Feb 13 2013
THE BOOZE BIN
By Pia Mara Finkell (@piamara)
I’m a bourbon girl. I’ve never been a huge fan of vodka, gin makes me sort of angry and rum leaves a drumbeat in my skull the morning after. I like a range of bourbons, but Maker’s Mark has always been my go-to with its honeyed flavors and artisanal, but approachable feel. It was not a good week for Maker’s drinkers like me.
The Maker’s brand is well-known for its dedicated customer base, but their strongest loyalists, the Maker’s Mark Ambassadors, shed a few tears this week. The family-run company announced a shocking solution to the increasing demand and limited supply, given the ageing process required in its creation. To make sure there’s enough to go around, Maker’s plans to literally water down their brand…by 6.7%. After months of testing, they promised their Ambassadors the change would not be detectable in taste, but unsurprisingly, fans are skeptical.
Joy Perrine, co-author of The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book told Time magazine she is one of the wary. “Will Maker’s Mark sell more bourbon? Probably so. 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.”
Whether or not this move will hurt the Maker’s global brand remains to be seen, but it has certainly ruffled some feathers down in Louisville and among Maker’s devotees everywhere. One could look for a case study with Jack Daniel’s, another whisky brand that lowered its alcohol level in 2004, apparently for taste reasons and without much fanfare. This move seemed to strike less of a chord, perhaps because of Maker’s premium product and respected reputation among serious spirits lovers and bartenders.
From the PR perspective, the Samuels family was smart to make the announcement directly to its most dedicated fans first. As a bourbon lover, however, what worries me most is that Maker’s Mark might have just set a precedent for other top Kentucky bourbon makers looking to meet growing demands and universal supply shortages. The change isn’t happening for a few weeks, however, so now might be a good time to stock up the bar.