By Chris Otto, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal
Your next glass of Maker's Mark will be a little less potent, and the
son of the man who founded the famous Kentucky bourbon says it's all
In an interview Monday, Bill Samuels Jr. said
he failed to foresee a worldwide surge in demand for premium bourbon
when he was still in charge of the brand about six years ago. As a
result, Maker's Mark is being diluted to 42 percent alcohol by volume,
from 45 percent, so more of the whiskey can be bottled to meet demand.
That's a cut from 90 proof to 84 proof.
"I was the forecaster in chief around here. ... I must have been asleep at the wheel," Samuels said.
and his son, Maker's Mark CEO Rob Samuels, insist consumers won't
notice the change when the slightly weaker bourbon hits shelves in the
next few weeks. Even Maker's Mark's professional taste testers couldn't
tell the difference, Rob Samuels said.
Maker's Mark, which is
distilled in Loretto, Ky., announced the change in email to the brand's
"ambassadors," or loyal fans, on Saturday. No changes were announced for
Maker's 46, a more expensive 94-proof offshoot of the main brand that
is aged longer inside barrels containing seared French oak staves for a
Rob Samuels, who succeeded his father in 2011,
said Maker's Mark's growth over the last 1.5 to 2 years, along with the
broader bourbon industry, was "significantly greater than we had ever
experienced as a brand."
Citing statistics from a market research firm, Samuels said sales of Maker's to consumers grew about 18 percent in 2012.
for American whiskey makers, including bourbon distillers such as
Maker's Mark, were up 7 percent in 2011, driven mainly by increased
sales of premium brands, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of
the United States.
Maker's Mark ages in oak barrels for a minimum
of 5 years and 9 months, so distillers can't simply make more of it to
meet a sudden surge of demand, Rob Samuels said.
Of the limited
options available - taking the whiskey out of the barrels early or
buying whiskey from other suppliers - the only way to increase the
supply without compromising the bourbon's taste is to add a little more
water, he said.
In a letter posted on Maker's Mark website Monday,
Bill Samuels said he and his son never considered raising the price of
the bourbon even in the face of greater demand.
"We don't want to
price Maker's Mark out of reach," he wrote. And if you're thinking a
weaker drink will have a weaker price, "The value of Maker's Mark isn't
set by alcohol volume," Bill Samuels said.
Rob Samuels said the change will allow Maker's Mark to boost supply by 5 to 6 percent.
Mark was acquired by Deerfield, Ill.-based Beam Inc. in 2005. But Rob
Samuels, a Louisville resident, said he's still "fully accountable" for
the business, and it was his idea to dilute the bourbon.
"This was our decision," he said.
Samuels said the change will be permanent, and it should address any
future supply shortages as the company works to make more bourbon.
the last two years, Maker's Mark has invested $54.3 million in the
Loretto facility to increase distillation and warehouse capacity, as
well as make it more of a tourist attraction, according to the Kentucky
Representatives of two other Kentucky
premium bourbons, Woodford Reserve and Four Roses, said they have the
supply to meet demand and don't plan changes to their whiskies.
Rutledge, master distiller of Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, Ky., said
it's like "looking into a crystal ball" for bourbon makers to forecast
demand more than five years ahead.
"When you get caught short ... you can't do anything about it," he said.
who has been in the business more than 40 years, said he doubts the new
version of Maker's Mark will taste "exactly the same" but such a small
cut in the alcohol won't make "a dramatic difference."
And given that most people don't drink Maker's Mark neat, few will notice the change, according to industry experts.
usually going to be in a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned, or on the rocks,"
said Tom Fischer, founder of bourbonblog.com and one of the
"ambassadors" of Maker's Mark who got first notice of the change on
Lew Bryson, managing editor of the industry magazine
Whiskey Advocate, noted that Jack Daniel's cut the alcohol in its
Tennessee whiskey nearly 10 years ago to 80 proof from 86.
was the last time you heard someone saying, 'I just don't drink Jack
Daniel's anymore because they lowered the proof,'" he said. "It blew
Jack Daniel's, part of Louisville-based Brown Forman, said
in 2004 that the change was made to match customer tastes, not demand.