Wait a second: Bourbon is aged in warehouses, not cellars, right? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that “cellar aged” is really just a marketing term meant to evoke what’s really unique about this expression: It’s a blend of whiskies aged 11 to 12 years, which is a first for Maker’s Mark — a company that’s never put out an expression older than a decade before. In fact, in events I’ve attended with Rob Samuels, I’ve tasted samples of Maker’s Mark that were about 8 years old that were deemed “over-aged.” Rack bottles of Maker’s Mark hit the shelf at about 6 1/2 years of age.
Now Maker’s is “embracing both the unique impact that our warehouse and cellar maturation have on flavor” to offer “an older expression that is richer and more complex whilst staying true to the founder’s taste vision of bourbon without the bite.” Curiously, the decision was made to bottle Cellar Aged at cask strength, which definitely goes a long way toward keeping said bite intact.
The whiskey will be a permanent addition to the Maker’s Mark portfolio, released annually.
Nosing Cellar Aged quickly reveals that fears surrounding this whiskey being overblown by wood can be safely put aside. Yes, it is heavy on notes of punchy charred wood, but not overly so. Balanced by aromas of mint, toasted coconut, and a slight hit of umami-heavy soy, the whiskey offers complexity while keeping its focus on a fairly savory target — which one would expect from an 11 year old product. Time in glass helps coax out some interesting citrus notes,
The palate opens the door up to a more interesting and balanced profile. Textured and quite fruity, it’s bold with citrus notes, bordering on the edge between orange and lemon. A bold vanilla and chocolate character quickly become visible, the palate becoming much sweeter than you would expect based on the heavier, wood-soaked nose. Notes of pastry cream and a reprise of mint arrive for the lengthy and not at all savory finish. Echoes of citrus play a delicate foil against the lingering cocoa elements.
While Cellar Aged may be a bit much for the typical Maker’s Mark fan, there’s certainly enough to enjoy here to merit sampling it side by side against the company’s standard expressions — and especially its cask strength offerings. The annual limited release offerings may be more intriguing if you’re trying to decide where to put your pennies, however.
A- / $150 / makersmark.com