Old Forester 150 release

Once, twice, three times a bourbon: Old Forester celebrates 150 years with a trifecta release

Old Forester, the venerable and faithful Louisville-based bourbon brand, turns 150 this year, and they’re going big for their big anniversary. Fresh off the release of the highly coveted Birthday Bourbon, here comes — count ’em — one, two and three different batches of the Old Forester 150th Anniversary Bourbon.

Old Forester 150 Batch 1

Batch 1, baby!

As if you have endless room on that bar shelf!

The limited-edition release honors the early process that founder George Garvin Brown used to batch barrels and sell the world’s first bottled bourbon unfiltered and at batch proof.

Each of the three bathes has vastly different tasting notes and will come in a fancy tube similar to parent company Brown-Forman’s King of Kentucky release.

“My great-great grandfather had quite the vision for his whisky,” said Campbell Brown, Old Forester president and fifth-generation Brown family member, in a news release.

“He was bringing something to the market that had previously not existed, and today, we instill his legacy of ingenuity in everything we do — especially in the halls at Old Forester Distilling Co., in the same building George ran the business in the early days of the company.”

I attended a media conference call on Monday hosted by Campbell Brown and Master Taster Jackie Zykan, and I learned that these 150 barrels had been set aside more than half-a-dozen years ago by Master Distiller Chris Morris and were then batched together by Zykan in late 2019. The barrels were all filled the same day and aged together in the rick house.

Because Old Forester heat-cycles their rick houses, the angel’s share was definitely a factor in how much bourbon actually came out of each barrel. Zykan said that at least three or four barrels they opened for this product were completely empty!

George’s angels must be damn thirsty!

But anyway, working on such an important commemorative project was both “terrifying and an honor” said Zykan.

So let’s get to the three musketeers, amigos or blind mice — whatever you want to call ’em. (Below details come straight from the news release.)

Batch 1

125.6 proof/62.8% ABV, comprised of 46 barrels; fruit bomb

Nose: maple syrup and perfectly ripe orchard fruits, apricot and plum

Mid: açaí and black current

Finish: graham cracker, subtle peppermint, long well-rounded spice, moderately dry

Batch 2

126.4 proof/63.2% ABV, comprised of 48 barrels; sweet and spry

Nose: cherry cordial and raspberry preserves

Mid: French toast and chocolate malt

Finish: brilliant and perky spice at the front of the palate, touch of cedar, mildly dry

Batch 3

126.8 proof/63.4% ABV, comprised of 53 barrels; green and spice

Nose: dill and bright orange peel, hint of light brown sugar

Mid: sweetens in the middle to melon and pine

Finish: medium dry, tingling green peppercorns, rosemary, grapefruit peel, and lingering anise 

Each of us in that conference call was sent a different batch to sample, and I was fortunate to get Batch 1 — the “Fruit Bomb,” Zykan named. It was thick and viscous and had serious dark fruit notes like fig and plum. It didn’t seem hot being at 125.6 proof, and the delicious, caramel-y finish lasted quite a long time.

I’m curious now to try the other two batches, but I suppose I’ll have to wait like the rest of you!

The Old Forester 150th Anniversary Bourbon should hit store shelves (if you’re lucky to find it) in October, and each batch retails for $150.

Let the hunting begin!

Bourbon Brief: Elijah Craig Toasted, Old Fitz, Michter’s 10 and more, oh my!

Folks, I’ve let things pile up on the Bar Belle news desk these past few weeks, so it’s time I get my butt in gear and update you on bourbon releases that might be popping up at your local liquor store — if you’re lucky.

We’re knee-deep in the great Bourbon Release Season, so let’s get to it!

Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel

Elijah Craig ToastedI admit, I’m a huge toasted barrel fan, and I love that more and more distilleries are jumping on the toasted bandwagon. The more s’mores-infused flavors we can get into whiskey, the better! And a great toasted finish is just that — marshmallow, caramel, chocolate, soft baking spices, graham cracker.

My mouth is watering.

This new Elijah Craig offering takes fully mature small batch Elijah Craig, and then puts it into new toasted and flash-charred barrels that were air-dried for 18 months.

The 94-proof juice retains that familiar Elijah Craig spice, but the toasted notes of rich caramel, creamy vanilla and marshmallow make it a delightful sip, all the way through the pleasant finish.

It’s like sipping on a liquid version of a Caramel Cream.

This Heaven Hill-produced bottle is priced at a very affordable $49.99.

Old Fitzgerald 14 — Fall 2020

Old Fitzgerald Fall 2020Another from the Heaven Hill rickhouse, this is the bi-annual Old Fitzgerald Bottled-In-Bond (BIB) release that comes in this fall at 14 years. The ages for the other releases have been anywhere from 9 to 16, and all of them are delicious trophies most people clamor for because the bottle — and the bourbon — are stunning.

This decanter BIB series started in 2018, making this one the sixth national release. And as the rules state for BIB products, it is bottled at 100 proof.

Old Fitz is a wheated bourbon, but given the mature age of this release, it’s not something you want to serve Grandma before bed. It’s fire, it’s oaky (in the best ways) and it’s frickin’ fabulous!

I received a sample of this whiskey, and I might have to say that this is one of my favorites of the series so far. It’s so well-balanced, the Libra in me is doing cartwheels. It’s breakfast and it’s dessert. At first sip, you get a party of flavor — from baked cherries and black pepper spice to those familiar caramels and thick vanillas.

I would sip this by a campfire if I camped. But I don’t do bugs, so I’ll settle for sipping it in front of a fireplace.

The retail price on this should be around $140, and you might want to go check the gift shop for this one.

Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon & 10 Year Rye

Michter's 10 Year Bourbon and RyeI’m so behind on announcing these two new releases that I should be punished, but since I’m my only boss, I’ll let it slide this time. Each year, the fine folks at Michter’s in Louisville, Ky., release some 10 Year Bourbon and 10 Year Rye. Both are always amazing, tasty products, and naturally, the 2020 iterations don’t disappoint.

The bourbon dropped in May, while the rye came out in July (see, I told you I was behind!), and according to the press release, this will be the only 10-year rye release because, well, everyone knows their juice is good, which means everyone wants it.

“This will be the only release of our 10 Year Rye this year because we continue to be in a position where we need to allocate our whiskeys,” said Michter’s President Joe Magliocco in the press release.

I sampled both of these new releases so much during quarantine that they’re both below half full. (Perhaps that’s why it’s taken me so long to write about it, because I just can’t stop sipping!)

The bourbon is a nice medley of candy corn, baked apples and butterscotch, while the rye has that warming spice up front, followed by sweet and sultry flavors like nutmeg, graham cracker and, of course, that vanilla and caramel from the barrel.

The bourbon retails for about $130, while the rye goes for $160.

Little Book Chapter 4: “Lessons Honored” 

Little Book Chapter 4The 2020 Little Book release is dedicated to Freddie Noe’s father, Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe. Little Book is a blending experiment spearheaded by Freddie, and each edition has been as interesting and tasty as the other.

One time he used Canadian whisky, and another used a blend of older and finer Jim Beam products, as an example.

(For those who don’t know, Freddie Noe is the grandson of Booker Noe, and they say he has a nose and a palate similar to Booker’s — hence his nickname, Little Book.)

This one used three whiskeys: a 4-year-old Kentucky Straight Brown Rice Bourbon, an 8-year-old Kentucky Straight “high rye” Rye Whiskey, and a 7-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

I didn’t get a sample of this one, but the tasting notes in the press release say: “full-bodied vanilla balanced by notes of rich charred wood and dried cherries.”

The bottle retails for $124.99 and is 122.8 proof.

Rabbit Hole Cask Strength Boxergrail Rye Whiskey

Rabbit Hole BoxergrailRabbit Hole has just announced a new Founder’s Collection series with the launch of this limited-edition Cask Strength Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. The juice is 114.6 proof and 6 years old.

“With this and future Founder’s Collection releases, we will hand select barrels that embody perfection,” explained Rabbit Hole founder Kaveh Zamanian in a press release. “These ‘honey barrels’ will be bottled in numbered editions and offered at cask strength to ensure that connoisseurs experience the liquid as it’s meant to be, untouched.”

I’d love to get a taste of this, because I can imagine it’s even better than their standard Boxergrail. But I’m gonna have a hard time finding it, as there are only 1,315 bottles being released. Yikes!

The bottle will retail for $195, and if you want to throw your name into a lottery that’ll be drawn on Sept. 24 for a bottle, click here.

Sara Havens at a competition

Wish me luck and tune in tonight for Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Top Whiskey Taster competition

Whiskey Taster contest photo

Let’s go!

The time is here and the training is over. The World’s Top Whiskey Taster regionals for the Kentucky market will take place tonight at 6 p.m., and yours truly will be shitting her pants as she competes against five other badass bourbonites.

You can tune in for free at the Bardstown Bourbon Company‘s Facebook page or YouTube channel.

I’ve gotta answer four questions about mystery samples I’ve been sent, and then present a flight of three whiskeys to the judges with a three-minute time limit.

Just hoping nerves won’t get the best of me.

I’ve gotta go big, or else I’ll go home … well, I’ll stay at home actually. I’ll already be at home. OK, never mind.

Wish me luck!

2020 Antique Collection

But wait … here comes the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection!

2020 Antique Collection

I want x 5!

And just like that, here comes the Buffalo Trace stampede that is the 2020 Antique Collection!

I would be one happy girl if any of these showed up in my stocking on Christmas morning, but they remain as elusive to me as chiseled abs, a million dollars and leprechauns.

The fab five that are part of this annual release go by the names of George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Thomas H. Handy, Eagle Rare 17, and Sazerac Rye 18. They’ll be released in late September/early October for a suggested retail price of $99 (yeah right!).

I’ve been searching for a W.L. Weller for many years. It’s my white whale, you could say, or rather amber whale.

Here are the details of each from the press release that went out this morning:

George T. Stagg

The proverbial powerhouse favorite of the Antique Collection, George T. Stagg, comes in at 130.4 proof this year.  Last year’s release was awarded 97 points in the 2020 Ultimate Spirits Collection, and fans will find the familiar Stagg taste profile they know and love with cinnamon, caramel and cherries on the nose, and a creamy vanilla with lightly smoked oak on the palate.  The finish is black coffee, dark cherries and herbs.

This year’s release contains bourbon from barrels filled in the spring of 2005.  Storage location of these barrels varied across warehouses L, K and Q. The evaporation loss for this year’s batch was 59%, a bit higher than the last few year’s releases.

William Larue Weller

The Antique Collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon is William Larue Weller. Previous editions of this wheater have won many accolades, including the 2019 release receiving a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition and also named 2nd finest whiskey in the world in the esteemed “Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible.”

The 2020 release was distilled in the winter of 2008 and aged in Warehouses I and C.  This bourbon registers at 134.5 proof.  Flavors of a soft caramel chew, spearmint and cinnamon can be found on the palate in this year’s offering.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye

Thomas H. Handy is the uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. Last year’s release earned The Chairman’s Trophy, scoring 99 points at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge and was also named 3rd finest whiskey in the world in “Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible.”  This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2014; aged in warehouses K, M, and N, and weighs in at 129.0 proof.  The flavor profile includes cinnamon, anise and honey.

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old

This 101 proof whiskey was distilled in Spring of 2002 and aged on the first floor of Warehouse P.  The 2019 release of this bourbon was named “Best of Category” at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition.  This bourbon has a nose of ripe cherries, vanilla cream and oak, followed by a taste of caramel and coffee and a long finish of oak, pepper and fresh herbs.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old

The previous edition of Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old was named “Best Rye Whiskey Aged 11 Years and Over” by “Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.”  This 2020 straight rye whiskey release has notable flavors of oak, caramel and dark chocolate, with a finish of coffee, black pepper and cherries. The barrels for this whiskey were filled in the spring of 2002 and it rested on the third floor of Warehouse K.  It is bottled at 90 proof.

King of Kentucky will make its 2020 debut very soon

Bourbon huntin’ season is officially upon us, and each week brings welcomed announcements for highly sought-after releases.

King of Kentucky 2020Today, it’s King of Kentucky’s time to shine, as word of the 2020 batch spreads like wildfires.

Here’s what we know: The 2020 release comes from 37 barrels that were aged 14 years. Since Brown-Forman heat-cycles their rick houses, many of these barrels were only half full, or even less.

That resulted in 1,900 bottles total for the markets of Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois (the latter two new this year).

This is the third iteration of King of Kentucky, which features barrel-strength, minimally-filtered, single-barrel bourbon. (If you’re curious about the brand, I wrote about its relaunch in 2018.)

“The King of Kentucky continues to teach us about the impact that long-term heat-cycled maturation has on barrel yield and flavor presentation,” said Master Distiller Chris Morris in a news release. “Some barrels yield as little as one case of King but are not over wooded or astringent — in fact they are incredibly complex and flavorful. This is another stellar release of rich, dark Kentucky bourbon flavor at its best.”

The suggested retail price (if you can find it on a shelf) remains $249.99, and the proof will range between 125 and 135. Each release has been in that same range of proof, however the 2019 batch came from 15-year-old barrels, while the 2018 was 14 years old.

So how’s it taste???

Damn good! How’s that for an answer?

I’ve been a huge King of Kentucky fan since the relaunched get-go, and it’s always been in my top 5 of the year. Now, 2020 has been a shit-kicker of a year, but the KoK doesn’t disappoint. It’s got that big vanilla and baked cherry bouquet on the nose, and those sweet, sweet flavors bring even more vanilla, with sprinkles of caramel, pancakes, that famous Brown-Forman banana note and baking spices.

It’s actually quite complex and nuanced, and the more I let it sit, the more deep those notes get.

This does not burn like a typical whiskey would at 130 proof (the proof of my sample), but instead it coats the mouth with warmth and familiar flavors, like biting into a big, juicy caramel apple covered in peanuts, and then having a bite of a chocolate covered banana.

The pleasant, sweet finish lingers a long time, and when it’s gone, your taste buds beg for more.

The 2020 King of Kentucky will be out soon, so keep your eyes peeled. And don’t ask me how to score a bottle, because I’m not going to tell you. I want all 1,900 for myself.

Sara Havens at a competition

Drink up, y’all … I made it to Round 2 of the World’s Top Whiskey Taster!

Whiskey Taster contest photo

There’s my name!

Remember back in June when I posted a video about wanting to be the World’s Top Whiskey Taster? Well, turns out I made it to Round 2 of the contest, which is being run by Bardstown Bourbon Company.

Now, I have to prove my whiskey-sipping skills to a team of judges in a tough competition against five other Kentucky contenders. It all goes down Wednesday, Sept. 9, from 6-8 p.m., and you all are invited to watch, because it’ll be broadcast live via the Bardstown Bourbon Co. Facebook page and/or YouTube channel.

I could use some positive vibes and words of encouragement, because I know my competitors are fierce and fabulous.

I’ve been practicing just about every night for the past two weeks, and I’m concocting one of the best flights ever assembled in the whiskey world. (I’m also trying to work on my confidence, so that was a pretty good attempt at it.)

The competition will include four questions about various mystery samples we’ve been sent, and then we present our flights to the judges in three minutes or less.

This is the Kentucky finals round, and there will be similar competitions in nine other regions. So if I win this one, I still have to battle against the best nine. Yikes!

So what exactly are we battling for? Well, the winner will get $20,000 with a contract to represent Bardstown Bourbon Co. as a Distillery Ambassador at some of the country’s top whiskey festivals in 2021, including WhiskyFest and Whiskies of the World. The winner also will receive a scholarship to Moonshine University’s Executive Bourbon Steward program and will get to blend a custom product with Bourbon Hall of Famer and Master Distiller Steve Nally.

The latter is what I’d be most excited about, well, besides the cash money.

Anyway, wish me luck, and tune in Wednesday night if you can!

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2020

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2020: How’s it taste? How can I get it?

Each September, the bourbon world gets a little nutty.

Yes, it’s National Bourbon Heritage Month, but it also holds one of the most significant dates of the year: Sept. 2 — the birthdate of Old Forester founder George Garvin Brown, which means it’s also time for the annual Old Forester Birthday Bourbon release!!

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2020

Happy Birthday to me!

Nothing can stop the Birthday Bourbon from being released, not even a global pandemic! So the powers that be at Old Forester have decided to launch the product on the website, where exclusive bottles have been sold the last few months.

I’m going to venture a guess and say that this might very well break the internet — but you better believe I’ll be one of these keyboard warriors trying to tap into bourbon bliss that day.

A little more about that in a second, but first, here’s a little more about this year’s release.

This is the 20th iteration of the Birthday Bourbon series and will be bottled at 98 proof. It is made up of 95 barrels of 10-year-old bourbon and was selected by Master Distiller Chris Morris and Master Taster Jackie Zykan for its interesting characteristics. According to a news release, these are the notes:

  • Color: Dusty Topaz
  • Aroma: A nuanced balance of white floral notes, magnolia and citrus, spiced with vanilla, buttery leather and cocoa powder. Countering the spice are sprinkles of brown sugar, white chocolate shavings, caramel drizzle and hints of tropical fruit.
  • Taste: Caramel and brittle toffee lead as the tropical character blooms into banana, mango, coconut flakes and macadamia nut.
  • Finish: Long and delicately drying with a hint of anise.

“We really believe that the 2020 version is one of our best yet,” said Old Forester President Campbell Brown in the release. Brown’s great-great grandfather is THE George Garvin Brown this release honors.

I was fortunate to get a small sample of this year’s Birthday Bourbon, and I can verify all of the flavors mentioned above, especially that delightful banana note that comes out in a lot of aged Brown-Forman whiskeys. It tastes how fall feels — a long walk on crisp, fallen leaves; the anticipation of a campfire s’more; the cool breeze that ushers out humidity and calls for sweaters.

It’s viscous, it’s well-rounded, it’s sweet, it’s spicy, it’s fruity and it’s something I want to be sipping on all year long.

So how can you get a bottle?

Well, be sure to sign up for emails at the Old Forester website, and be on the lookout for a special Birthday Bourbon email on Wednesday, Sept. 2. You, along with thousands of others, will be all vying to nab a bottle online. It retails for $129.99.

Some will get lucky, and some will throw their computers across the room.

I kind of wish Old Forester would have went with a lottery system, much like what Four Roses is doing with its annual Limited Edition Small Batch release. But I am but one small ladybug on the windshield of life.

Good luck to everyone!

Four Roses 2020 Small Batch

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2020 drops in September via public lottery

So you’re saying there’s a chance …

Each September, the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch comes around like a cool autumn wind, jumpstarting a bottle mania of bourbon fans far and wide. These releases are always delicious — and include some pretty old bourbons by industry standards — and often are pretty limited, with just a little more than 14,000 released worldwide.

2020 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch

You win my love.

So when I got wind of the 2020 release trickling out next month, with a public lottery draw due to pandemic safety measures (usually a shit ton of people camp out at both the Four Roses Distillery and the Bottling Facility), I was actually pretty damn happy, because maybe this year I would have a chance to purchase the precious juice.

But first, let’s talk about the bourbon.

This year’s release is proofed at a whopping 111.4 and is non-chill filtered. It includes four different ages and recipes of Four Roses bourbon, which breaks down like this:

  • 12-year-old bourbon from the OBSV recipe (30%)
  • 12-year-old OESV (25%)
  • 16-year-old OESK (25%)
  • 19-year-old OBSK (20%)

I joined Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott on a Zoom call on Monday, and he filled me in on some of the interesting aspects of this year’s LE Small Batch. He noted that the goal is always to make something smooth, mellow and, most importantly, unique — so this year’s should taste vastly different from previous years.

He also explained that each batch could have stood on its own as a single barrel offering, but the magic of the process came in the blending.

“In this case, the sum is even greater than the parts — as together these bring a perfect balance of bright, vibrant flavors and aromas from the 12- and 16-year-old barrels combined with the oak tones and aged expressions from the 19-year-old batch,” Elliott said.

Because he chose to include a mature 19-year-old bourbon in the blend, Elliott said a big challenge came with working with the dominant oak notes in a bourbon that old, although this one aged like a fine wine — meaning, yes, there is an oak presence, but it’s not dominating or overwhelming.

And it plays well with others.

I was fortunate to get a small sample-sized taste of the 2020 LE Small Batch, and I could certainly detect those oak notes, but so many more flavors popped on my palate, including orange peel, cherries, honey, pear, spice from the high-rye mash bill, and of course those warming flavors of vanilla, toasted marshmallow and caramel.

Let’s just say I’ll be a happy camper if my name gets selected to purchase a bottle. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy this sample and not share it with anyone. #SorryNotSorry

There are 14,040 bottles up for grabs this year in the United States, so fingers crossed we all get lottery lucky or find one at our local liquor store (yeah, right). The bottle should retail for around $150.

I guess I’ll be nice and share the link to the lottery sign-up: Click here.

→ → OK, OK, sorry. I mean click here. ← ←

Angel's Envy Japanese bottle

Angel’s Envy goes big for its 10th anniversary with a new release, and it sells out in minutes (sort of)

That angst you felt in the air this morning was from hundreds of local bourbon collectors huddled over their keyboards trying to score a bottle of the new Angel’s Envy release, aptly called Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Japanese Mizunara Oak Casks. 

Yes, it’s quite a mouthful for the whiskey that celebrates the 10th anniversary of company’s Founder’s Day (Aug. 19), when the very first port barrel was filled with Angel’s Envy bourbon. And it’s quite a bottle, crafted from premium, lead-free crystal, and is meant to be used as a decanter once you’ve imbibed all the precious juice within.

The extremely limited release (only 1,200 bottles) will set you back $349.99 — if you were able to nab it from the AE website this morning (which had some technical difficulties). While that initial launch was to the brand’s 500 Main club members, they’re holding back more bottles for the official release at the distillery on Sept. 1.

So what makes this so special?
Angel's Envy Japanese Mizunara release

The bottle in its full glory!

Well, despite such a limited number of bottles available, the whiskey is a blend of four-year-old and nine-year-old Angel’s Envy that is finished in hand-selected, charred, new Japanese Mizunara oak casks for an additional two years.

These Japanese casks are actually made from rare, 200-year-old wood that was very porous — soaking the bourbon right up into the charred wood.

“Ten years ago today, my dad Lincoln and I filled our first port barrels with the bourbon that would eventually become Angel’s Envy. In celebration, we wanted to release something special to honor my dad’s incredible legacy, how far Angel’s Envy has come and our exciting future ahead,” said Wes Henderson, Angel’s Envy co-founder and chief innovation officer, in a news release.  

As you may or may not know, the Japanese create some great whiskey of their own and also are rabid consumers of Kentucky bourbon.

“We chose this release for the 10th anniversary because my dad, having taken on several consulting roles in Japan during his career, always had a deep appreciation for the country and its distilling community,” added Henderson.

The 750ml bottle is a warm 97.8 proof.

I was fortunate to try a sample provided to the media and can say it’s definitely a fitting tribute to 10 years of the company. From first whiff, I got intense notes of banana bread, burnt marshmallow and cherry pie. And from a few sips (OK, more than a few), I detected warm vanilla, dark chocolate and definitely some smoky oaky flavors, most likely from the Japanese casks. It also finished smooth like an unpeated scotch.

Is it worth $350? Well, I don’t think I’d pay that much for any bourbon. But if you can spare it, the whiskey is wonderful, the bottle is beautiful, and the milestone is memorable.

Check out the Angel’s Envy website for details on the Sept. 1 release. Not sure if it’ll be one of those first-come, first-serve long line deals, or if they’ll do something different due to COVID restrictions.

Maker's Mark SE4+PR5

New Maker’s Mark release comes out swinging, amplifying fine flavors of vanilla and caramel

The thousands of aging bourbon barrels perched in black rick houses that dot the vast yet quaint Maker’s Mark Distillery grounds in Loretto, Ky., all hold the same recipe. It’s the bourbon Margie and Bill Samuels Sr. envisioned in 1953 when they created the beloved brand.

Maker's Mark 2020 releaseSo when it came to new products and essentially drawing outside the lines of the familiar dripping red Maker’s Mark wax, nothing had been done until Maker’s 46 was launched by Bill Samuels Jr. in 2010.

Bill Jr. didn’t mess with his family’s recipe to create the new product — he knew better than that — but he did run wild with a finishing process that involved soaking various toasted staves in a barrel of mature Maker’s Mark for about nine weeks.

In that small amount of time, more flavors were imparted into the juice, creating a familiar yet vastly different flavor profile that many today prefer over the original.

And since 2010, there’s also been a Maker’s Mark Cask Strength release (again, not messing with the family’s recipe), a Maker’s 46 Cask Strength (just released last month), Private Selection Single Barrels, and a new line of products Maker’s is calling its Wood Finishing Series. The 2019 release, titled RC6 after the name of the stave, was the first, and now the company is excited to release the 2020 experiment: SE4+PR5.

What does SE4+PR5 mean?

I was fortunate to join a Zoom call with Maker’s Director of Innovation Jane Bowie, plus about a dozen of Kentucky’s top bourbon writers, on Thursday to learn more about the 2020 release and taste through the process with samples the distillery provided.

Zoom call of Kentucky writers

Zooming with Maker’s Mark and fellow bourbon writers.

The personable and very talented Bowie was eager to let us in on the project that had been consuming her time the last 18 months. The goal was to highlight two prominent flavors found in Maker’s Mark: caramel and vanilla.

“I thought this was going to be the easiest one we’ve done, but it ended up being the most complicated,” said Bowie.

Turns out trying to highlight those two flavors exclusively was not an easy task, and in fact, it took Bowie and the Maker’s team two separate staves to do so. The team ended up using a blend of three finished Maker’s bourbons — two from French Oak staves (SE4) aged different weeks (one at five weeks and one at six weeks) and one from American Oak staves (PR5) aged for four weeks. These staves were toasted and made just for this product by Independent Stave Co.

Bowie said that due to the pandemic, she relocated her mad scientist bourbon lab to her living room for the last six months, trying out 50-60 different staves and more than 1,000 blend trials.

During my call with Bowie, I was able to taste through the bourbons at different ages, ultimately leading up to the final product, and it was truly a glimpse into the tough process of blending and having the end goal in mind during each and every sip.

It’s a lot of this: Maybe this stave tastes better at five weeks instead of two, but at six weeks it imparts too much of its flavors, so let’s go back to four weeks and see if we like it better than five.

So how does the final whiskey taste? It’s like soaking one of those Kraft caramel chews in a small bowl of pure vanilla extract and melted butter. It’s sweet, it’s viscous, it’s creamy and it’s dreamy. And it has a hint of baking spices on the finish.

Let me just say, this masterpiece hits all those harmonizing caramel and vanilla notes better than Barbara Streisand could if she were a bourbon. 

The 2020 SE4+PR5 release (Bowie said you can call it either the 2020 release or those crazy stave codes) is bottled at 110.8 proof, and it’ll start showing up on store shelves on Sept. 1. Liquor stores can charge whatever they like, but you should expect it to be in the range of $60-$70. It’s also a limited release, and you won’t want to miss this one!