is one of my all-time favorite pours. What’s really unique about this Bourbon is the cherry wood flavor it seems to have, absolutely wonderful. Hints of vanilla and wood lead to start sweet and finish spicy.
The Burn: This Bourbon doesn’t linger around along as its Gold Wax cousin, but it is a very sweet finish, with just a touch of spice.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: I enjoyed this one neat as I do usually with the Red Wax. A splash of water just seemed to tone down everything. I recommend enjoying this one neat.
Share With: Again, as this is a very rare, limited edition bourbon, I recommend saving this bottle for special occasions and sharing with friends who truly appreciate a unique bourbon. Especially a great one to share with a Maker’s Mark fan.
Worth The Price: Don’t expect to find this one on the shelves, unless you happen to be visiting Japan. Some of the major on-line retailers occasionally have a bottle for sale, but expect to pay a premium. If Maker’s Mark is your go to bourbon, then this is definitely one to track down.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: Again If you’re a fan of Maker’s Mark, or just wheaters in general, than this is definitely one you want to add to your collection. Perfect for a special occasion, or in my case, sharing with those who have helped me on my bourbon journey. I prefer the Black Wax over the Gold Wax, but both are excellent Bourbons.