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.
Samuels 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 different flavor.
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.
Revenues 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.