Yes, this deliberately mellow American brand labels itself « whisky » rather than whiskey. While Maker’s Mark is a mid-20th century concoction registered long after Irish and Scottish spellings contentiously diverged, the brand says on Twitter that « whisky » was a deliberate nod to founder Bill Samuels Sr.’s family roots. Granted, the elder Samuels was a sixth-generation distiller using his family’s 170-year-old recipe, so Maker’s Mark didn’t spring from nowhere.

While it has acquired new owners, Maker’s Mark remains under production by three generations of Samuelses, including the founder’s rocket scientist son Bill Jr., who’s on history’s short list of people who have worked with both real and metaphorical rocket fuel. Few distillers can draw on such a direct line of knowledge and experience, and it shows in the brand’s tasting profile.

The quality is a given, but Maker’s Mark is also unobtrusive, a hallmark of wheated bourbons — known for soft, almost buttery, smoothness — a style that is enjoying its hour at last. The first of the premium bourbons, and a mainstay of bars everywhere, the famous wax-dipped bottle is a real standard for both bourbon and American whiskey.

While the original is a ubiquitous litmus test — if you don’t like it, you probably just don’t like bourbon — Maker’s 46 is a simplified version, aged in cooler temperatures, which mixes beautifully in Manhattan cocktails. Bill Jr. spent so much effort refining this highly affordable bottle that he called it more difficult than rocket science. He would know.

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