Maker's Mark Distillery - Beam Global
$42.95 -- 90 Proof (45% ABV)
Maker's Mark is one of the greatest branding success stories in the spirits world -- scratch that, one of the biggest successes period. They apparently sell out of their complete volume every year -- despite that, you can find it pretty much everywhere. The red wax is iconic and the distillery aimed for a premium market from the get-go; one of their first advertising campaigns is brilliant:
For decades, Maker's entire strategy has been to tout their consistency; they rotate barrels in their warehouse and claimed to put out only a single product. (This is false -- one of my collection's treasures is a bottle of 100 proof extra-aged premium Maker's from the early 90s; the lower dilution and extra time really makes the normally-mild wheat shine compared to the current offering.)
Maker's is, above all, incredibly easy to drink. While most bourbons are made with corn, rye, and barley, Maker's substitutes wheat for rye. Wheat is a more subtle flavouring grain than rye; it takes very well to aging, backing off and allowing complexity from the wood to shine through, but as Maker's is typically 6 years old (according to their official line; it has no age statement, so it could be as young as 4), the mild wheat takes center stage.
For people who want their drinks to be "smooth" above all else, Maker's is probably the way to go. There's not a lot in the nose -- corn and wood chips, really; it's hard to tell if Maker's is so basic because that's what the company taught us normal bourbon should smell like, or if middle-of-the-road was entirely what they were aiming for. The taste is very sweet, a tiny bit of the wheat tingle, a little diluted syrup. It's smooth, smooth, smooth; well balanced but thin. The finish is blink and you'll miss it -- sweet; wheat; spice; gone. It really requires a shot for the taste to linger at all, and that doesn't overwhelm, which is probably why it is so popular for bourbon shots.
Makers is a completely average bourbon (2 out of 5) and a great introduction to whiskey. There's nothing wrong with it, just not a lot that's interesting. That makes it the perfect thing for a lot of folks, and there's nothing wrong with that -- I like a good well-balanced pilsner every now and then.
Value-wise, the whiskey itself isn't a fantastic value. 90 proof for $42 isn't great, and there's a ton of competition from more interesting whiskeys around that price. What a bottle, though! That, and its universal appeal, means it deserves a place on most shelves, bumping it up to an OK value. Just don't hoard it or anything.