Maker's Mark FAE-02 bottle

Maker’s Mark FAE-02 debuts

Maker's Mark FAE-02 bottle
Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

If you’ve been keeping up with the Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series, then you’ll be happy to hear the second FAE release will be available any day now at liquor stores around the state (and beyond).

FAE stands for “fatty acid esters,” and that’s what Maker’s Master of Maturation and Director of Innovation Jane Bowie focused on while coming up with this second iteration of the FAE line. Here’s the piece I wrote about FAE-01 back in March.

If you’re wondering what fatty acids have to do with bourbon, it’s all about the mouthfeel. These are the compounds that make some bourbons thicker and more viscous than others. And I like a thick, creamy bourbon.

So the focus for Bowie in 2021 was on texture. And she and the team split up the experiments with two separate releases — the FAE-01 and now the FAE-02.

For No. 2, the team started with the finishing staves, which were double heat-treated to really bring out the luscious mouthfeel. The staves were put into a fully mature barrel of Maker’s Mark for eight weeks and four days, and then the bourbon rested for a month in a stainless steel tank (thus ending the aging process).

Why let it rest in the tank?

Bowie says she believes this extra time allowed the fatty acids to “come together.”

“I notice the texture on this before the flavor,” Bowie adds. Flavor notes include milk chocolate, caramel and toasted nuts.

Here’s an info graphic showing the differences between 01 and 02:

Maker's info graphic
Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

The Wood Finishing Series is Maker’s way of sharing the story of distilling with its fans. The FAE-02 is the fourth release in the series. It’ll be available soon for a suggested retail price of $59.99.

Maker's Mark DNA Project

Maker’s Mark shares its entry proof experiment with DNA Project bottles

Maker's Mark DNA Project
Maker’s Mark experiments with barrel entry proof. | Courtesy

Maker’s Mark has been doing some cool stuff with special releases lately — for a recap, check out my pieces on the Wood-Finishing Series here and here — but this one truly takes the cake for anyone interested in the science behind bourbon.

The new Entry Proof Experiment will hit shelves later this month — you’ll most likely find it at the distillery gift shop, and if you’re a member of The Whisky Drop* Maker’s club, you’ll be getting the bottles in the next two installments. Basically, there are four bottles in this release, and all four come from an experiment held at the distillery in 2013.

To see how much impact barrel entry proof has on the taste profile of their bourbon, the folks at Maker’s Mark entered the bourbon into barrels at four different proof levels: 110 (which is what Maker’s has used since the beginning but is considered low in the industry), 115, 120 and 125.

For a quick explanation, entry proof is the proof of the distillate before it goes into a barrel. Many distilleries opt to put it in around 125 and then add water when it’s done aging, thus saving money on the amount of barrels needed. Some choose a lower number — like 110 — which was more common before and right after Prohibition because some believe by adding the water up front, it produces a better-tasting, nuanced bourbon.

Barrel entry proof is just one of the many bourbon-making components that can be manipulated to produce a different result. There’s no right or wrong number here — by legal definition, you can’t enter it into a barrel higher than 125 proof — it’s just the preference of the distillery and its master distiller as to when they want to add the water (before or after it ages).

So anyway, Maker’s decided to play around with the four different entry proofs, and they figured they’d let their fans get a taste of the experiment as well. The cool thing about these four bottles is that the age of the whiskey inside is about 8 years old — definitely older than the standard Maker’s Mark. So just taking that into account, it’s a rare release you’ll want to have in your collection. Plus, these are bottled at barrel-proof, so here’s your chance to try 8-year-old Maker’s Mark at cask strength!

Maker's Mark poster
With each purchase, you’ll get this custom-made poster from Hound Dog Press. | Courtesy

I was invited to a media tasting and explanation of the DNA Project, and I was blown away by the completely different flavors each sample produced. Even someone new to bourbon would be able to tell the differences between each sample.

I was partial to the first sample — 110 — as was the majority of the group. The flavors were more rich, and that familiar Maker’s Mark mouthfeel was present from the first sip to the last.

The other three expressions had some funky flavors — the 120 proof even had strong pineapple notes, which is crazy — and it was easy to see why the founders of Maker’s Mark chose 110 and have stuck to that ever since, even though it ultimately costs them more money.

What this experiment shows is, yes, barrel entry proof does indeed have a pronounced effect on taste profiles. And the best news is that you can try it for yourself.

Maker’s suggests buying the entire four-bottle set (at $99 per bottle), but they will also be sold individually at the distillery and various bars and liquor stores in the area. The bottles are 750ml, and with a purchase of the set, you also get handmade posters from Louisville’s Hound Dog Press, which partnered with Maker’s for this release.

There are only 2,400 sets available, and the release is staying in Kentucky. Each poster will be numbered to match your bottles. Look for these later this August and tell me which one is your favorite.

*Speaking of The Whisky Drop, I hear they’re expanding the membership to more folks in Kentucky and Washington, D.C., so if you want to sign up for that, click here. It’s a membership service where you get two special bottles in the mail every couple months or so.

The Samuels House

The ultimate bourbon sleepover: The Samuels House is a bourbon museum brought to you by bourbon Makers

The Samuels House
The Samuels House | Courtesy

For the first time in 200 years, average, everyday bourbon fanatics like you and me can stay a night at The Samuels House, a historic home in Coxs Creek, Ky. (just outside of Bardstown), that has been converted into a bourbon museum honoring eight generations of Samuels distillers, including Bill Samuels Jr. and Rob Samuels of Maker’s Mark.

The house was built in 1820 by John Samuels, whose father, Robert Samuels, actually made whiskey for George Washington’s troops in the Revolutionary War. And that’s only the beginning of this home’s story, which is saturated in history and bourbon.

I was fortunate to attend an open house Tuesday evening to check out The Samuels House with Bill Jr. and Rob Samuels. Of course they had a full charcuterie spread for the dozens of guests, plus Maker’s-fueled cocktails, so it was a fun time had by all.

Did I mention it might be haunted, too? More on that in a bit.

The house stayed in the Samuels family until the late 1950s, and it was recently re-purchased by Rob Samuels, Chief Operating Officer of Maker’s Mark. He decided it would be the perfect place for bourbon lovers to stay while they’re tackling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and also where the Samuels family could display eight generations worth of family photos, significant artifacts, important documents and dusty old bottles that encompass the original Samuels distillers (T.W. Samuels) and the modern Samuels distillers (Maker’s Mark).

So what’s here?

Margie Samuels' deep fryer
Margie Samuels’ deep fryer where she first dipped Maker’s Mark bottles | Courtesy

Well, what I loved seeing the most was the actual deep fryer Margie Samuels used to experiment with when creating the iconic red wax — the same wax that now adorns every Maker’s Mark bottle since her and her husband Bill Samuels Sr. created the brand in 1954. Also on display is Margie’s English pewter collection that inspired her to name the new bourbon “Maker’s Mark.”

The house is a blend of 200-year-old charm and modern updates. Inside the kitchen, for example, there’s a full gas range and a modern sink and cupboards, but across the room is the original fireplace where the residents would cook before electricity and gas lines made it into homes.

The house can accommodate up to eight guests between three bedrooms, and the average nightly price ranges from $1,250-1,500.

Rob and Bill Jr. spoke about how much this home means to their family, and they had a great time filling the rooms with family heirlooms and memorabilia.

“We look forward to sharing this with folks who are traveling here, and even people here in Kentucky who might be interested,” said Rob Samuels. “Folks are drawn to Kentucky culture, and hopefully this can help attribute to that energy and interest.”

Bill Jr. seemed most excited about a pistol that is behind glass in the foyer, which he explained is most likely the very last firearm surrendered in the Civil War.

The infamous pistol
The infamous pistol | Courtesy

The weapon was supposedly surrendered in the front yard of The Samuels House by Frank James (of the notorious James Gang), who was part of the last armed group fighting at the end of the war. He turned the gun over to T.W. Samuels, the Nelson County sheriff (and family’s first commercial distiller), and it has remained in the family ever since.

Being in a house that old, we had to ask if anyone had ever experienced something spooky. Of course we were in the cellar, where spooky oozes in most cases, and one of the curators confirmed that indeed there have been incidents of paranormal activity, and that the former owners actually kept a spreadsheet on the encounters.

The only story we got out of him had to do with two construction workers who got spooked while pouring cement and came running full speed out of the cellar doors. They described a demonic roar in the basement, along with lights unexpectedly going out, which made the two grown men exit the basement in 2 seconds flat.

They ended up going back in to finish the job, so it must not have been too disturbing.

Property Info (according to the website):

  • Accommodations for up to 8 guests; 3 bedrooms (2 king, 1 queen; 2 additional pullout beds)
  • Nearly 3,500 square feet of space (main level, upper level, and basement)
  • Set on 2 acres of mature oak trees surrounded by horse pasture
  • Parlor room with custom-crafted bar and 50+ historic bottles of family-produced whisky
  • Numerous Samuels family artifacts and pieces of bourbon history on display
  • Stocked chef’s kitchen with gas range, fridge with premium whiskey icemaker
  • Dining room with custom-designed dinnerware and glassware
  • Covered porch with outdoor dining area
  • Basement media room and game lounge
  • Stone patio featuring a gas grill and fire pit
  • Whole-home wifi

Amenities:

  • Tempur-Pedic mattresses
  • Premium ‘Comphy’ brand sheets
  • Ensuite bathrooms
  • 100% Turkish cotton towels
  • Aveda bath products
  • Robes
  • Iron/Ironing board
  • Hair dryer
  • Smart TVs with cable access and streaming capabilities

To book The Samuels House or just read more about it, click here. Booking starts in September!

Below are some photos of the property:

  • The foyer
  • The fireplace in the kitchen
  • Bill Samuels Jr. and Rob Samuels
  • Historic bottles behind glass
  • An area dedicated to Margie Samuels
  • A portrait of Bill Samuels Jr.
  • A scotch made by Bill Samuels Sr.
  • Initials carved from a Samuels family member in 1862
  • An outhouse
Andrea Wilson, Executive Vice President/Master of Maturation at Michter’s

The Bourbon Review: 4 profiles of women in whiskey

I was busy last month chatting with four talented women in the whiskey business for a series of profiles for The Bourbon Review. It was a dream assignment for me, as I got to ask the questions I’ve always wondered to women I’ve always admired — and one I met for the first time.

Some of the questions I kept the same, but mostly the focus was on each person’s journey to where she is today. I chose the Q&A style of interview so that their own voices would shine through, and I think it worked pretty well.

You tell me if it worked. Here they are in order of publication date.

Memphis Belle: Alex Castle walks the tightrope between tradition and experimentation at Old Dominick

Alex Castle, Senior Vice President/Master Distiller at Old Dominick Distillery
Alex Castle, Senior Vice President/Master Distiller at Old Dominick Distillery | Courtesy

In 2015, Kentucky native Alex Castle got the email of a lifetime. She was working as a production supervisor for Wild Turkey at the time, where she had landed soon after getting her chemical engineering degree from the University of Kentucky. The email posed a simple question: Would you be interested in working for a startup distillery in Memphis?

Castle had been at Wild Turkey for more than four years and had gotten a taste of the day-to-day operations of a large bourbon distillery. She loved her job there, but this new opportunity was one she couldn’t pass up. Fast-forward five years, and Castle is now the master distiller and senior vice president of Old Dominick Distillery, located in the heart of downtown Memphis. 

READ HER INTERVIEW HERE.

• • • • • • • • •

From moonshining to Michter’s: Andrea Wilson recalls what ignited her passion for distilling

Andrea Wilson, Executive Vice President/Master of Maturation at Michter’s
Andrea Wilson, Executive Vice President/Master of Maturation at Michter’s | Courtesy

Seven years ago this summer, Andrea Wilson made the decision to join the team of the up-and-coming Michter’s Distillery after 10+ years working for spirits giant Diageo. Michter’s was just getting ready to open its first Kentucky-based facility in Shively, and Wilson saw this as a great opportunity to further expand her distilling experience and join a crew who shared her passion and dedication to the craft.

Wilson left her job with Diageo on June 30 and started with Michter’s the very next day, on July 1 of 2014. Now, as executive vice president and master of maturation, she works endless hours in all facets of production and has helped shaped Michter’s into the premium brand it is today.

READ HER INTERVIEW HERE.

• • • • • • • • •

Pioneering a path: Jane Bowie leads the charge of innovation at Maker’s Mark

Jane Bowie of Maker's Mark
Jane Bowie, Master of Maturation/Director of Innovation at Maker’s Mark | Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

In 2007, Jane Bowie was crashing on her mother’s couch while back in Kentucky for a friend’s wedding. She had just finished a teaching job in Japan and was ready for her next adventure, which she thought might take her to New Zealand. As fate would have it, though, life rerouted her to the small town of Loretto, Ky., population 737.

Bowie’s mom had cut out a help-wanted ad from the newspaper and suggested she apply. The Maker’s Mark Distillery was looking for an event coordinator. To appease her parent, Bowie applied for the job in her own special way. The first line of her cover letter read: “I don’t want this job, but …” Bowie proceeded to outline her dream job for the company, which would send her all over the world sharing the good news about Maker’s Mark bourbon. 

Of course this unique approach caught the eye of Maker’s Bill Samuels Jr. and his son Rob Samuels, and they quickly hired Bowie as a global brand ambassador. Since then, Bowie has worked her way up the ladder in — not surprisingly — some of the most unconventional ways, and now she serves as the master of maturation and director of innovation for the company.

READ HER INTERVIEW HERE.

• • • • • • • • •

Betting the farm: Joyce Nethery rekindles her passion for distilling at Jeptha Creed

Joyce Nethery, Co-Owner/Master Distiller at Jeptha Creed
Joyce Nethery, Co-Owner/Master Distiller at Jeptha Creed | Courtesy

In 2013, the Nethery family of Shelby County, Ky., was at a crossroads. Should they continue a fulfilling yet slightly stagnant life as they knew it — with husband Bruce farming the family land and wife Joyce teaching high school chemistry? Or should they bet the farm and do something much more unconventional and risky — like building a bourbon distillery from the ground up?

Kentucky is lucky the Netherys chose the latter, and while Bruce still farms the land, Joyce runs the operations at Jeptha Creed Distillery, serving as CEO and master distiller, while daughter Autumn takes the helm of co-owner and marketing manager. Even son Hunter pitches in, although he’s not 21 yet, helping out in production and farming while he learns the trade. And we hear he even has a knack for harvesting honey — just another perk of owning a farm craft distillery.

READ HER INTERVIEW HERE.

Maker's Mark FAE-01 bottles

Maker’s Mark FAE-01 explained

If Pop Rocks made a “velvet tobacco” flavor, it would taste exactly like FAE-01, the newest release in the Maker’s Mark Wood-Finishing Series. It drinks like a whiskey from 1962 that you found in your grandpa’s attic, but that’s not meant to disparage it. Quite the opposite. It’s earthy, it’s viscous, it’s spicy, it’s balanced, it’s warm and, most of all, it’s accessible.

This is the third release of the Wood-Finishing Series, and the first of 2021. As with the other releases, there was a goal here — and that was to highlight one component of Maker’s Mark, as lead by Maker’s Master of Maturation and Director of Innovation Jane Bowie. For FAE-01, it’s the distilling process, which produces “fatty acid esters” — hence the term FAE — that Maker’s is known for.

Maker's Mark FAE-01 bottles
My favorite redhead. | Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

In a Zoom call with a handful of Kentucky media Wednesday afternoon, Bowie went through her process step by step to getting to the final mouth-watering product — her favorite so far of the three.

“For 2021, we leaned into our column stills and nonchill-filtering process, which, simply put, helps us retain the texture and a higher viscosity of the whisky,” Bowie said in a previous press release. “What we got is an expression that highlights the fruit‑forward taste profile in an unexpected and much welcomed way. It tastes just like a barrel warehouse smells.”

She reiterated that last statement during the call, and through a series a samples given to us, she led us through her “shelf of shame” experiments. Let’s just say there was no shame in anything we sampled today, and it was quite eye-opening to see what a handful of staves can do to a final product.

Maker's Mark FAE-01
Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

Bowie said she started first with an American white oak stave (un-charred) and a French oak stave (un-charred) to compare the two flavors. By doing this, she was able to determine she wanted to go with the American oak for this release.

The next three samples were examples of aging fully matured Maker’s Mark with the FAE stave (American oak, seasoned and toasted on one side) and aging them for a few weeks in different parts of the distillery: a walk-in refrigerator, Warehouse A and the Private Select Cellar (which I like to call the Bourbon Bat Cave).

Here, she figured out she liked it aged in the Cellar the best.

It was a fun and enlightening time tasting through Bowie’s journey to FAE-01, and I am blown away by the finished product, which packs that delightful sweet caramel and vanilla taste but turns the spice and tobacco notes to a 10. This isn’t one you can shoot back after dinner. You’ve gotta swirl it, nose it and tell it it’s pretty. It’ll hang around a lot longer than some of your other favorites.

Take your time with this one, which is bottled at 110.6 proof, and go on your own journey through all its distinct flavors.

FAE-01 should be out on shelves now, so keep an eye out for it. It’ll retail for $59.99. And stay tuned … there’s a second FAE experiment coming in the fall. It’s so good, it couldn’t be kept to just one release.

Maker's Mark Margie Bottle

Check out the new Margie Samuels Maker’s Mark bottle!

Now this is pretty cool! Maker’s Mark is paying respect to one of its founders — Margie Samuels, wife of Bill Samuels Sr. — with this new collector’s bottle, called the Margie Samuels Founder’s Bottle. And what’s also cool: $25 from each bottle will go toward scholarships for the Bellarmine Women of Color Entrepreneurs Leadership Certificate program.

Margie was one of the first women to be inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame, and she is credited with not only coming up with that signature Maker’s red wax, but also envisioning bourbon tourism as we know it.

Maker's Mark Margie Bottle
The Margie Samuels Founder’s Bottle | Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

Margie was responsible for creating just about everything that makes Maker’s Mark the household name it is today — from the iconic bottle shape and red wax-dipped top, to the name, logo and inviting distillery visitor experience.

These limited-edition bottles will be available at the Loretto distillery’s gift shop starting Friday, March 5. They will retail for $64.95 and will be signed by Margie’s son, Bill Samuels Jr., former master distiller and chair emeritus of Maker’s Mark. The bottle also features artwork by Owensboro artist Aaron Kizer.

I must get one of these ASAP!

Woodford Reserve Derby bottles

Woodford Reserve Derby Bottle 2021 artwork flows with 2020 bottle; Evan Williams Kentucky Derby Fest bottle; new Maker’s Mark wood finish

The sun is shining in my old Kentucky home today, and with talk of the Kentucky Derby, I feel as if spring is officially here. I jumped on a Zoom call this morning with fellow Louisville media to hear all about the new Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby bottle, which features equine artwork from the same artist as last year — Richard Sullivanand, get this, the image is basically an extension of last year’s art.

Why does that matter? Because it’s going to look damn cool on your bar, that’s why! Sullivan’s image of the horses running the Kentucky Derby has basically been extended between the two bottles, so you can display them side by side and practically have Derby artwork on your bar — with delicious bourbon inside!

Woodford Reserve Derby bottles
The one on the left is the 2020 bottle, and 2021 is on the right. | Courtesy of Woodford Reserve

Bourbon and art make a lovely pair.

In this morning’s press conference, Sullivan, a Louisville-based artists and former professional baseball player, said this opportunity has been a dream come true, and his artwork is meant to “capture the spirit of the Kentucky Derby.”

The bottles will hit shelves as early as this week and retail for $49.99. You might be able to find some of the 2020 bottles in area liquor stores, and in fact, I just saw some recently at the Total Wine in St. Matthews.

Evan Williams releases Kentucky Derby Festival bottle March 11
Evan Williams Kentucky Derby Festival bottle
Love that pink! | Courtesy of Evan Williams

And speaking of Derby, the fine folks at the Kentucky Derby Festival are once again partnering with Evan Williams for the annual Kentucky Derby Festival Bottle that features the 2021 Pegasus Pin on the neck. This year, the wax is a dapper hot pink!

The limited-edition 2013 vintage is bottled at 115 proof, which commemorates both the 66th Kentucky Derby Festival plus the 49th Pegasus Pin anniversary (66+49=115). Each bottle of the single barrel bourbon contains the exact day it was put into an oak barrel to age, the barrel number and the date it was bottled.

“Our partnership with Evan Williams celebrates two of Kentucky’s favorite things — the Derby Festival and bourbon,” said Matt Gibson, Kentucky Derby Festival President and CEO, in a news release. “Although 2021 will be different, Pegasus Pins are still a great way to share the Derby Festival spirit and support your favorite events.”

The bottles will be available mostly at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville on Thursday, March 11. They’ll retail for $74.99.

Say hello to Maker’s Mark FAE-01
Maker's Mark FAE-01
Can’t wait to try this! | Courtesy of Maker’s Mark

Also coming out this week is a new limited release in the Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series, titled FAE-01. This is the third in the series and is named after the staves that altered the standard Maker’s Mark bourbon.

“For 2021, we leaned into our column stills and nonchill-filtering process, which, simply put, helps us retain the texture and a higher viscosity of the whisky,” said Jane Bowie, Maker’s Mark Director of Innovation, in a news release. “What we got is an expression that highlights the fruit-forward taste profile in an unexpected and much welcomed way. It tastes just like a barrel warehouse smells.”

Now you got my attention! The smell of a rick house is like no other, and it brings me pure joy whenever I’m inside one.

The bourbon will be released anywhere from 110.3-110.6 proof and retail for $59.99 a bottle.

Angel's Envy Cask Strength bottle

Bourbon sips & scoops: Maker’s, Parker’s, Angel’s, Michter’s and more!

Things are starting to pile up on the Bar Belle desk, and my boss is nowhere to be found! I should have written this sooner and I apologize, dear thirst nuggets.

But alas, here I am with a mound of announcements and a handful of samples. What’s a bourbon journalist to do? Let’s take ’em one at a time.

Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup bottle

Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup bottle

You might see these pop up at your local liquor store this weekend! It’s the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup commemorative bottle, which also helps raise funds for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

As you know, the Breeders’ Cup will return to Keeneland Race Course Nov. 6-7, so this limited-edition bottle celebrates the partnership between the two entities — as well as Maker’s Mark, which is the official bourbon of the race.

I kinda like the white bottle with the purple wax — it would definitely make a nice show piece on your bar or nightstand. Hey, no judgement here.

Buffalo Trace expands soda line with ginger ale and ginger beer

Freddie's Ginger Ale

If you’ve visited Buffalo Trace Distillery within the last year, you probably noticed Freddie’s Root Beer for sale in the gift shop.

Freddie Johnson is a longtime tour guide — and all around great bourbon ambassador — at Buffalo Trace, so the line is named in his honor.

Word is, they’re expanding the line with ginger ale and ginger beer. These will make perfect mixers for that bourbon you pick up there, or consumed on their own, of course.

The new products should be at the distillery by mid November and will sell for $1.25 a bottle.

New Releases:

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2020

Angel's Envy Cask Strength

Despite the craptacular year we’ve had, good things do happen. Case in point, the release of the annual Angel’s Envy Cask Strength.

This biting baby doll will be 120.4 proof and released on Nov. 1 — just in time for the election. (Maybe we’ll be celebrating, or maybe we’ll be drowning our sorrows — who knows.)

There are only 17,400 bottles divided up between all 50 states (for the first time ever), so dust off that hunting gear and get prepared for next week.

I was fortunate to try a sample of this year’s release and can say that it does not sip like 120 juice — it’s quite smooth, and it’s teeth are not as sharp as you’d imagine them to be. There’s a lot of vanilla, caramel and brown sugar up front, but there’s also a nice ripe cherry note in there, as well.

And the finish … ah, the finish: It’s like licking the spoon after Mom made some sugar cookies. I could sip on this all night long.

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength will retail for $199.99.

Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye

Michter's Toasted Rye

These delectable dudes were released in September, so I’m sorry I’m just now getting to them. You may be able to find a pour of them at your favorite bourbon bar, and I suggest you give them a sip!

The Toasted Rye consists of fully matured Michter’s Single Barrel Rye (at barrel strength) that is then put into a second custom toasted barrel and aged a bit longer.

The result is gorgeous notes of caramel and spice and everything nice. I was also fortunate to receive a sample and will tell you without hesitation that this juice is richer than a cheesecake the Golden Girls are huddled over at midnight.

I love the viscosity in this one, as well. It’s thick and coats my mouth like a North Face. Think of the consistency of a cherry juice — if you buy the right ones, especially Luxardo — and you get the idea.

This limited release is bottled around 109.2 proof and goes for about $85 if you can find it in a store.

Parker’s Heritage 2020: Heavy Char Bourbon

Parker's Heritage 2020

This is the 14th edition of this annual, highly anticipated release, and it’s a 10-year-old bourbon that was aged in a heavily charred (level 5) barrels.

The brand is named after the late Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam, and it raises funds for ALS, the disease Beam passed away from in 2010.

This one is bottled at 120 proof and retails for about $120. And like these other releases, it’ll be hard to find.

I was fortunate to try a sample of this, too, and would describe it as a maple bomb. It’s got a touch of spice and sips easy — I can imagine sipping it next to a fireplace as it gently snows outside.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C920

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

This is the third barrel-proof release from Elijah Craig this year, and it’s the second highest proof — at 132.8 proof.

This seems to be a theme here, but despite the high proof, it sips quite smoothly. It’s got deep flavors of toasted marshmallow, caramel, and I’m even getting some milk chocolate in the sample I got.

This is uncut, 12-year-old bourbon bottled straight from the barrel, as God intended. If you haven’t explored the Elijah Craig portfolio, I’d recommend getting acquainted with it. It’s delicious and pretty darn affordable.

This one retails for around $65.99.

Larceny Barrel Proof C920

Larceny Barrel Proof

This wheated barrel-proof bourbon is also a product of Heaven Hill, like the Elijah Craig above.

Bottled at 122.4 proof, this bourbon is consists of bourbon aged 6 to 8 years and is non-chill filtered.

To me, this is definitely getting better each time I try a new Larceny release.

Since it’s a wheat-based bourbon, it’s a little sweater on the palate and less spicy, but you get those wonderful full-time flavors — think s’mores, campfire and soft baking spices from the kitchen.

This one retails for around $67.99, and I would recommend the barrel proof over the standard Larceny.

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!

Maker's Mark bottle

Check out this cool new Maker’s Mark limited-edition bottle

The bourbon world is no stranger to cool-looking glassware, but this new Maker’s Mark bottle had me doing a double-take. It’s sleek with the black wax, sharp with the retro logo, and that black bottle is, in one word, breathtaking.

So what’s the new bottle for?

Well, Maker’s Mark has teamed up once again with Keeneland Race Track in Lexington to create this bottle that gives back to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF), a charitable organization that provides financial assistance to jockeys who have sustained debilitating on-track injuries.

Maker's Mark bottle

Love it!

And, according to a news release, each bottle has been signed in advance by the five leading active stakes-winning riders at Keeneland — Julien Leparoux, Robby Albarado, John Velazquez, Javier Castellano and Mike Smith — in addition to  Maker’s Mark Managing Director Rob Samuels and Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason.

The illustration of a jockey in white and red silks aboard a racehorse is the work of Louisville artist (and my friend) Jeaneen Barnhart, who is famous for her equine art. In fact, her art once adorned a Derby bottle of Woodford Reserve, and she’s done a few Derby Festival posters throughout her career as well.

“The people in the horse industry of Central Kentucky have played a big role in the history of Maker’s Mark,” said Rob Samuels, who is an eighth-generation whisky maker, in the release. “When my grandfather started Maker’s back in the 1950s, the horsemen supported him and helped spread the word that his bourbon was worth sharing. So, we’re honored to share something back in a meaningful way.”

The limited-edition bottles should hit store shelves in Kentucky starting July 3.