In the past seven years, sales for Maker’s Mark bourbon — known for the red-wax seal and a Kentucky twang — have more than doubled. With the company unable to supply the demand for the bourbon boom, bars, restaurants, and package stores are increasingly left with empty shelves where Maker’s Mark once stood.
What to do? How to satisfy the whiskey-thirsty masses? Just add water, of course, which is what the makers of Maker’s Mark have decided to do. It will mark the first time in the brand’s 50-year history that its proof or alcohol volume has been altered.
Generally, water is added before whiskey goes into the aging barrel (where it soaks up its charred white oak magic for six years) and again after it comes out for bottling. With the new formula, the recipe and production process will stay the same, except "a touch more water" will be added when the whiskey comes out after aging, said Rob Samuels, chief operating officer for Maker's Mark and grandson of the bourbon's founder.
"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," two of the company's bourbon heirs wrote in an email to customers. "We've also done extensive testing with Maker's Mark drinkers, and they couldn't tell a difference."
The dilution will result in the alcohol volume being lowered from 45 percent to 42 percent — or 90 proof to 84 proof, and will increase available volume by about 6 percent.
Word on the street is that some aficionados would call for a bourbon boycott if the company went ahead with the plan, and others noted that they'd rather see a bump in price over a a slump in alcohol. But observers say that Beam, Inc. (the parent company) would have hurt itself by raising the price, as it would have positioned Maker's Mark to compete against its other higher end brands like Basil Hayden's.
One shortcut the bourbon maker refuses to accept, Samuels said, is trimming the aging process, which would increase market supplies. It also won't buy surplus whiskey from other distilleries.
And why would they? By increasing available volume by 6 percent, they’ll also be increasing sales volume by 6 percent. That said, given Maker's Mark impressive innovative environmental approach, we're guessing any extra profit will be put to good use.
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