What’s The Difference Between Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskeys?

Maker’s Mark is an incredibly popular brand of bourbon whiskey that hails from Kentucky. Maker’s Mark is beloved for its deliciously spicy, smooth flavors and is amazingly sipped neat, on the rocks, or mixed into various cocktails. The brand has a very interesting history, and they now make five different varieties of bourbon.

Learn what makes Maker’s Mark special and why so many people are obsessed with this special bourbon.

Maker’s Mark history

The story of Maker’s Mark begins with a man named Bill Samuels Senior. Samuels came from a long line of whiskey distillers, and his quest to create Maker’s Mark began with a copy of his family’s 170-year old recipe.  Bill had inherited a minority share of a whiskey distillery from his father, which he ran until 1943 when World War 2 shut down all distilleries that did not have columns high enough to produce industrial alcohol for the war effort.

Bill left the whiskey business for a while, fighting in the war and then attempting to live as a farmer. Bill discovered he wasn’t suited for life as a farmer, and he began to think about creating a new bourbon whiskey that would appeal to younger people’s palates. Bill set out to do just that with the support of his wife and some friends in the distilling business.

While it was uncommon at the time, a few bourbons out there were using wheat instead of rye as their flavoring grain. Bill believed this was the secret to creating a smoother, subtler whiskey. Not wanting to wait the required time for his bourbon to age before he could experiment with grain combinations, Bill baked loaves of bread with various grain combinations instead of distilling them. As a result, Bill decided to use soft winter wheat in his whiskey instead of the more traditional, spicy, bitter-tasting rye.

In 1953, Bill purchased the Burks’ Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky, and set about manufacturing and selling his new bourbon brand. To this day, Maker’s Mark is made with winter wheat, along with corn and malted barley (to be considered bourbon, a whiskey must contain at least 51% corn in the mash. Maker’s Mark contains 70%). Like all bourbon, Maker’s Mark is aged in new, charred oak barrels.

The different types of Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark currently manufactures five different types of bourbon, each with slightly different characteristics and flavor profiles. We’ve broken down the major differences between them below.

Maker’s Mark original

The original Maker’s Mark is the one that changed the game. This is the closest to the original recipe developed by Bill Samuels, who wanted to create a bourbon that was one-of-a-kind, full-flavored, and easy to drink. Maker’s Mark is aged by taste, and the barrels it ages in are hand-rotated to ensure consistency and perfect aging. Every bottle of Maker’s Mark is still hand-dipped in their signature red wax at their distillery in Loretto, Kentucky.

On the nose, Maker’s Mark is beautifully aromatic, with notes of woody oak, vanilla, caramel, spiced honey, fruit, citrus peel, and wheat. This bourbon is sweet and balanced when sipped, with notes of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, and butterscotch. The finish is medium in length, with gentle caramel notes and dry, oaky spice. Maker’s Mark original is 90 proof, or 45% ABV.

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is described as “bourbon in its purest form.” According to United States law, bourbon cannot enter the barrel at higher than 125 proof and cannot be bottled at less than 80 proof. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is bottled at barrel proof, which produces a much stronger yet still smooth bourbon. Cask Strength is also non-chill filtered, which contributes to its bolder flavor.

Cask Strength retains the signature, front-of-palate flavors of Maker’s Mark Original but amps up some of the notes, such as the oak, caramel, vanilla, and spice. On the nose, you’ll definitely notice big oak, vanilla, and smoky charcoal aromas. The palate offers richer, more robust flavors of spice, vanilla, and smoke, and the finish is long on the front of the tongue, with no roughness or bitterness. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength ranges from 108 proof to 114 proof, depending on the batch.

Maker’s Mark 46

Maker’s Mark 46 is the first bourbon from their wood-finishing series. Bill Samuels Jr. created this bourbon to amplify the flavors he loves in the original Maker’s Mark.

Maker’s Mark 46 begins with fully matured Maker’s Mark bourbon at cask strength, finished with an innovative wood-stave process. Ten seared French virgin oak staves are inserted into the barrel and allowed to age with the bourbon for nine weeks in their limestone cellar. The result is a bolder, more complex bourbon without any bitterness typically associated with longer-aged whiskies.

On the nose, you’ll notice Maker’s Mark 46 has hints of wood staves, with very caramel-forward, sweet notes. When sipped, you’ll be hit with incredibly intense flavors of wood, which blend perfectly with the deep, complex notes of rich vanilla and caramel. The finish is smooth and subtle. Maker’s Mark 46 has a proof of 96, just slightly higher than Maker’s Mark original.

Maker’s Mark Private Selection

Maker’s Mark Private Selection bourbons further explore their innovative wood-stave-finishing process. To make Private Selection, distillers begin with fully matured Maker’s Mark at casks strength, then add ten custom wood finishing staves to each barrel. The bourbon is then aged in their limestone cellar to develop a unique flavor profile. There are 1,001 different possible stave combinations, each of which produces a unique bourbon.

Maker’s Mark Private Selection is aged for anywhere from 5 3/4 to 7 years, plus finished for nine weeks in cold conditions with their unique combination of staves. The flavors of Private Selection bourbons vary, depending on the combination of staves used. It’s bottled at cask strength, which can range from 108 to 114 proof. Maker’s Mark Private Selection is only available in select markets but can be purchased directly from their distillery.

Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2021 Limited Release

Each year, Maker’s Mark releases a limited release bourbon from their wood finishing series. This year, they’ve released the FAE-01, which uses wood finishing to amplify the already present dried fruit and woody richness in the original Maker’s Mark. They claim it tastes exactly how their warehouse smells: rich figgy notes, tobacco undertones, and pleasantly dank woodiness. As the name suggests, this is a limited release, so it’s only available for a short amount of time. If you’d like to try it, act quickly.

On the nose, you’ll notice very heavy wood aromas, coupled with smells of dark fruit and tobacco. The palate offers deep and dark dried fruit notes and a big midpalate with strong tobacco and barrel extractives. The finish is creamy, round, and lingering. This bourbon is bottled at cask strength and is 110.6 proof.

Which type of Maker’s Mark is best?

This is like asking which type of pizza is best: they’re all amazing, for different reasons. For newer bourbon drinkers, we would recommend Maker’s Mark original. It’s smooth and classic and a great introduction to the world of whiskey. For those who have been drinking Maker’s Mark for a while and want to try something unique, go for Maker’s Mark 46. It’s bolder and more complex, perfect for an experienced bourbon drinker.

For mixing into cocktails, we’d recommend Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. It’s a stronger bourbon with more amped-up flavor notes that can stand up to various mixers. A classic Whiskey Sour made with 46 is an incredible cocktail. Finally, if you’re in the mood for something new, grab the Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2021 Limited Release. It offers amplified notes of dried fruit that you may miss in a normal bourbon. However, it’s only available for a short time, so be sure to try it while it’s around.


Maker’s Mark has been around since 1953 and has been making waves in the world of bourbon whiskey ever since. Maker’s Mark distills bourbons that are incredibly smooth and unique, made with rich winter wheat instead of rye to avoid harsh bitterness. Maker’s Mark currently offers five different types of bourbon, all of them equally distinct and delicious. We’ve explained the differences, but to really understand them, you’ll just have to try them all.

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