Maker's Mark vs Bulleit

Maker’s Mark vs Bulleit | Which wins the Kentucky bourbon battle?

Having worked in the same pub for 5 years in Glasgow, Scotland, various whiskies and whiskeys came and went from the backbar line up. But regardless of the season, there were always permanent bottles that never ‘ran dry’.

Amongst those were your typical Scotches; Johnnie Walker, Macallan and Glenlivet to name just a few. But from ‘across the pond’ there were certainly some staple American fixtures which were ever-present.

Namely, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and some cool looking ones I’d never even heard of (yet alone poured) prior to my first work shift. Yes, I’m talking about Makers Mark and Bulleit. Two whiskeys I became very familiar with in my time as a bartender.

If you’re weighing these bottles up, you’re in the right place. This review will deep dive into each bottle’s characteristics to help you decide which is best for you. Smell, taste, finish and overall character.

Let’s dive in.

Quick Brand overview

Both these whiskeys are made in Kentucky USA using the sour mash method and qualify as Kentucky Straight Bourbons. Interestingly, each brand are relitively young for American whiskeys, having only been established in the mid to late 20th century.

Notably, Maker’s Mark use the Scottish spelling of ‘whisky’ on their bottle. As one of just a few American distilleries to spell it this way, this was the Samuels (owners) way of paying homage to their Scottish heritage.

Makers Mark is owned by Beam Suntory and is the slightly more established of the two distilleries, founded by Bill Samuels Sr. in 1953. Unlike most bourbons, their mashbill doesn’t contain rye. Instead, they use red winter wheat for their grain recipe, along with malted barley and corn. Currently, their core-range consists of three bourbons; Makers Mark, Makers Mark Cask Strength and Makers Mark 46. Their whiskeys are famed for their signature square bottles with their iconic red wax dip around the cap and long neck.

Bulleit Bourbon was founded much later by Tom Bulleit in 1987. They’re owned by the world’s largest beverage company Diageo, with their first dedicated distillery opened in 2017. Following a more traditional bourbon mashbill, they use rye, corn and malted barley to make their range of core bottles; Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, Bulleit Rye, Bulleit Bourbon 10 year old and Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength. Compared to other bourbons, their whiskeys are considered to be a ‘high rye’ grain recipe which typically delivers a more spiced flavour than Maker’s Mark.

Maker’s Mark vs Bulleit

Bottle of Makers Mark Kentucky Bourbon

Maker’s Mark

Nose: Fruit, spice, honey, nuts & oak

Palate: Rich, spiced, malty, nutty with butterscotch & vanilla

Mouthfeel: Nut oily

Finish: Oaky, sweet with spice

Age: 5-7 years (average)

Barrels: American oak

Mashbill: 70% corn, 16% winter wheat & 14% malted barley

Strength: 94 proof / 47 ABV%

Price: £26 / $31

Close view of of Bulleit Bourbon bottle

Bulleit Bourbon (Frontier)

Nose: Oak, vanilla & orange

Palate: Spices, maplewood, tobacco & orange

Mouthfeel: Bright & light

Finish: Spicy & smooth

Age: 6-8 years (average)

Barrels: American white-oak

Mashbill: 68% corn, 28% rye & 4% malted barley

Strength: 90 proof / 45 ABV%

Price: £27 / $33

Bottle of Makers Mark bourbon resting on top of rock outside

A closer look at Makers Mark

As far as bourbon bottles go, this is one of my personal favourites. The vivid red wax seal on the top is so damn cool and is a real characterising detail I’ve always loved the look and feel of. There’s something special, not to mention therapeutic about peeling the wax from the screw cap. Odd as it may seem, it reminds me of my favourite edam cheese as a child – fond memories.

Nose: Maker’s Mark whiskey has a lovely scent. After the ceremonial wax removal, I’m immediately struck by the unmistakable aromas of sweet oak, fruit and fragrant spice. The nose is deep and rich with notes of honey, almond and toasted marshmallow. There’s a strong smell of vanilla and butterscotch that adds an extra layer of complexity to its bouquet.

The Maker’s Mark whiskey has been aged in charred white oak barrels for at least five years, which gives it an oaky, slightly smoky aroma. As I let my nose linger over the glass, I can also detect subtle scents of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s a relitively simple yet inviting smell.

Palate: On my first sip of Maker’s Mark whiskey, I’m immediately hit with a burst of sweet, oaky flavour. The taste is rich and full-bodied, with notes of caramel, strong vanilla and butterscotch that linger on the tongue. There’s also a subtle hint of spice, which lends an extra layer of complexity. It’s very smooth with very little heat or burn.

As intended, the ryeless mashbill of Makers Mark delivers a smooth and creamy finish. The taste is rounded off with a pleasant combination of oak, spice and dried fruit flavours. For me, this whiskey has a balanced sweetness that makes it incredibly easy to drink neat or on the rocks.

Finish: At the end of each sip, it has a smooth and satisfying finish. I can taste warm notes of oak and dried fruit, followed by a pleasant hint of spice that lingers on the mid palate. The sweetness also remains, with hints of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch that balance out the woody flavour.

Maker’s Mark whiskey has a unique finish that sets it apart from other bourbons; it’s subtly smoky and remarkably smooth. There is no harsh burn or aftertaste, only a gentle reminder of its simple but delicious flavour profile. Vanilla sweetness with oak. Lovely.

Value: If you’re new to whiskey and venturing into the different bourbon brands, this would make an excellent entry bottle. Makers Mark is cheerfully low cost and has a relitively simple flavour profile of sweet vanilla and oak with a beautifully creamy drinking experience.

In my opinion, it’s the lack of rye in this bourbon that makes it super easy going and incredibly mellow to drink. You get all the typical bourbon flavours, but without the bourbon ‘bite’. For newbies, this is a nice way to start your bourbon journey. As a gift or treat to yourself, the red wax seal is certainly a memorable touch.

For around $30 (£25 or so) Maker’s Mark is very much in the entry level category, alongside Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. Given the ‘small batch’ nature of this brand (only one million bottles per year) Maker’s Mark bourbon delivers a warming family-business sort of vibe that you can really get behind. It’s unpretentious and delivers basic but nice flavours.

Close view of Bulleit Bourbon Kentucky whiskey bottle

A closer look at Bulleit Bourbon Frontier

Opening the Bulleit bottle is a less ornate experience. No red wax to welcome you this time, just a paper sticker seal. Still, it’s much better than the metal screw caps of low level Scotch blends. (Just me, or do you hate those too?)

Nose: Poured into my glass, I’m greeted with a rich and inviting aroma that is unmistakably bourbon. There are notes of oak, with a hint of vanilla and orange zest. There’s also this nostalgic smoky smell – a background ‘hum’ of tobacco leaf that reminds me of old Dad’s late night cigars. It’s an alluring blend that gives a subtle suggestion of sweetness that lingers on the nose.

As I take a deeper breath in, I’m struck by its complexity and nuances, as it fills my nostrils with hints of warm winter spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. The smell has an inviting warmth to it, suggesting it will be an enjoyable drinking experience.

Palate: On my first sip, I can immediately tell that this is a quality bourbon. On the tongue, I’m met with a light and refreshing texture, nicely balanced by the subtle sweetness of oranges. This is quickly followed by a warming winter spice mix of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. There’s a slight burn going on, but for me it’s relitively mild and not particularly harsh. As it slowly moves through my mouth, I detect hints of tobacco leaf that provide some additional complexity to the flavour.

The mouthfeel of Bulleit Bourbon is smooth and has a slight hint of oak that provides structure to the drink. There’s also an underlying creamy texture that makes it feel luxurious on the palate, giving an impressive finish that lingers just long enough to savour its deliciousness before it fades away.

Finish: At the end of each sip, the finish of Bulleit Bourbon is nothing short of spectacular. It’s smooth, with a gentle warmth that slowly dissipates in your mouth. The lingering notes of oak and tobacco leaf are the perfect balance to the sweetness of oranges and winter spices. There’s also a slight hint of maple which helps create a rich, creamy texture that lingers on the tongue.

Considering it’s age and price point, Bulleit is a relitively complex whiskey that has an ever-changing character as you drink it. It has a long, dry finish that is lightly sweet yet surprisingly smooth and never overwhelms your taste buds.

Value: For it’s price and age, this bourbon has excellent depth of flavour. It’s got more of that typical rye-heat but it’s balanced nicely with a lovely orange sweetness and vanilla. With a mid to high proof (90) it’s certainly strong enough for sipping neat. I personally didn’t feel the need to add water, but if you did, it’d certainly subdue some the spice and mild heat.

At your local store, Bulleit is pretty much the same price as Makers Mark. Around $33 dollars (£27) it’s still within that low-budget bracket. Despite that, I honestly think this is one of the best entry-level bourbons on the market. I’m genuinely impressed with the level of depth this whiskey gave. Compared to Jim Beam or Jack, this would be my preference.

Final thoughts

Comparing Maker’s Mark vs Bulleit, it’s a close call. Both are superb entry-level Kentucky bourbons which I both really enjoyed – but for totally different reasons.

The MM bourbon was wonderfully smooth and easy going. It was a simple, sweet and basic dram which delivered a pleasing drinking experience. There was very little burn and the lack of rye was a quirky nuance to this overall tasty bourbon.

However, the Bulleit was far more assertive with it’s spice and brought a little more ‘profile’ to the flavour structure. Much more heat and spice but with the honey vanilla sweetness that you’d expect from any bourbon. Compared to the MM, the Bulleit has a more going on. There’s greater depth with more layers of spices which swung my vote.

Author’s pick

Choosing between the two, I’d go with the Bulleit. For the money, I think its just got more character and variety of flavour. With each sip, I felt there was more to discover in the realm of aromatic winter spice; nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon mixed with maple. It’s a charming mixture that delivers way above it’s price tag. This is my winner, for sure.

Makers Mark Bourbon bottle beside chocolate brownies

Maker’s Mark food pairings

Maker’s Mark bourbon pairs particularly well with sweet dishes, due to its mild, smooth flavour. It’s also excellent for marinating meats, as the sweetness of this whisky helps to tenderize tougher cuts of steak or pork.

Maker’s Mark also tastes great with fish. Try it with miso-glazed black cod or salmon. It has a caramel and vanilla flavour that pairs wonderfully with seafood. Prawns cooked with a garlic butter are the perfect match.

Maker’s Mark is also known for its sweet notes that make it an ideal accompaniment for desserts or fruity drinks. Maker’s Mark’s rich sweetness helps to bring out the best flavours in various fruits and complements pastries amazingly well. This whiskey is also a great addition to sauces and dressings, adding a unique layer of flavour while still being light enough not to overpower other ingredients.

Maker’s Mark is a great pairing for chocolate brownies as its velvety texture and sweet notes of vanilla and caramel bring out the delicious richness of the chocolate. Its spicy finish helps to balance the sweetness of the brownies, making it an ideal beverage to accompany them. The whisky also has a relatively low proof, so even those who don’t typically indulge in whisky can enjoy this pairing without feeling overwhelmed. Enjoy Maker’s Mark with your next batch of chocolate brownies for a truly decadent treat.

Bulleit Bourbon food pairings

For starters, Bulleit Bourbon can be paired perfectly with a delicious charcuterie board. The bourbon’s caramel and vanilla notes will complement the salami, prosciutto, and other cured meats found in many boards. Additionally, its subtle spice will help bring out the flavours of the cured meats and cheeses. It’s also an ideal pairing for a classic Caesar salad. The bourbon’s sweetness will offset the acidity of the dressing, creating a balanced flavour profile that complements this beloved dish.

When it comes to mains, Bulleit Bourbon is an excellent accompaniment to anything barbequed. Like most bourbons, it goes wonderfully with grilled pork chops. Its complex flavour notes make it a great partner for dishes that feature bold smokiness or sweetness from barbecue sauces or glazes. Pulled pork sandwiches are another great option as well; the bourbon’s sweet finish is sure to please those who like their sandwiches on the sweeter side.

For dessert, Bulleit Bourbon pairs beautifully with bread pudding. This classic Southern dessert features a rich custard filling laced with raisins and cinnamon that pairs wonderfully with Bulleit’s depth of flavours. Additionally, its mild caramel and toffee notes provide just enough sweetness without overwhelming the dish’s deeper flavours.

Whiskey cocktail inside a rocks glass beside ingredients on a table top

Maker’s Mark cocktails suggestions

Gold Rush

Ingredients

  • 50ml Maker’s Mark Bourbon
  • 25ml honey syrup
  • 25ml lemon juice
  • Lemon wedge

Method

Fill shaker with ice and add the bourbon, lemon juice, and honey syrup. Shake vigorously for several seconds before straining the mixture into an ice-packed rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge. Serve.

Maker’s Mint Julep

Ingredients

  • 50ml Maker’s Mark Bourbon
  • 25ml simple syrup
  • Fresh mint (sprigs on stalks)

Method

Add mint and syrup to a julep cup. Muddle the mint until it releases its oils. Add in crushed ice and add your bourbon. Give everything one final stir before garnishing it off with a sprig of fresh mint. Serve.

Maker’s Mule

Ingredients

  • 50ml Maker’s Mark Bourbon
  • 25ml lime juice
  • Fresh citrus fruit pieces or puree
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • Ginger ale

Method

Muddle the fruit in a shaker, then add Maker’s Mark, fresh lime juice, and bitters. Shake vigorously to combine the ingredients before straining into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice cubes. Top off your cocktail with ginger ale for a bit of fizz and garnish it with more freshly cut fruit. Serve.

Whisky cocktail beside rosemary sprig and Bulleit Bourbon bottle

Bulleit Bourbon Cocktail Suggestions

Walnut Old Fashioned

Ingredients

  • 50ml oz Bourbon
  • 25ml black walnut liqueur
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Method

Measure the Bulleit Bourbon into an ice-filled rocks glass. Add in simple syrup and bitters then stir until the level of the liquid reaches that of the ice. For garnish, add a zesty orange peel on top. Serve.

Kentucky Mule

Ingredients

  • 50ml Bulleit Bourbon
  • 12ml lime juice
  • 125ml ginger ale/beer

Method

Add your bourbon and lime juice in an ice-filled rocks glass. Stir to combine and add float the ginger ale/beer over the top. Garnish with lime wedge and serve.

Bulleit Boulevardier

Ingredients

  • 25ml Bulleit bourbon
  • 25ml Sweet vermouth
  • 25ml Campari
  • Cubed ice
  • Orange peel twist

Method

Measure the bourbon, vermouth and Campari into a mixing glass and add ice. Stir until cold. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with an orange peel twist. Serve.

Close view of an Old Fashioned cocktail beside a bottle of Makers Mark bourbon

FAQ’s

Is Maker’s Mark or Bulleit better?

Maker’s Mark is a sweeter wheated bourbon with a soft sweet flavour profile. Bulleit is relitively ‘high rye’ and has bolder spiced flavours with an intense finish. Maker’s Mark tends to be more expensive than Bulleit, but both are considered quality bourbons.

What type of whiskey is Maker’s Mark?

Maker’s Mark is a Kentucky straight bourbon. Unlike most bourbons, it uses wheat in its mashbill instead of rye. This gives it’s characteristically smooth, sweet flavour with hints of vanilla and caramel.

What type of whiskey is Bulleit?

Bulleit is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It has a high rye content, which gives it its distinctively full-bodied flavour profile with notes of spice and oak. Additionally, Bulleit also has hints of sweet vanilla and dried fruit on the finish.

Is Maker’s Mark a top-shelf whiskey?

No. Maker’s Mark is considered a mid-shelf whiskey. At an average of $30, it’s very affordable and widely available in most shops and bars. It’s known for its super smooth taste and vanilla sweet flavour profile. Made in small batches, only 1 million bottles are made a year at their Loretto distillery in Kentucky. Aged between 5-7 years in new American white oak barrels, it’s a simple but pleasing mid-level bourbon that can be drank neat or used in cocktails.

Is Bulleit a high end bourbon?

Bulleit is a mid to high end bourbon, costing around $30. It’s one of the more popular whiskeys for mixologists due to its bold, spiced flavour profile and intense finish. It’s aged between 6-7 years in charred American white oak barrels before being bottled at 90 proof, giving it a strong kick that stands out in cocktails.

Why is Maker’s Mark dipped in wax?

Maker’s Mark is dipped in red wax to act as a signature seal of authenticity. It is entirely aesthetic which provides no real practical function. However, the vivid red wax is a very memorable aspect to the square bottles appearance and makes it instantly identifiable when on a supermarket shelf or backbar.

Why is Maker’s Mark so good?

Maker’s Mark is beloved amongst whiskey drinkers for its soft, sweet flavour profile and smooth finish. Maker’s Mark uses wheat rather than rye in their mashbill, which gives it a mellow sweetness with hints of vanilla and caramel. Aged between 5-7 years in the Maker’s Mark distillery, Maker’s Mark provides an excellent bourbon drinking experience with just a hint of oak and spice. It’s also very reasonably priced compared to other whiskey brands, making it an affordable yet high quality option.

Can you drink maker’s mark straight?

Yes, Maker’s Mark can be enjoyed straight, on the rocks or in cocktails. Its sweet and mellow flavour profile makes it an excellent choice for a whisky sour or an old fashioned. Maker’s Mark also goes well with ginger ale or cola and is often used as a base in cocktails due to its simplicity and balance of flavours.

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