UPDATE: A ‘Humbled’ Maker’s Mark Reverses Course, Will Not Water Down Its Bourbon

Maker’s Mark, the popular Kentucky bourbon with the iconic red wax seal, has had a big supply problem as of late — failing to meet the public’s exploding demand for the stuff. Bourbon scarcity is nothing new (see: $300 bottles of Pappy hitting eBay), but Maker’s Mark’s struggle to keep up with demand has generated national headlines not because of empty shelves, but because of the company’s response to the issue.

Over the weekend it was announced that there would be a 6.7% reduction in the amount of alcohol by volume (ABV) in each bottle, dropping the 90 proof to 84. The company’s spokesman Rob Samuels (the C.O.O. and Ambassador-in-Chief) wrote a letter to drinkers assuring them that the change would not alter the flavor. “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,” he wrote in an email. He goes on to say that he is receiving far less negative feedback for the alcohol reduction than the scarcity, which will hopefully be alleviated by this measure.

And although we are pretty confident that the change is likely insignificant to Maker’s spicy, caramel-forward flavor, it’s the perception that is the issue. Because no man wants to buy watered-down whiskey. Not at a dive bar. Not at a concert. And most certainly not from the producer. It’s angering, as the comments on the company’s Facebook page well illustrates.

But with this being Craft Beer and Spirits Week at Food Republic, might we suggest to the pissed off Maker’s Mark fans out there to maybe give the little guy a shot? It’s easy. Go to your local spirits shop and ask the friendly person at the counter to help you out. Say you like Maker’s, but want to try something a little bit “smaller” or “hand-crafted” or “more interesting.” Bells will go off and chances are the clerk will suggest a product from companies like Death’s Door, Corsair, Whistle Pig, King’s County. And we’re pretty sure that these guys aren’t “watering down” nothing.

Here’s the full letter from Maker’s Mark. Also see coverage from Quartz and Eater National.     

Dear Maker’s Mark® Ambassador,

Lately we’ve been hearing from many of you that you’ve been having difficulty finding Maker’s Mark in your local stores. Fact is, demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply. We never imagined that the entire bourbon category would explode as it has over the past few years, nor that demand for Maker’s Mark would grow even faster.

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.

Nothing about how we handcraft Maker’s Mark has changed, from the use of locally sourced soft red winter wheat as the flavor grain, to aging the whisky to taste in air-dried American white oak barrels, to rotating our barrels during maturation, to hand-dipping every bottle in our signature red wax.

In other words, we’ve made sure we didn’t screw up your whisky.

By the way, if you have any comments or questions, as always, we invite you to drop us a line at rob@makersmark.com or bill@makersmark.com. Thanks for your support. And if you’ve got a little time on your hands, come down and see us at the distillery.


Rob Samuels
Chief Operating Officer

Bill Samuels, Jr.
Chairman Emeritus