Maker’s Mark and the Manhattan

Essential update below.

I received an email from Maker’s Mark. An excerpt:

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.

In an effort to meet demand for their product, Marker’s Mark is watering down their bourbon.

This is surprising and disappointing. Why not raise the price? That’s how supply and demand works, right? I don’t want to take the cynical view and think they’re rushing a less potent product to market just for the money, but they don’t mention a price reduction. The email goes on to say that they are expanding production and aging facilities, but according to Bourbon Blog this is a permanent change.

Why all of the hullaballoo? Why does a higher alcohol content matter? Am I just mad because it’ll take more to get drunk? No. Alcohol content may not be noticeable when drinking Maker’s neat or on the rocks, but proof matters in cocktails. Cocktails are about blending and balancing ingredients.

Since Maker’s is specifically reducing their bourbon down from 90 proof to 84 proof, I thought I’d share something from David Wondrich’s drinks column from the February 2013 issue of Esquire. I remembered the following line as soon as I heard about the reduction:

A whiskey in the 90- to 110-proof range makes a better Manhattan than an 80- or 86-proof one.

Sadly, using the new 84-proof Maker’s will make a weaker and less flavorful Manhattan.

Maker’s Mark, I loved you. No matter what bar I was in, you were there too. You were a safe bet. I often order a Manhattan before dinner and when asked what kind of whiskey, I knew I could confidently, without looking over at the bar, say “Maker’s Mark.” If the bartender was remotely competent, I’d get a decent drink. Now what do I do? Probably order a Negroni.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Maker’s Mark Ambassador program. In fact, I’m a Senior Ambassador. That means there is a barrel in one of their warehouses bearing my name and the name of nine friends. When that batch comes due, I was hoping to get everyone to meet in Kentucky and hit the Bourbon Trail together. I’d stil like to do that, but it’ll be a little less sweet. And a little more watered down.

UPDATE:

Maker’s Mark has listened to their customers and reversed their decision. Here is an excerpt from Maker’s Facebook post:

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.

Read the whole post here.

Thank you, Maker’s Mark. I hope to come visit you again. Let us never speak of this again.

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