Maker’s Mark to Drinkers: Never Mind
Today, Lew Bryson joins us to provide an update on the recent Maker’s Mark announcement.
In what is being hailed as a victory for the consumer (and a demonstration of the power of social media), on Sunday, Maker’s Mark reversed itself on their decision to lower the proof of their standard bottling. The decision, which leaked the previous Sunday, cited spiking demand and production capabilities that were lagging, and was presented as a middle path between raising prices and sharper allocation cuts.
Maker’s Mark COO Rob Samuels and his retired father, Bill Samuels Jr. (the familiar face of Maker’s Mark for decades), assured us that it was not a decision that was taken lightly, and that the lower proof whisky had not affected the taste. “Every batch at 42% ABV had the same taste profile that we’ve always had,” said the elder Samuels. “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.”
But consumers were rightly skeptical, and reacted swiftly. There was a huge uproar among the whisky’s many fans and the change got a lot of attention in the mainstream and social media; almost all of it critical. There was speculation that the move had been planned for a long time, there was questioning of why Maker’s hadn’t simply raised their price, and there were a lot of comparisons to “New Coke,” but mostly what there was…was rage. Words like “I’m never drinking Maker’s again” blazed across cyberspace.
Chastened, the Samuels’ backed down. Yesterday the Maker’s Mark website had a new front page: “You Spoke. We Listened. Here’s Proof.” The words were backed by an arrow pointing to the “45% ABV” on a Maker’s Mark label. The statement from Bill and Rob Samuels reads, in part, as follows:
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.
Well…not quite, of course, since they cut the average age of the whisky by about a year not long ago (which Bill acknowledged in the week’s news stories), but still: good call.
The unanswered question is plain: what the hell just happened? Like New Coke, we’ll probably never know. Maybe it was about raising the profile of the brand — though why raise profile of a brand when you have supply problems already? — maybe it was about making more money, and maybe it was exactly what was stated: they made a bad decision, and changed their minds when they saw the uproar it caused. We don’t know.
What we do know is that pallets of 84 proof Maker’s have arrived at stores, and they’re not recalling them. So if you want a piece of history, a solid bottle of screw-up, better get to the store!