By Richard Thomas
According to conventional wisdom, increased demand for whiskey around the world has put the supply of whiskey near or into crisis, a circumstance that should induce shortages and/or increased prices. At The Whiskey Reviewer, we have already debunked the assertion that there is a general and widespread whiskey supply crisis, although it is beyond doubt that several major brand names are experiencing problems, among them Maker’s Mark. Many brands faced with a supply crunch have resorted to fundamentally changing their product (as was the case with Cardhu introducing a vatted malt) or by becoming a no aging statement (NAS) brand.
Going NAS is not an option for Maker’s Mark, who are already a NAS whiskey. The only indication of age on the revered Loretto, Kentucky bourbon, with it’s iconic red wax-dipped bottle top, is its designation as “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,” meaning it is at least two years old.
Instead, Maker’s Mark is responding by reducing the alcohol content of their whiskey from 45% to 42% (90 proof to 84 proof). By making this move, Maker’s is following in the footsteps of Jack Daniel’s, which first cut the abv of it’s flagship Black Label from 45% to 43%, and then in 2004 down to 40%.
How this cut in Maker’s Mark will affect the flavor is open to speculation, but my guess is that the Samuels clan would not consider it if they thought the result was noticeable to the average, casual whiskey drinker. Maker’s Mark has a valuable brand name to protect, after all.
The text of the e-mail from Maker’s Mark is reprinted below:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Thanks for your support. And if you’ve got a little time on your hands, come down and see us at the distillery.
Chief Operating Officer
Bill Samuels, Jr.