This is a tough review for me, since I'm going into it with... feelings. Maker's Mark is probably the perfect whiskey to introduce someone to the concept of whiskey with, as it is whiskey without a strong finish. The finish, as I've noted before, is why I love bourbon. However, it's also a tough thing to deal with if you haven't drank much hard booze and you're conditioned by tough-guy movies or whatever to believe that a strong finishing flavor is harsh. I was a right snotty young man a few years ago, the kind who couldn't help rolling his eyes at people who took a shot of Jack Daniels (probably the smoothest and blandest of American whiskeys) and declared it to be harsh. It wasn't a tough-guy judgement for me, like drinking terrible whiskey was a decade ago, but it was still an unfair one. All sorts of folks have been trained to believe that "smooth and easy" is desirable -- and why not? That's what a lot of folks are looking for in life, too -- things to just be smooth and easy, for once. That said, I'm not a cantankerous old man who insists that hardship always builds character, but I actually like a little roughness and difficulty in both my life and my whiskey.
Maker's 46 launched at a time when I was knee-deep in my whiskey obsession, prior to Ontario opening up the floodgates a bit. Its marketing campaign was also a bit suspect -- Maker's claimed that it was the first time they offered an alternative to their standard product (Maker's marketing is based around consistency, holding up consistency as the highest sign of quality), which the late-80 dusty bottle of import Maker's 101 hidden in my whiskey closet proves wrong. I had lots of reasons to distrust Maker's at the time.
The bottle of 46 I'm drinking from was from the first release to hit the shelves in Kentucky. I've heard newer bottlings of it are a little more balanced, but, hey, I drank a couple ounces from this when it came out and let it sit. Despite that, it has a reasonable kick -- 90 proof shines through without being harsh. It has the same hints of cinnamon in the taste that Maker's often has, and manages to expand upon them and let them linger. That said, there's not a ton here. It's tasty, but not interesting -- where the 4RSB I had last night was one-note, this is even less intriguing (an ambient ocean sound compared to the Ramones, maybe?). That said, it's a wheater, and they're relatively rare, with a lot of the same nice wheat-grain-notes that bourbon nerds like. If it was aged longer on top of more efficiently aged (the gimmick with this guy is they add additional wood staves to the barrel, to increase the surface area of oak affecting the aging white dog -- that's why they can't call it Straight Bourbon), it might be something really special. The higher proof really benefits the Maker's flavor profile; I would absolutely love to try some 101 or barrel proof of the current product, but they're so strapped for juice they tried to drop the proof of their base offering, so that seems like a pipe dream.