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Taste Test: An Outstanding Bourbon That Also Advances Diversity in the Whiskey Industry

A review of the collaboration between Maker's Mark and the Black Bourbon Society.

Black Bourbon Society’s Maker’s Mark Private Selection: Recipe 2 Photo: courtesy Maker's Mark

The Black Bourbon Society is a membership organization meant to connect “the spirits industry and African American bourbon enthusiasts through our social media platforms, brand-partnered events and exclusive excursions,” according to the group’s mission statement. It’s also behind the Diversity Distilled program, which is focused on addressing issues of representation within the spirits industry. Maker’s Mark, along with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, is a backer, so it makes sense that BBS should participate in the Kentucky distillery’s Private Selection program. This program, unique to Maker’s, allows you to custom-finish a barrel of cask-strength whiskey by selecting ten wooden staves to add to it. The barrel is then put into the distillery’s limestone cellar for another nine weeks before bottling.

For their second Private Selection pick, BBS founder Samara Davis and her husband and BBS COO Armond selected the following staves: 1 Baked American Pure 2 stave, 2 Seared French Cuvee staves, 2 Maker’s Mark 46 staves, 3 Roasted French Mendiant staves and 2 Toasted French Spice staves. “First, Samara and I each choose our own ‘best’ stave combination,” explained Armond in an email. “We then taste each other’s blend and come up with a way to express the flavor notes from each of our individual expressions into a final combination that captures the essence of what we were both trying to achieve. The final bourbon is a perfect interpretation of both of our palates.”

So what does all that actually mean in terms of flavor? The result is a delicious bourbon, with a strong but not overpowering proof of 110.4 (typical for cask-strength Maker’s). The nose is sweet and grainy, with a hint of hot honey at the tail end of your first whiff. That note carries over into a wonderfully fruity palate, dominated by ripe plum and cherry flavors that intermingle with orange, vanilla, caramel apple, and cafe au lait. There’s a pleasant hit of almond that pops on the finish as the bourbon fades. This is an altogether lovely Private Selection, and really stands out as a sipping bourbon, although I’m sure this would make for an excellent Old Fashioned as well.

According to Armond, working with Maker’s Mark is about more than the ability to customize Private Selection picks. “Maker’s Mark has supported our vision for diversity and inclusion in the spirits industry since we first met with them back in 2017,” he wrote. “They have always given us every opportunity to push the envelope with what we are doing, and have treated us as true partners. The results have been undeniable and serve as proof that diversity, when truly fostered, can take all parties involved to new heights.” The bottom line is that this barrel pick is one worth seeking out, although you might have to cross state lines. It’s now available for an MSRP of $69.99 in Louisville, Chicago, New York City, Atlanta and Tampa, and will enter markets in California, North Carolina, D.C. and Alabama over the coming year.

Score: 95


What Our Score Means

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for 
  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet 
  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram 
  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market 
  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable 
  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this 

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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