Lew Bryson reports on the recent announcement from Maker’s Mark
News came out over the weekend that Maker’s Mark will be dialing down their bottling proof to 84 proof (42% ABV) from their long-time 45% bottling. (The new Maker’s Mark 46 will not be affected by this change.) In an email sent to their Maker’s Mark Ambassadors consumer group, COO Rob Samuels said that “demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply.”
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.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been done several times recently. Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 was reduced to 80 proof from 86 in 2004; there was a huge outcry…and then it all died down and nobody says a thing anymore. Wild Turkey still lists their 101 proof Rye…but it’s getting harder to find, and there’s plenty of the new 81 proof bottling.
At least Maker’s Mark is up-front about the reason. If you lower the proof on a bottling, you get more bottles out of the same amount of barrels. Bourbon comes out of the barrel well above 50% ABV, and is cut to a standard bottling proof by adding water. No secret, no shame: that’s how it’s done, unless you’re getting a barrel-proof whiskey, like Booker’s or George T. Stagg.
But if you lower that bottling proof, you add more water, which adds more volume to your bottling batch, and you can fill more bottles…which are then slightly relabeled and sold — usually — for the same amount. So just by opening the tap a bit more, a distiller gets more production as surely as if they’d kept the same proof and built more warehouses…for the price of water.
This is the way of the world, to some extent, but it brings up questions. We were always told, particularly with Maker’s Mark, that the whiskey was just the way it was supposed to be. Yet now Samuels says dropping the proof 3% changes nothing. Really? What else could then change? Age? A further drop to 80 proof (as Maker’s is now sold in some overseas markets)?
The question that really makes me wonder though, is why didn’t Beam, the parent company, see this coming? Bourbon market expansion is no surprise any more, and Maker’s has been outpacing the market for years, one of the fastest growing brands in the category. It just isn’t believable that they were blindsided…which makes this look more like a planned response.
Whatever happens, one thing’s for sure: the price of a bottle of Maker’s won’t be going down, even though you’re getting less whiskey in it. And that feels like a betrayal, no matter what the reason, no matter what the reassurance is that the taste is “completely consistent.”