I have been on somewhat of a "wheater" kick, with the warm summer weathering lingering, a soft wheated bourbon on the rocks can be rather refreshing compared to a spicy, complex ryed bourbon. Makers is probably the second best known bourbon on the planet (next to Jim Beam). It's remarkable for its consistency--they only use 19 barrels per batch. It has mass appeal, due to having most of the pleasant characteristics of bourbon without the stereotypical burn. It's about as simple and straightforward as whisky gets. Weller Special Reserve claims to be the original wheater. It used to have an age statement of 7 years, and is part of the Weller line of bourbons. For me, this one is the closest comparison as it's relatively the same age/proof (both are 90 proof). Maker's will run you about $25 and Weller about $21. I will say off the bat that I think all of the other Wellers are better than the Special Reserve. The 12 year is nice, and the Antique 107 offers a lot of flavor and value. And of course, WL Weller is a star in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection each year.
Both bourbons pour a yellow/gold color, the Weller having a tinge more russet color
When I toured Makers, the guide said, "Smell it, is it pleasant or unpleasant?" Not the most scientific tasting, but it is pleasant. Makers smells like creamed corn and vanilla with an oak veneer. The Weller offers a bit more complexity on the nose, some corn, fruit, oak bitterness, and maybe a chocolate note. I'd give Weller the slight edge here.
Makers surprises with a bit of a punch of cinnamon spice up front. After the initial rush, it's sweet and simple. It's not cloying in its sweetness. There's just not much to it. The Weller is super simple as well. Jim Murray points out some "subtle spice," and it's there but distant. In a straight pour I'd choose Maker's, as it's pleasant through and through, and the Weller tastse ever so slightly, well, cheap. On the rocks, fruit flavors seems to burst through with the Weller. Despite, or maybe bc/ of the low proof, I actually prefer both of these whiskies on ice. I had them in my Glencarin glass but they don't garner enough respect in that format--they just aren't interesting enough to sip and ponder. On ice, they are both quite nice, but I think the Weller does a bit better.
Neither offer much on the finish. Quick fade and gone. If anything, the Maker's has a slightly unpleasant finish. I can't put my finger on it but I didn't love it. Coin flip on this one. Maybe a slight edge to Weller.
I've said it before, Maker's is the Disney of bourbon. It's simple, sweet, and unchallenging, wrapped up in a neatly packaged wax sealed bow. Sometimes that's all you want. But I'd probably choose a few cheaper, screwtop bourbons to satisfy the itch for something simple, like Four Roses Yellow label at about $18. Weller has the Buffalo Trace backing and a cool history of its own, but as with any product that's one in a lineup, you are bound to have a weak link, and this is it. I'd give Maker's the edge in the intangibility category, for the same reasons Disney is better than other theme parks. As far as value, if you catch Maker's on sale it's about the same price as Weller. Both are good if not great values.
Maker's Mark. I think it achieves its goals as a product a bit better than the Weller, despte Weller edging Maker's in more of my categories. But if you want to be a bourbon snob drink the Weller anyhow since less folks know about it, and really it's about the same. At a comparable price, I would recommend trying the Weller Antique 107 if you can find it; it's better than either of these two bourbons.