Last week Makers Mark announced that it would be changing its alcohol content by 3% (which really isn’t 3%) to go from 45% alcohol by volume to 42% alcohol  or 90 to 84 proof.  Their reasoning was that they anticipated shortages and wanted to stretch the liquor out to cover the shortages.  They even went so far as to have connoisseurs come in and try to taste the difference between them.

The owners said they had tested the watered-down bourbon themselves and validated their own findings with consumer research.  Both agreed that “there’s no difference in the taste,” Samuels said. “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 percent ABV Maker’s Mark we’ll be able to better meet our ongoing supply issues without compromising the taste.”

Apparently, the brand known for its square bottles sealed in red wax has struggled to keep up with demand. Distribution has been squeezed, and the brand had to curtail shipments to some overseas markets.   Which is why they haphazardly without “really” testing consumers thoughts decided to make this move.  Or was it haphazardly?  Regardless the backlash they received – especially with social media quickly turned sour on them.  CigarDave  led the charge  pointing it out – which went viral on twitter.

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Dear Friends,

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.

The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we’ll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.

Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.

We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.

As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us.

Sincerely,

Rob Samuels Bill Samuels, Jr
Chief Operating Officer Chairman Emeritus
rob@makersmark.com bill@makersmark.com

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Many have pointed out the New Coke Fiasco that happened in the 80’s – and I think this tune is similar – only it didn’t take very long with today’s social media 24 hour a day even on the weekend society to whip itself into a frenzy.   For Makers Mark the backlash was so bad – their brand Ambassadors (which they have a really marketable idea with) began to resign.   Several of which were on the Cigar Dave show today to discuss the backlash and if they planned on becoming ambassadors again.

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I for one am glad the consumer backlash has caused them to keep using the original recipe and they aren’t watering down their recipe   Sure they might have some shortages – I think people are willing to deal with that.  Scarcity breeds demand for quality.

The supply shortage at Maker’s comes amid growing demand for Kentucky bourbons in general.

Combined Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey sales from producers or suppliers to wholesalers rose 5.2 percent to 16.9 million cases last year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, a national trade association that released figures last week. Revenue shot up 7.3 percent to $2.2 billion, it said. Premium brands, generally made in smaller batches with heftier prices, led sales and revenue gains.

Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon supply, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. There are 4.9 million bourbon barrels aging in Kentucky, which outnumbers the state’s population.

So if you haven’t already – it may be a great time to go out and buy a couple good bourbons like Makers Mark for your liquor cabinets… just in case.  What are your thoughts?

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