Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Makers Mark vs. Weller Special Reserve

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.


  1. i like these comparisons of budget priced bottles. of course if you buy something expensive it will be great, the trick is to find the bottles that are much better than their price.
    have you done any budget buy reviews on scotch? generally when i'm thinking cheap, i look at bourbon, but there are some cheaper scotches you could get. just wondering if you've tried any. i bought a bottle of famous grouse, it was pretty cheap, but not bad.

    1. Aberfeldy 10 can be found under 35 a bottle all day. Very good single malt for the price. Balentine 12 is also a value at $25 For a good blend.

  2. Famous Grouse is great. I feel they use a higher percentage of malted barley vs. grain whisky. I just read an article about grain whisky being more than just "scottish vodka," but still, single malts generally have more to offer than blends. Famous Grouse has another one out called Black Grouse, it's a peatier version. I will try to do a review of some budget scotch, there are some single malts in the 20-35 dollar range that are decent.

  3. I appreciate the work you put into this; however, I believe that this may have possibly had some bias built in. I have had both of these bourbons, and really like the smooth flavor of each.

    You really seem to be able to put your thoughts down well with regard to what you see, taste and smell.

    I would challenge you to do this same comparison again. But, this time, have a trusted friend help you do this as a blind test. I would like to read what you have to say about each after you were not reading the labels before pouring.

  4. Weller was $9 A bottle when I started drinking it a decade ago. Now it just isn't worth it since some idgit decided to say it was "Younger Pappy". Makers is a better product, and this is from someone who once maintained at least five handles of Weller at all times. Weller 12 and Antique used to be $25 A bottle, but at $50 now there is far better for the price. Weller was a cheap classic until pop culture got ahold of it.

  5. Shelby,
    Wow, I remember the cheapest seeing Weller was around 15 bucks. Yes, it's way overhyped now. I was able to get a few bottles of the 12 year in Tampa a couple years back for 30 each. It's great stuff, but nothing overly special.