Bourbon will remain 90 proof while distillery works to expand capacity
Last week Maker's Mark announced that it would begin lowering the alcohol percentage of its bourbon in an effort to keep up with growing demand without increasing prices. The Internet responded with predictable rage, and today the company says it has reversed its decision and Maker's Mark will remain 90 proof.
"While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision," said chief operating officer Rob Samuels and chairman emeritus Bill Samuels Jr. in an announcement on the bourbon's Facebook page. "You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down. So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning."
The decision to water down the bourbon was made in an attempt to keep demand for the spirit from outstripping its supply, but some customers had said they would be willing to even put up with occasional shortages rather than have the recipe changed.
The company says it is working to expand capacity at the distillery to keep up with the new demand, and the Samuels point out that a sudden demand boom is a pretty good problem for a company to have.
"We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created," they said. "Same recipe. Same production process. Same product."
Maker's Marketing: How Bourbon Came Back Into Style
Maker's Mark became one of the most recognizable names in bourbon by following a path most people would assume could only lead to disaster. Step 1: Create an unknown brand in a crumbling industry. Step 2: Charge a lot for your product. Step 3: Advertise that you charge a lot. Step 4: Fail to make much money for over two decades. It sounds like a strange path for the Samuels family, who started the distillery, to take, but along the way, Maker's helped resurrect bourbon from the dead.
The first bottle of Maker's Mark appeared in 1959, during a period of decline for many bourbon brands. A shortage of bourbon during Prohibition and World War II had turned many people on to different spirits. Bourbon brands were cutting prices and dropping their proofs as tastes veered toward lighter booze like blended Canadian whiskies and vodka. Bourbon was a downtrodden drink and a blue-collar buzz. It certainly wasn't the hip quaff that today's drinking cognoscenti obsess over as they exchange massive sums of cash for rare bottles.
Regardless, the Samuels family ignored bourbon's low status—they wanted people to think differently of the spirit. In an era when bourbon was considered a rough drink, Maker's substituted red winter wheat instead of some of the rye that gives most bourbons their spicy kick. Maker's certainly wasn't the first wheated bourbon, but the change gave it a smooth texture that made it distinct from much of its competition. Maker's also used a unique bottle, dipped in red wax just like a fine cognac, and charged a premium price. At the time, a lot of other bourbon brands charged whatever they thought people in motorcycle gangs would pay for a bottle.
The lack of name recognition and the high price meant low sales during the early years. Such struggles probably would have caused most business people to change course, but the Samuels decided to double down by emphasizing Maker's high price, which many would have considered its Achilles' heel. In 1965, Maker's released a bold advertising campaign: "It tastes expensive. and is."
This gamble failed to boost sales much at first—the brand's progress moved slower than a Kentucky drawl. Many in the bourbon business dismissed Maker's as the pet project of people with money to burn. Beer brewers at the time had a similar attitude toward Anchor Brewing Company founder Fritz Maytag, heir to the Maytag Appliances fortune. People mocked Maytag as some kind of hobbyist competing against corporate juggernauts like Anheuser-Busch. However, people criticized Maytag while ignoring the fact that he made excellent beer. Maker's was good bourbon, and the folks behind the spirit hoped that the high price would soon be considered an indicator of quality.
Maker's coupled its risky ad campaign with other savvy marketing schemes that began to slowly turn the company's fortune. The most successful of these was convincing airlines to serve Maker's, prompting those who tried it during flight to later ask for Maker's at their local liquor stores. This helped create demand while minimizing the normally high cost of expanding into different markets. The airline strategy also helped catch the attention of Wall Street Journal reporter David Garino. In 1980, Garino published "Maker's Mark Goes Against the Grain to Make Its Mark" on the front page, explaining how the rural distillery was finding success despite what most would consider missteps. The story helped spark an avalanche of orders the distillery could barely fill, marking the beginning of double-digit growth over the next two decades.
Garino's story also landed at the perfect time. A budding food movement had emerged during the 1970s, and American culinary classics were "rediscovered" by luminaries such as Alice Waters, Craig Claiborne, and Betty Fussell. The movement emphasized quality alongside a "back to basics" ethos aimed at the super-space-age food trends of the previous decades that brought us Tang, TV dinners, and astronaut ice cream. By the 1980s, people began swapping iceberg lettuce for arugula. On the drinkscape, they wanted better bourbon and got offerings such as Blanton's Single Barrel and Booker's. Maker's was a fresh start to the new decade, and helped lead the charge of an American whiskey renaissance that today is stronger than ever.
Maker’s Mark Switches Back to 90 proof, 45% after 1 week they change their minds
We’re the first to share with the whiskey community that Maker’s Mark has just decided to switch back to 90 proof effective immediately. Maker’s Mark just has shared the news with BourbonBlog.com this morning.
A little over a week ago, BourbonBlog.com was the first to bring you the news that Maker’s Mark was “permanently” changing the proof of their Bourbon from 90 to 84 (45% to 42%), in a recipe that dated back to 1953.
During the last 7 days, Maker’s Mark has received bad press and negative comments on social media questioning unspoken motivations behind the ABV lowering decision.
Additionally, many other Bourbon brands took the opportunity to poke fun at Maker’s Mark on social media.
Check out the subtle hint in a facebook ad from Wild Turkey and the message that Julian Van Winkle, CEO of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery Tweeted below!
BourbonBlog.com tasted the 42% last night and we could tell a difference from the original 45%, we’ll bring you our full review soon!
There are some bottles of 42% ABV out there, so grab one while you can!
Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.
You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.
So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning.
The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we’ll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.
Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.
We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.
As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us.
Rob Samuels Bill Samuels, Jr
Chief Operating Officer
The Loretto Distillery
The whiskey is produced, aged, and bottled entirely at the Loretto, Kentucky distillery. They even print the old-fashioned labels on-site. It is one of the most picturesque industrial sites you will find, which is why it's a popular stop for travelers.
Not much has changed since 1953 when Bill Samuels Sr. and his wife Margie first developed the bourbon. Though the brand is now owned by Beam Suntory, it has remained under the watchful eyes of the Samuels family. For years it was led by Bill Samuels Jr.—a legend in the whiskey world—who has since turned over the reins to his son, Rob Samuels.
There are many fascinating aspects to the Samuels' story. Among those is the fact that the family has Scottish-Irish roots. This heritage is why Maker's Mark takes on the scotch spelling of "whiskey," dropping the "e" that is more commonly used for American whiskeys.
Top-Flight Tasting: Maker’s Mark
Produce sinced 1954, until TK the distillery offered only one product. That was, of course, the iconic Maker’s Mark, a unique whisky that uses red winter wheat in its mash bill (as opposed to the more typical rye). That has always meant a sweeter, smoother flavor profile.
An extremely consistent bourbon, even new products in the brand portfolio use the exact same mashbill, the only difference being in the aging, maturation, and bottling. As you taste through the Maker’s lineup, notice the underlying spices balancing out those more prominent caramel, vanilla, and fruity notes.
Maker’s Mark ®
As smooth as bourbon can possibly be, thanks to the red winter wheat in its recipe, this whisky is sweet yet balanced, emphasizing caramel, vanilla, and fruity essences.
Maker’s Mark ® 46
The flagship Maker’s Mark kicked up a notch, this is finished with bespoke seared French oak staves (a unique innovation by the brand). During an additional 9 weeks of aging in a limestone cellar, the staves impart baking spice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, as well as some herbal and dried fruit qualities.
Maker’s Mark ® Cask Strength
The purest form of Maker’s Mark, bottled at barrel proof, offers a big oak aroma and richer, more robust flavors of spice, vanilla, and smoke. There is a long finish with no roughness or bitterness.
The soft and mellow profile of Maker’s Mark lends itself to the creative mixologist or craft bartender. Check out some of the options below next time you find yourself with a bottle of Maker’s Mark on your home bar.
The Whiskey Sour is a classic choice when choosing a cocktail that compliments American whiskey. Maker’s Mark smooth honey notes work well with the citrusy tang of the sours.
Sure, you can buy store-made sours mix — but what’s the fun in that? Making your own sours mix is easy, and all you need is lemon juice, some sugar and water.
The egg white is optional. This ingredient adds an airy, silky quality to the cocktail, but this step can be skipped to offer a vegan-friendly version — or if egg whites just ain’t your thing. Instead, add sours and whiskey in a rocks glass and stir. If you go this route, consider a float of soda water in the glass to add carbonation.
1 ½ oz. Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1 or 2 maraschino cherries (garnish)
1 orange or lemon slice or peel (garnish)
Build: Add Maker’s Mark, simple syrup, lemon juice and egg white into an ice-filled double shaker. Close tightly and shake until frost builds up on the outside of the canister. Strain into rocks glass filled with ice. Add cherry and place orange slice on the rim of the glass, or twist citrus peel and drop into cocktail.
Bourbon & Ginger
This classic long drink is what bartenders call a ‘gateway drug’ for new bourbon drinkers. For someone new to the category, the sweet and spicy taste of the ginger ale help to round out harsh whiskey notes. For a smooth, round bourbon like Maker’s Mark, this cocktail — along with Maker’s Mark Bourbon & Coke — offers the perfect introduction to the category for someone new to Bourbon.
1.5 oz. Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1 bottle or can of ginger ale sodapop
Build: Fill a tall highball glass with ice. Add Maker’s Mark and stir with swizzle stick. Top with ginger ale. Add lime wedge to the rim of the glass and serve.
Maker’s Mark backtracks on diluting bourbon -- so, now what?
Met with outrage from bourbon drinkers, the producer of Maker’s Mark backtracked from the decision to reduce the amount of alcohol in its whiskey.
Imbibers are ecstatic, but economists and strategists are fixated on the company’s supply problem and wondering, what now? Will this really turn out to be a win for consumers?
Maker’s Mark’s chief operating officer, Rob Samuels, announced Sunday that the company is restoring the alcohol volume of its bourbon to its historic level of 45%, or 90 proof. Last week, the company said it was reducing the amount to 84 proof because supply couldn’t meet demand. Sales of Maker’s Mark rose 14% in 2011 and 15% in 2012, part of a broader bourbon trend.
“We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark,” Samuels said in a letter posted to the company’s website. “While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand -- and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.”
The change in alcohol volume called for the recipe and process to remain the same except for more water to be added after the whiskey comes out of the barrel for bottling. (Almost all whiskeys are diluted.)
Tim Worstall, a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, wrote in Forbes that Maker’s Mark ought to “product differentiate so as to price discriminate.” He quoted the VoluntaryXchange blog: “It’s clear what they should have done: created a new brand name with less alcohol. You know: old Maker’s Mark at 90 proof with red wax on the bottle, and new Maker’s Mark at 84 proof with blue wax on the bottle. Then raise the price of the premium product, market the new product at a discounted price . and clean up with price discrimination.”
But now that consumers have gotten what they asked for, they might also be getting what Maker’s Mark seemed to be avoiding in the first place: a price hike.
“The underlying problem is still there,” wrote Neil Irwin in a Washington Post article titled “Bourbonomics 101.” “And now it’s decision time for Maker’s Mark and Beam Inc. Are they really going to allow there to be shortages of Maker’s at times, meaning that they would be essentially charging a below-market price? Are they going to hike prices and risk Maker’s status as a go-to mass market bourbon brand? Or are they going to find other, sneakier ways to get more supply of whiskey that is less blatant than diluting it, such as introducing even younger whiskey into the blend?”
Maker’s Mark Waters Down Its Whiskey, and Anger Rises
The pioneering distillery is lowering the alcohol content of its bourbon in a bid to keep up with surging demand. But will it turn off the very drinkers who made it successful?
Fans of Maker’s Mark whiskey have a message for the company that has brought them their favorite bourbon in trademark red-wax-sealed bottles for nearly 60 years. They’d like it neat, please. Maker’s Mark, based in Loretto, Ky., announced over the weekend that the company would begin watering down its iconic whiskey in order to boost supply. The response was lightning fast and deeply felt. A representative response on Twitter:
The addition of water will also mean the bourbon will contain almost 7% less alcohol, making it an 84-proof whiskey instead of the 90 proof it’s been bottled at since the distillery began selling its bourbon in 1959.
Alba Huerta, general manager of the nationally renowned cocktail bar Anvil in Houston, Texas, said the news left her dismayed. “I spent all day yesterday talking about this on Twitter when it exploded,” she says. “I am afraid they are diluting their brand.”
“Maker’s reputation in my bar is pretty high class. When someone walks into Anvil and don’t recognize a lot of the labels, they are likely going to turn to Maker’s. It’s always been a very approachable whiskey — but it does have character.”
The change in proof could alter that, she said, and will certainly make her less likely to use Maker’s in the craft cocktails Anvil is known for. “When you are building a cocktail, you really reach for a higher element of proof as a backbone to stand up against the dilution and other ingredients in the cocktail. A lower proof really makes a significant difference.”
In an interview with TIME, Maker’s Mark chairman emeritus Bill Samuels Jr. — whose father created the bourbon’s unique recipe in 1954 using red winter wheat instead of rye — insisted that drinkers won’t notice the difference. The idea originated with Samuels’ son, Maker’s Mark chief operating officer Rob Samuels. (The company is still family run, although it’s owned by Beam Inc., which also owns Jim Beam bourbon and Courvoisier cognac.) When Rob suggested the change last year, Bill Jr. said he was slow to agree. “Rob asked me about six months ago, ‘What would you think about a proof reduction?'” Samuels tells TIME. “I said it has to meet our taste guidelines. Our commitment is to our customers — and we really have a close relationship with them — which is why there has been so much more noise with this than with normal brands. So he had a couple bottles of the new proof made, one for me and one for him. That became our nightly cocktail.”
The elder Samuels said he drinks his Maker’s just like his own father Bill Samuels Sr. did — on the rocks or in a Manhattan. And after more than 30 days of nightly tastings, both he and his son agreed that the lower proof tasted just like Maker’s is supposed to. “I was completely convinced,” he says.
Rob adds: “The taste is the same and the process that influences the taste is exactly the same.”
That’s because the more alcohol that is in a whiskey the more your taste buds are dulled when drinking it, the elder Samuels said. Reducing the alcohol by volume means that the flavor can be more diluted and yet come across as just as strong in the drinker’s mouth and nose, according to Samuels.
Most Maker’s fans haven’t been able to put those assertions to the test yet. The new version won’t hit shelves for another two weeks or so, depending on where drinkers live, the company said.
Still, Houston’s Huerta isn’t alone among bourbon experts sweating the change. “Will Maker’s Mark sell more bourbon? Probably so,” says Joy Perrine, co-author of The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book and a Louisville, Ky., bartender for nearly 40 years. “Many people won’t notice. But will it damage its standing among people who love Maker’s Mark and drink only Maker’s Mark — and there are plenty of those people? I think it will.”
Adding water to bourbon changes its profile, she said, and it’s easy enough to see why. “Do an experiment: pour yourself four shots of bourbon” adding either no water or a different amount of water in each — and see what happens. “No ice, nothing else. Give it a stir and let it sit for five or 10 minutes and taste them. Make notes. Come up with your own opinion.”
Each will taste differently, she said.
Bill Samuels Jr. has spent his entire career trying to get more people to love his father’s whiskey, and he’s built much of the company’s success bar by bar, traveling the country for his father to meet bartenders in America’s largest cities. The company sold 250 cases of whiskey in 1959 last year, it sold 1 million.
In the past, the company has been able to tinker with its aging process to keep its supply in sync with demand. “For the last 40 years, my job has been to be the guardian around this place,” he tells TIME, “and the old man was insistent that our first job, second job and third job was product consistency. He didn’t want to see any wandering around with the taste profile.” He adds, “I signed off on every batch.”
Bourbon drinking has been booming in the past decade in America and abroad, fueled in part by the craft-cocktail craze but also by the dozens of new small-batch bourbons that have come on the market in the wake of Maker’s Mark’s success. The surging demand caught even Bill Samuels Jr. by surprise — “This is the first time I’ve been this wrong,” he says — and altering the aging of the whiskey, from about seven years to just under six years, is no longer enough to keep up.
However, Rob Samuels notes that switching to a lower proof is a tweak no different to changing the aging — one that will affect the strength of the bourbon but not its taste. “And taste is what we have always gone by,” he says.
The proof, so to speak, will be in the pouring. Huerta, who is set to open a bourbon bar in Houston this year that will feature up to 150 bourbons — if they are available — said she’s worried that Maker’s, which has always been a trendsetter in the industry, is setting a dangerous precedent.
“It’s been difficult to get Maker’s for the last several months, supply has been so tight,” Huerta says. “And other distilleries are in the same position as Maker’s, without enough product to go around. But with this decision, I fear that dilution will become the solution for other distilleries too.”
“I’d rather wait six months and fight to get the whiskey I want than to put something on my shelf that is inferior.”
If you’re planning on trying the samples at the end of the distillery tours (and why wouldn’t you), you’ll want to make sure you have transportation for your group, or at least a designated driver. Kentucky doesn’t mess around with driving drunk, and the last thing you want is a DUI on your vacation. A quick online search will provide many local tour companies with different bourbon trail tour packages. Suppose you want to customize your itinerary and have more of a private experience. In that case, there are also a ton of limo and party bus rental companies.
Whiskey Or Water? Marketing Nightmare As Bourbon Fans Incensed Over Choice
Until last week, Maker’s Mark Kentucky bourbon, with its trademark bottle sealed in dripping red wax, was a marketing poster child, the Apple of the bourbon world, with a loyal following of devout fans who order the stuff reflexively and would rarely consider anything else. Even the die-hard Scotch drinkers I know fall back on Maker’s Mark as their top choice when drinking bourbon. I love the stuff, and its rich smooth taste has long cut across the stern taste divides among whiskey drinkers, seemingly pleasing everyone.
That may all be in the past. Parent company Beam, Inc., the nation’s second largest distillery group, either just pulled off a financial coup which will enhance their bottom line handsomely after the dust settles, as some predict, or pulled a “New Coke,” and severely damaged the venerable brand.
Only time will tell, but Maker’s Mark fans aren’t wasting any time in their vehement and outspoken opposition. I started getting emails from friends asking if it was true and expressing outrage the day the story hit the streets. One described the Maker’s Mark release as “an April fool’s joke, or something you’d read in the Onion.”
The scandal? An announcement by Maker’s Mark that due to the overwhelming popularity and growth in the bourbon sector, it cannot currently make its whiskey fast enough to meet demand, so it is making a major change. Given that we live in a mostly free market, an economist would tell you the natural thing would be to increase the price, which is what usually happens to commodities when demand outstrips supply. I wondered why this was not the case until a bourbon loving friend pointed out that Beam also owns more expensive Knob Creek bourbon and probably does not want to risk cannibalizing sales at the higher price point, since they have a carefully price tiered portfolio.
It takes over six years to make a batch of Maker’s Mark, so the fastest way to increase current supply is to water down what they have on hand. They have tinkered with the recipe and when the new bottles hit store shelves next month, they will have dropped the alcohol content by 6 proof, from 90, which it has been for over half a century, to 84. While this is being described by Maker’s as a 3% drop in alcohol (6 proof = 3%), Time.com did the math and going from 45% to 42% actually means a reduction of almost 7% from the 45% alcohol content. Time.com also noted that Maker’s Mark, owned by distilling giant Beam, Inc., moved about a million cases of its bourbon last year. The company insists that after careful taste testing, no one will be able to tell the difference and it will taste exactly the same, but given some of the super tasters I have met through my work in the wine and spirits world, I find it virtually impossible that such a change in alcohol content can go unnoticed, especially with no additives to compensate. After all, loyal fans of blended Scotch whiskies, which are made differently every year but are always supposed to taste exactly the same, often complain often over seemingly imperceptible changes, and even changes in the water used.
One of the ways the company has grown its fierce loyalty is through a sort of proto-social media program of enlisting fans as “Maker’s Mark Ambassadors.” Here is the note from Maker’s Mark COO Rob Samuels and his father, Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr. that went out last week to the ambassadors:
“Lately we’ve been hearing from many of you that you’ve been having difficulty finding Maker’s Mark in your local stores. Fact is, demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply. We never imagined that the entire bourbon category would explode as it has over the past few years, nor that demand for Maker’s Mark would grow even faster.
We wanted you to be the first to know that, after looking at all possible solutions, we’ve worked carefully to reduce the alcohol by volume (ABV) by just 3%. This will enable us to maintain the same taste profile and increase our limited supply so there is enough Maker’s Mark to go around, while we continue to expand the distillery and increase our production capacity.
We have both tasted it extensively, and it’s completely consistent with the taste profile our founder/dad/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr., created nearly 60 years ago. We’ve also done extensive testing with Maker’s Mark drinkers, and they couldn’t tell a difference. Nothing about how we handcraft Maker’s Mark has changed, from the use of locally sourced soft red winter wheat as the flavor grain, to aging the whisky to taste in air-dried American white oak barrels, to rotating our barrels during maturation, to hand-dipping every bottle in our signature red wax.
In other words, we’ve made sure we didn’t screw up your whisky.”
Except that’s what many vocal fans, taking to Facebook and Twitter, have said they are doing, despite not having tasted it yet. Bartenders have also expressed concern, given that so many customers drink only Maker’s Mark, and often drink it neat, where any taste difference is much more likely to be noticed.
The premium Maker's 46, which I really like, remains unchanged.
My friend Jim Martel is a longtime Maker’s Mark purist and has been a brand ambassador since 2001 - twelve years ago. He immediately took to angry Facebook ranting, so I contacted him, and here is what he had to say:
“This is hella lame. My favorite bourbon is being watered down so they can ‘meet market demand.’ In other words, so Beam, Inc. can fatten their wallets a little more. I'll help lower their demand by not buying any more.
This reeks of hypocrisy too, since I remember how Makers flipped Jack Daniels a bunch of s**t when they lowered their proof years ago, swearing they'd never alter their sacred recipe, or something to that effect. [he posted this link]
I also read that they wouldn't just raise the price [to meet increased demand] because of the Beam, Inc. product line and where it fits - if they raise it to cost as much as Knob Creek then their product line as a whole will suffer, so instead they're watering it down - but not lowering the price, of course. Someone asked me if I was going to stock up on the 90 proof before its gone - My reply was, ‘No way, screw them. I'm not buying any more. I am helping them with their demand problem.’
This is why I am switching - I want a bourbon that is bottled to maximize the taste and my enjoyment of it, not to maximize some corporation's profits. And I've been a Maker’s Mark Ambassador since 2001. Buffalo Trace is privately owned and will be my new bourbon of choice. I considered Bulleit too, but they're owned by Diageo and I'm done with corporate bourbon. I'll also continue to drink micro-distillery bourbons, like Woodinville, which is pretty damn good.”
I’ve also written here about the premium version of Maker’s Mark, Maker’s Mark 46, which no one seems to be mentioning in the current discussion. In many ways I prefer it to the original, and it is unadulterated from its previous incarnation at a higher proof, so fans put off by the changes who are still willing to buy Maker’s Mark products would do well to consider trying the 46.
WhistlePig, a cult rye whiskey made from 100% rye, is increasing its alcohol content to increase . [+] flavor even as Maker's Mark lowers theirs.
At the same time Maker’s Mark is lowering its alcohol content, another premium whiskey, WhistlePig Rye, is raising theirs. I have written at length about WhistlePig, a small batch whiskey that is very unusual because it is a rare 100% rye distillation. I believe is the finest rye whiskey on the market and if you haven’t tried it, you must - it is excellent. I asked WhistlePig owner Raj Bhakta his thoughts.
"Whiskey is about flavor - otherwise people would just drink vodka. The flavor of whiskey is directly proportional to proof. We feel WhistlePig is the most flavorful whiskey on the market, and we're upping our already full and rich flavor profile ever so slightly by increasing proof by 1 point.
We have nothing but respect, bordering on jaw-dropping admiration, for Maker's Mark and the iconic brand Bill Samuels built. WhistlePig's decision to up the ante in terms of proof has been in the making for a while. I frankly admit, however, that my prompt response, within hours of Maker's Mark, was influenced by their decision. We just have different business models. And very different price points.
Maker's Mark is an strong iconic American brand, like Ford or Chevrolet, I am sure they will come out of this debate stronger with good lessons learned. I am sure Maker's Mark drinkers have tried other brands and then chosen to be loyal to Maker's Mark. As for WhistlePig, we have heard widespread reports that once you go to the Pig, you never come back. WhistlePig truly is in a league of its own."
Finally, I asked spirits expert, author, journalist and Sirius radio show host Dan Dunn, aka The Imbiber, his opinion. Dunn represents the other side of the coin from passionate fans like Martel, and thinks the whole thing will blow over - and profitably for Beam (you can follow Dunn on Twitter - I do, he’s entertaining - or the Facebook page for his Sirius Satellite radio show).
"Yes, Maker's Mark will be diluted. And anyone who believes there will be any lasting negative impact to the company's bottom line is deluded. Jack Daniels did the same thing not too long ago, and they don't seem to be doing so badly. This 'controversy' will disappear faster than NBC's Do No Harm.
"Call me a wuss, if you will, but reducing the alcohol will take some of the bite out of Maker's Mark, thus improving the taste."
As for me, I’ll probably keep drinking Maker’s Mark 46 while continuing to sample the many other fine craft bourbons being made around the country these days.