Last Updated on October 10, 2023 by Lydia Martin
Two names come to the forefront of most people’s minds regarding American whiskey: Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.
Here at Liquor Laboratory, we’ve got our personal favorites, but we’re not going to let our initial biases get in the way of giving you our honest verdict.
We’ve gathered the team and explored these two whiskey brands – neat, on the rocks, and in cocktails – and we’re excited to share our firsthand insights.
So, if you’re curious about which one of these bourbons should find a place on your home bar, you won’t want to miss this sip-by-sip showdown of Jim Beam vs Maker’s Mark.
Jim Beam & Maker’s Mark In-Depth Comparison
Although Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark are part of the same family, they’re both under Beam Suntory, a spirits company owned by Suntory Holdings in Japan; they still differ in many ways.
But while the same company owns the two brands, their distillation process happens in different locations. Jim Beam is produced in the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky.
Conversely, Makers Mark is produced in the Maker’s Mark Distillery on the Star Hill Farm in Loretto, Kentucky.
“Maker’s Mark is like a comforting embrace from an old friend, its inviting nature making every sip feel like a warm reunion.” – Liquor Laboratory
Their mash bills are also starkly different. Jim Beam is more spicy, with 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley.
Maker’s Mark’s mash bill consists of 70% corn, 16% red winter wheat (instead of the traditional rye), and 14% malted barley. The red winter wheat is the star of the Maker Mark brand (not only its distinctive red wax), making this bourbon smoother and adding some bready flavor to the mix.
Maker’s Mark vs Jim Beam Cheat Sheet
|Aspect||Jim Beam||Maker’s Mark|
|Country of Origin||USA||USA|
|Mash Bill||75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley||70% corn, 16% red wheat, and 14% malted barley|
|Aging Process||4 years||6 to 7 years|
|Alcohol by Volume||40%||45%|
|Price Range||Around $25||Around $35|
|Serving Suggestions||60 ml||60 ml|
|Special Features||Inner “alligator char” on oak barrels||Made with red winter wheat instead of the traditional rye|
|Awards||None||Spirit Gold – Outstanding, IWSC (2021)|
|Distillery Location||Clermont, KY||Loretto, KY|
|Food Pairings||Meat||Fruit and cheese|
|How To Drink||In cocktails||Neat|
|Similar To||Jack Daniel’s||Bulleit|
Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon
Quick History: Jim Beam bourbon has roots that go back to the late 1700s when Jacob Beam, a German immigrant, decided to try his hand at whiskey-making in Kentucky. Fast forward to today, and Jim Beam is still going strong under the ownership of Suntory Holdings.
Nose: Caramel, vanilla, hay, and corn
Palate: Tasting notes include oak, vanilla, black pepper, malted barley, and oak spice, with a traditional peanut note that’s a hallmark of all Jim Beam whiskeys
Finish: Short and spicy, with caramel, corn, oak spice, honey, and a tinge of black pepper
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Our First Sip: Our first sip was an intriguing journey through various flavors. The initial aroma of the drink promised sweetness, and the bourbon whiskey delivered corn, caramel, and butterscotch notes.
However, a faint whiff of ethanol added a bit of a kick, which we didn’t like.
Final Taste: We couldn’t help but appreciate Jim Beam’s affordability, but it fell a bit short as a sipping bourbon. The lack of body and the peppery harshness made it fine for mixing, but we prefer something more mellow for sipping neat. 
Star Rating: ★★☆☆☆
- Jim Beam White Label is aged for four years in newly charred American white oak barrels, which gives it delightful vanilla notes.
- The limestone-filtered water of Kentucky creates the ideal environment for the yeast to work its magic. They have been using the same strain of yeast and sour mash since the end of Prohibition in 1933.
- The oak barrels’ unique “alligator char” helps caramelize sugars and create a rich flavor profile.
- The bourbon whiskey is aged for four years before bottling.
Maker’s Mark Whisky
Quick History: Makers Mark was founded in 1953 by Bill Samuels Senior and his wife Margie. Bill’s mission was to create a soft, smooth, and nuanced bourbon, setting it apart from the traditional family recipe.
Nose: Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and almond
Palate: Sweet, velvety, and slightly nutty, with rye spice, caramel, and dried fruit notes
Finish: Long and satisfying, with notes of caramel and a gentle spice
Our First Sip: We were impressed with Maker’s Mark on our first sip. The initial nose hinted at a touch of acetone, but this quickly gave way to delightful notes of vanilla, cherry, and rye spice as the bourbon opened up.
Final Taste: Maker’s Mark stands as a well-rounded and enjoyable bourbon. It is incredibly balanced, with no off-putting notes.
Its wheat mash bill sets it apart, which offers hints of bread-like goodness. Other premium bourbons, like Pappy Van Winkle, are also known for their wheat mash bills.
“I’ve sampled the finest bourbons in the world, but there’s something truly exceptional about Pappy Van Winkle. It’s the elixir of legends.” — Anthony Bourdain, Chef
This whisky is perfect for those new to the world of wheated bourbons. It’s also great for those seeking an easy-sipping “everyday whisky,” with a smooth and mellow character.
However, if you’re looking for a bold cocktail mixer, you may have a better chance with other bourbons.
Star Rating: ★★★★☆
- Unlike many whiskeys (like Jim Beam Black, Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, or Jack Daniel’s) with a specific age statement, Maker’s Mark is bottled based on the tasters’ judgment of readiness. It is usually aged for 6 to 7 years.
- A distinctive feature of this American whiskey is its name, spelled with a “whisky” instead of “whiskey,” paying homage to its Scottish heritage. 
- Makers Mark is known for its unique bottle shape and signature wax seal, which remains handmade until today.
Is Maker’s Mark stronger than Jim Beam?
No, Maker’s Mark is not stronger than Jim Beam in terms of alcohol content. Maker’s Mark has an alcohol content of 90 proof (45% ABV), while Jim Beam’s alcohol content is 80 proof (40% ABV).
Is Jim Beam considered a good bourbon?
Jim Beam is a good bourbon brand, especially for cocktails and mixed drinks. However, it may not be regarded as a top-tier sipping bourbon due to its lack of body and slight peppery harshness.
Is Maker’s Mark owned by Jim Beam?
No, Maker’s Mark is not owned by Jim Beam. However, both brands are part of the Beam Suntory company.
After having sampled the two brands, we have to say that this round goes to Makers Mark.
We find Jim Beam’s overpowering peppery taste slightly off-putting. Conversely, Maker’s Mark is softer and more nuanced, with a well-rounded taste and flavor profile. This makes it a standout bourbon for sipping or enjoying on the rocks.
Thanks to its special wheat mash bill, it also makes sense that each drink is super smooth, sweet, and easy to enjoy.
However, this isn’t to say that Jim Beam is bad – we actually prefer this brand in mixed drinks. Each bottle is also incredibly affordable and accessible, so this is a solid choice if you need a whiskey to drink for last-minute get-togethers and parties.