Maker’s Mark DNA Project
Bourbon Barrel Entry Proof Experiment
Please enjoy our Maker’s Mark DNA Project Review!
Bill & Margie Pick 110 Barrel Entry Proof
In 1953, Bill Sr. & Margie Samuels decided on a 110 barrel entry proof for their bourbon. As the name implies, barrel entry proof is the proof at which the distillate goes into the barrel prior to aging. They felt that this was the proof that was needed to achieve the flavor profile they desired for their Maker’s Mark bourbon. Now, almost 70 years later, this choice is being put to the test in the Maker’s Mark DNA Project.
100-110 Proof – That’s The Law!
One point that is not discussed about that choice of barrel proof was that back in 1953 all bourbon distilleries were barreling their distillate at 110 proof or less. The fact is, during that time, by law bourbon had to be barreled at between 100-110 proof. So, while Maker’s may have been best at 110 proof, that was actually the highest proof that Bill Sr. & Margie could use. For reference, Wild Turkey was going in at 107 proof at the time.
Maker’s Stays With 110 Proof
However, Maker’s did stick with their 110 barrel proof when barrel entry proof for bourbon was raised to 125 in 1962. The felt that proof maintained their desired flavor and didn’t want to change it. This decision had its cost – literally. It is more expensive to barrel bourbon at a lower proof because, quite simply, it requires more barrels. If the distillate comes off the still at, let’s say 135, and is barreled at 125 proof and then proofed down later for bottling, fewer barrels are needed. Whereas, if the distillate is diluted down to 110 proof prior to barreling, there is a larger volume of liquid, and hence, more barrels are needed.
The Maker’s Mark DNA Project
The Maker’s Mark DNA Project set out to experiment with 4 different barrel entry proofs: 110, 115, 120 & 125. The bourbons were all distilled on the same day, and aged in the same warehouse, on the same middle floor. They were not rotated during aging, which would be the normal practice for Maker’s Mark. The barrels were aged for 8 years, which is longer than the usual ~6 years Maker’s Mark generally uses. They were bottled at barrel proof, and if memory serves me, they were bottled as single barrels so the proofs will vary across each batch.
Let’s Taste Maker’s Mark DNA Project – Blinded
I and a group of friends tasted these four bourbons on a recent evening. The bottle labels were covered, so we did not know which barrel entry proof was which. We did not proof them down to the standard Maker’s 90 proof, although that is something to do next time and could yield very different results. So all were tasted at their bottling proofs.
How We Tasted Maker’s Mark DNA Project Bourbons
We warmed up with regular Maker’s Mark and had it standing by for constant comparison. The following are the bottles in the order that we tasted them, blinded. Everyone had a separate glass for each so could keep going back and forth between them all:
barrel entry proof / bottle proof
115 / 117
125 / 126.4
110 / 114
120 / 122.8
So, What are the Maker’s Mark DNA Project Bourbons Like?
First, they are all very different than the 90 proof Maker’s Mark, even the one that goes in at the same barrel entry proof (110). Thet’s not surprising because the DNA version is older and of a higher proof. They all had richer flavors than the regular Maker’s, which is also to be expected. To my palate, wheated bourbons really gain some nice qualities with age and higher proof.
Some of the dominant flavors were caramel, butterscotch, creme brûlée and fruits like cherry. There was some bubble gum, too, mainly in the 110 and 120 proof. Some people noted more floral notes in the two higher barrel entry proof bourbons (120 & 125). The 110 proof was noted to have less body and a thinner shorter finish than the others and less depth. The 120 proof had more oakiness, grassinesss and earth. It seemed to be the outlier in flavors. The favorites were the 115 barrel entry proof (my personal favorite) and the 125 barrel entry proof. The 110 was the unanimous least favorite.
What To Do Now?
So, what to do with this information? When reading Maker’s own comments about these bourbons, the 110 proof was their preference. However, I believe they may have proofed the bourbons down to 90 proof, and were judging on different flavor characteristics than we were. They were looking for that “Maker’s Flavor”, which they found unsurprisingly at 110 proof. We, however, are a group of high proof bourbon drinkers and were judging based solely on our own personal flavor preferences. Needless to say we gravitated towards the full, forward rich flavors. Your results may vary.
Give It A Try, If You Have The Opportunity
There were 2400 Maker’s Mark DNA Project sets made, and they certainly make for a very fun and interesting tasting. They originally came out in the Fall of 2021, but I didn’t get all of mine until sometime in March and was saving them to do a tasting such as this with friends. If you have the opportunity to buy and or try this set, I highly recommend it. When else will you get to try 8 year old Maker’s at barrel proof? Have you tried any of these bourbons? Let me know! Cheers!🥃
I hope you have enjoyed our Maker’s Mark DNA Project Review! Would you like to learn more about Maker’s Mark Distillery? Check out our Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour Review for loads of Maker’s Mark information and lots of photos, too!
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