The 2020 Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series Release is Distillery’s First Foray into Blending

Maker's Mark Wood Finishing Series 2020 Limited Release. Courtesy Photo.

Maker’s Mark has announced the launch of the Wood Finishing Series 2020 Limited Release, the brand’s first ever blend of bourbons.

The Loretto distillery launched their Wood Finishing Series last year with Stave Profile RC6, highlighting the rich fruit flavors in their famous wheated bourbon. For the Wood Finishing Series 2020 release, Jane Bowie, Director of Innovation at Maker’s Mark, tells us the distillery set out to show off the caramels and vanillas – although it took them many more tries than expected. (As this year’s “official” stave profile name of SE4xPR5 didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, the distillery will move forward naming each annual release for the year.)

“Since the introduction of Maker’s Mark 46, wood staves have become our tool of choice for unlocking and amplifying natural flavors already present in our classic Maker’s Mark – always purposefully and with a specific taste vision in mind,” says Bowie. “Where Maker’s Mark 46 was about creating a ‘bolder’ Maker’s, and the 2019 release was all about boosting the notes of baking spice and fruit, our 2020 Limited Release has been a quest to amp up those rich vanilla and buttery-caramel flavors that typically stem from our unique approach to seasoning our barrel wood outside for a full year.”

Maker’s Mark works with famous cooperage Independent Stave Company to create custom staves for finished bourbons like their Maker’s 46, Private Select, and now Wood Finishing Series, adding them to barrels before aging a further 9 weeks. Unlike last year’s RC6 Release, which used one type of stave, this year’s release uses two – PR5 and SE4, blending the resulting bourbons at differing proportions and points in the finishing process to achieve that perfectly sweet caramel and vanilla balance.

Bowie tells us it took 50 to 60 stave trials, and hundreds more in blending to settle on the final expression. “This is the first time we’ve ever really blended, and we didn’t start out to do that,” she says. “It was just the road we went down on what we were trying to do – create that extra vanilla, caramel-y bourbon with just enough spice to tie it all together.”

The final blend is below, using just two staves, but three final liquids as one stave had standout bourbon at two different points in the aging process.

55% PR5 – Maker’s Mark Cask Strength finished with American oak staves that have been cooked in a conviction oven at low heat with a longer toast to amplify vanilla.

32% SE4 at 5 Weeks – Maker’s Mark Cask Strength finished with French oak staves that been cooked in a convection oven at medium heat with a short toast to draw out caramel.

13% SE4 at 6 Weeks – the same SE4 stave as above, with one additional week to draw out dark spice notes.

The result – a nose of heavy vanilla with spiced caramel, a palate of butter pecan ice cream, vanilla with creamy butter notes, dry spice and caramelized sweetness, and a long, round, dry finish, bottled at a cask strength 110.8 proof.

While the blend took hours in the lab, Bowie reminds us it isn’t a perfect science to create a bourbon. “It’s still wood,” she notes. “You’re working with a 200 year old oak tree from France, so the predictability isn’t always there.”

But Bowie and her team put in the hours, determined to stay true to their “taste vision” of that creamy vanilla, caramel bourbon with balance, just as founder Bill Samuels set out to create Maker’s Mark with the idea of a softer, smoother bourbon.

“The bourbon industry is really good at innovating while keeping that tradition in mind,” she says.

Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2020 Limited Release will be available soon nationwide in limited quantities for a suggested retail price of around $60.

Caroline Paulus
Caroline Paulus is the Senior Editor for The Bourbon Review. She lives and writes in Lexington, Kentucky. Follow her on Instagram @misswhiskeyhistorian to keep up with her latest in bourbon news - and a few old finds, too.