Maker’s Mark, Now With 7% Less Alcohol!

Maker's Mark bottleI have to say right off the bat, that I’m not a huge fan of Maker’s Mark; there are just too many good, more reasonably priced bourbons on the market. Still, I took notice of recent brouhaha in the press when the company announced they would be watering down their whiskey.

It turns out that bourbon has become so popular, they can’t make enough to satisfy demand. To help increase supply, Maker’s Mark has decided to add more water to the bourbon, effectively reducing the alcohol content by 7%.

Now I’ve never been one to editorialize (cough), but this seems incredibly short-sighted. Maker’s generally has a pretty good reputation as a decent quality bourbon. While many people may not be able to taste the difference, it will taint perception, especially with bartenders. Every spirits maker knows, make restaurant owners/bartenders happy, and you’ll sell a ton of product.

I’ve got a bottle left over from the holidays. When the new formula hits store shelves, I’ll pick up another and see if I can tell the difference. I don’t care how much I have to drink to be sure – I do it all for you.

In the meantime, here is a statement from Maker’s

A lot of people took the time to share their thoughts regarding our recent announcement. We always appreciate open and honest conversation about Maker’s Mark and we’ve gotten plenty of feedback, both supportive and otherwise. Because there are so many comments, it’s hard for an old guy like me to respond, particularly 140 characters at a time. Now that I’ve had time to compose my thoughts, please allow me to try to answer most of the questions we’re hearing.

And by the way, I asked Rob if I could write this response since many people have wondered if I’m on board with the decision to lower the alcohol-by-volume (ABV) level. I am, and here’s why.

First, it’s important to understand that our primary focus now and for the past 50 years hasn’t changed. It’s product quality and consistency, batch-to-batch, year-to-year, with the primary measure of that consistency being the unique Maker’s Mark taste profile. That’s all that truly matters in the end.

Since we’re a one-brand company that’s never purchased bourbon from other distillers when supplies are short, forecasting is very difficult. Over the years, our one variable that helps us avoid market shortages has been the age of the whisky in the Maker’s bottle. That range is between five years nine months and seven years. Because Maker’s Mark is aged to taste, Dad never put a specific age statement on the bottle. It wasn’t the age that mattered; it was the taste, the quality and the consistency.

Some people are asking why we didn’t just raise the price if demand is an issue. We don’t want to price Maker’s Mark out of reach. Dad’s intention when he created this brand was to make good-tasting bourbon accessible and to bring more fans into the fold, not to make it exclusive. And, with regard to the price, the value of Maker’s Mark isn’t set by alcohol volume. It’s about the quality of the recipe and ingredients that go into it, all the handcrafting that goes into the production and how it tastes.

Some of you have questioned how we reduce the alcohol content. The fact is, other than barrel-strength bourbons, all bourbons are cut with water to achieve the desired proof for bottling. This is a natural step in the bourbon-making process. Maker’s Mark has always been made this way and will continue to be made this way.

As we looked at potential solutions to address the shortage, we agreed again that the most important thing was whether it tastes the same. The distillery made up different batches that Rob and I tested every evening over the course of a month. Every batch at 42% ABV had the same taste profile that we’ve always had. Then, we validated our own tastings with structured consumer research and the Tasting Panel at the distillery, who all agreed: there’s no difference in the taste.

For those of you who have questioned if the supply problem is real, I can assure you that it is. While not every part of the country has seen shortages yet, many have, and the demand is continuing to grow at a pace we’ve never before experienced. While we are investing today to expand capacity for the future, by producing 42% ABV Maker’s Mark we’ll be able to better meet our ongoing supply issues without compromising the taste.

Ultimately, all I can ask is that you reserve judgment until you actually taste the whisky, like I did. If you can make it down to the distillery, we’re doing tastings every day with the 42% ABV whisky to give you a first-hand opportunity to try it for yourself. If you can’t make it to the distillery, please give it a try when it gets to your city. And please write me back at that point. I want to hear what you think.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to write us a note. It shows that you care about Maker’s Mark, and that’s what we’ve been striving for over the past 50 years. I hope you’ll give us the chance to continue earning that devotion and allow us to prove that we didn’t screw up your whisky. All the best.

Sincerely,

Bill Samuels, Jr.

Chairman Emeritus

Ambassador-at-Large

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Kristin says

    This is quite interesting… and I have to say very surprising. If someone has asked me to bet on whether the makers of Maker’s Mark would try to stretch their production volume in this way, well it’s a bet that I’d have lost. I’ll add that it doesn’t affect me since it’s not a liquor I purchase (mostly the price point issue for me…)
    On a related note, I’d truly love to have recommendations for other good choices in the bourbon realm – thanks in advance!!

  2. says

    I water down my bourban already. So I’ll just add a touch less water. I enjoy it crisp and cold. Adding water is common as it can help bring the flavor out. There are some drinkers of bourbon whose most important quality is the strength of the bourbon. That’s just not how I enjoy it. I don’t know if anyone is buying Maker’s because of it’s ABV. There are certainly less expensive ways to get higher ABV.

  3. Jacqueline says

    Turnaround on the idea of “watering” down the Maker’s Mark. Statement from company -The company seems not to have anticipated the degree of anger the move would prompt from loyal Maker’s drinkers, and, as the statement from Rob Samuels and Bill Samuels Jr., who lead the distillery, put it Sunday, “You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

    So what now? The underlying problem is still there. 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 price 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?

    Ironically, for Maker’s Mark drinkers, the best outcome they can hope for is that the bad press that surrounded the short-lived reduction in alcohol content will lead to a slump in demand for the product, so that the answer might be none of the above.

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