Bourbon is an American type of whiskey which is a barrel-aged liquor made mostly from corn. The name comes from the French Bourbon dynasty. The name bourbon was first used in the 1850s. We compare two interesting options – Knob Creek vs Maker’s Mark.
Bourbon has been distilled since the 18th century. It is strongly associated with the southern part of the united stated, with Kentucky being a prominent place where it is produced. Kentucky produces 95% of all bourbon.
In 1964 the United States Congress recognized bourbon as a “distinctive product of the USA”.
In America, bourbon whiskey has several legal requirements. The mash must contain at least 51% corn, the spirit must be aged in oak barrels and the minimum ABV must be 40%. The bourbon may not contain any flavorings or additives.
Bourbon accounts for about 66% of all USA exports of distilled liquor.
What is the difference between whiskey and bourbon?
The three main differences between whiskey and bourbon are the geographical area, the grain used to produce the liquor, and the taste. While whiskey is mostly produced in Scotland, bourbon is produced in the USA, most notably in Kentucky.
Whiskey can be produced from a variety of grains, while bourbon must contain at least 51% corn. The corn gives the bourbon a sweeter taste than that of whiskey, making it smoother.
Bourbon is always aged in new charred oak barrels for at least 2 years and may not contain any additives or coloring. Bourbons are often heavier in texture and have an aroma of toffee, cinnamon, and vanilla.
Different types of Bourbon
- Standard Bourbon Whiskey
- Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey – This must be produced in Kentucky. Water in Kentucky is sourced from Limestone rich soil, making the bourbon rich in flavor.
- Tennessee Whiskey – Produced in Tennessee, the distillate is filtered through charcoal chips often produced from maple wood.
- Straight Bourbon Whiskey – This may be mixed with other straight bourbon whiskeys if it was distilled in the same state.
- Small batch and single-barrel Bourbon – This implies rarity and exclusivity. It is bottled from only one barrel.
- Sour Mash Bourbon – This is what made Jack Daniels famous. A small amount of fermented mash is reserved for another batch the following year.
- Bottled in bond Bourbon – This must be aged for at least four years in a single distillery and the ABV must be 50%.
- Blended Bourbon Whiskey – This must contain at least 51% straight Bourbon.
- High Rye Bourbon – The 51% corn mash is complemented with an additional 20-35% rye.
How Bourbon is made
First, the mater distiller determines the mash bill that is required. By law it must be 51% corn and the balance may be barley, wheat, or rye.
The distiller then mixes the grain with water and yeast creating a fermentable base.
The fermented base is then stored in Vats. This is stored between one to two weeks to allow the fermentation process to complete. This produces ethanol.
Once the fermentation is completed, solids are discarded. The ethanol is then distilled. Distillation purifies the liquid by heating and vaporizing it. Most bourbons are twice distilled.
The first round involves distillation in a beer still. The second round is heated in copper pot stills. This boosts the alcohol content and removes impurities.
It is then aged in new charred oak barrels for at least two years. The charred layer of oak helps to caramelize the sugars, contributing to the color and flavor of the bourbon.
The product is then diluted with water to obtain the desired ABV. The final step is bottling.
About Maker’s Mark
Maker’s Mark is a small-batch bourbon whiskey. It is produced in Loretto, Kentucky by Beam Suntory. It is bottled at 45% ABV and sold in square bottles sealed with red wax.
Maker’s mark began when William Samuels sr. bought “Burks Distillery” in October 1953 for $35 000.00. Production began in 1954 and was first bottled in 1958. The distillery is a National Historic Landmark.
Makers Mark was sold to Heram Walker & Sons in 1981 and then again in 1987 to Allied Domecq. In 2014 it was bought by Beam Suntory, who are the current owners.
Up until 2011, Bill Samuel Jnr oversaw production. His son Rob Samuel took over this position when he retired.
In 2013 they reduced the ABV from 45% to 42%. In 2014 they released Makers Mark Cast strength bourbon with an AVC varying from 53% to 58% ABV.
Maker’s mark uses no rye as part of their mash, making it unique. Their mash consists of 70% corn, 16% red winter wheat, and 14% barley.
Maker’s Mark is aged for about six years. It is bottled and marketed once the company’s tasters agree that it is ready. It is marketed as a small batch of bourbon and is sold in square bottles which are sealed with red wax.
Maker’s Mark rotates barrels to even out differences in temperature. This ensures that the bourbon in all barrels has the same taste and quality.
Maker’s Mark is the only distillery that has its own water source and watershed. The limestone shelf is key to creating its unique taste. The pure calcium and magnesium-rich water ensure a better sour mash in which yeast can flourish.
The heirloom yeast strain is more than 150 years old. Yeast is fermented in Vats that are original to the old “Barks Distillery” They are made from Cypress planks which are over a 100-year-old and contribute to the unique taste of Marker’s Mark. The product is double distilled.
Maker’s Mark Products and pricing
- Maker’s Mark – 750ml – $30.00 – 45% ABV
The aroma is woody oak, caramel, and vanilla with a wheat nose. It is subtle and smooth. The taste is sweet and balanced with caramel, vanilla, and fruit essences.
- Marker’s mark Cask strength – 750ml – $47.00 – 54.5% ABV
The aroma is oak, vanilla, and smoky charcoal. The taste is rich, with robust flavors of spice, vanilla, and smoke.
- Maker’s 46 – 700ml – $60.00 – 47% ABV
The aroma has hints of French oaks and caramelized sugar. The taste is mildly sweet with notes of vanilla, caramel, and baking spice. The finish is smooth and subtle.
- Maker’s Mark Private selection – 750ml – $73.00 – ABV – 54-57%
This is aged up to seven years.
- Maker’s Mark 101 – 750ml – $44.00 – 50.5% ABV
The aroma is sweet dark and bold. The taste is rich, creamy, and soft with spice, fruit, and caramel. The finish is mellow and creamy.
About Knob Creek
Knob Creek is a young bourbon being first introduced in 1992. It was named after a nearby farm called Knob Creek farm. It is a small batch of bourbon that is aged for longer than most bourbons.
It is an American brand of Kentucky bourbon produced by Beam Suntory. It is based at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, and is targeted at the high-end liquor market.
It used to be aged for 9 years in charred American white oak. In 2016 there was a shortage of the product and Jim Beam announced that it could no longer hold its nine-year-old age standard for Knob creek.
It has an ABV of 50% and it is bottled in a rectangular bottle with a coked and waxed sealed top. The bourbon has a dark, amber-brown color.
Knob Creek Products and pricing
- Knob Creek Original – 750ml – $45.00 – 50% ABV
It has a robust oak taste with hints of smooth vanilla and layered caramel. It has a copper to medium amber color.
- Knob Creek 12-year bourbon – 750ml – $70.00 – 60.25% ABV
It has a nose of caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. The finish is medium to long with a hint of oak and cinnamon.
- Knob Creek single barrel select Bourbon – 750ml – $60.00 – 60% ABV
This is aged for nine years in a single barrel. It has a rich amber color. The taste, aroma, and finish vary based on the barrel selected. It was introduced in 2010
- Knob Creek rye bourbon – 750ml – $45.00 – 50 % ABV
This was first released in 2012. Its color has shades of gold to rich amber and the taste is of bold rye spiciness with undertones of vanilla and oak.
- Knob Creek straight smoked Maple – 750ml – $40.00 – 45% ABV
It was Knob Creek’s first flavored bourbon liquor introduced in 2013. The taste is full-bodied with notes of maple, smoke, vanilla, and caramel. The aroma is of smoked maple wood with hints of earthy grains. The finish is smoky, smooth, and slightly sweet.
Knob Creek vs Maker’s Mark – Conclusion
Both bourbons belong to the mid-shelf category of liquors. While Maker’s Mark has spicy vanilla, caramel, and citrus notes, Knob Creek has a more robust flavor. Both can be enjoyed neat, with cola, or in a cocktail.
Your budget and taste will determine which is your favorite. I tend to lean towards Maker’s Mark due to its unique flavor and budget price.