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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I wrote a cocktail menu and it turned out pretty well.

In December 2011, I was asked by my brother-in-law and his fiancée to write a cocktail menu for their wedding. Their wedding was this past weekend and I’m pleased to say it turned out pretty well.

The lovely couple wanted classic cocktails that were whiskey or vodka based. The idea was that not everyone wanted whiskey and many people enjoy vodka. I convinced them to add gin as there aren’t so many classic vodka cocktails and if someone wanted a vodka “martini,” the ingredients would be there for that. Further discussion led to the inclusion of sparkling drinks as well.

The drinks also had to be easy to make as the catering staff wouldn’t be craft bartenders. An informal survey of friends found that people generally don’t trust wedding bartenders to make a good cocktail. Guests tend drink straight spirits, highballs (gin and tonics, whiskey and ginger ale, etc.) or opt for beer or wine. One friend’s response was, “Never a Manhattan, as it will not be good enough.” Feel free to leave a comment of what you drink at weddings or in other open bar situations.

I set out to curate of a list of simple (or at least hard to screw up) whiskey, gin or sparkling wine based cocktails with no more than three or four ingredients. After scouring a dozen cocktail books and at least as many websites and extensive recipe testing, I narrowed it down to a dozen or so drinks of which the bride and groom selected eight. My final list:

The French 75 was requested by the bride. The Maple Leaf was also a request by the bride and groom as it was the drink they had enjoyed throughout the previous year. The Bridal was a late addition found in Robert Hess’ The Essential Bartender’s Guide, which I had received for my birthday a few weeks before the wedding. The Collins and Gimlet were the ways to get vodka into the menu. (The Moscow Mule was not chosen as I was trying to limit the number of juices needed.)

Of course you can’t just write a menu, you have to write out instructions for the caterers. This is easier said than done. Do you have any idea how many recipes exist for the French 75? I found that no two were the same. Ultimately, I modified the best one I found from Jim Meehan’s wonderful The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy. (While that recipe is my favorite, I thought it might look a bit small in a Champagne flute so I added another ounce of bubbly which still tasted decent.) Also, not knowing exactly which brands of spirits or mixers would be on hand, I couldn’t tailor the recipes to particular flavor profiles.

If you’re interested, here are the drink recipes as a pdf.

Once I had sent the menu and recipes to my brother-in-law, it was out of my hands.
Here’s what went wrong:

  • The bartenders did not measure. Everything was eyeballed.
  • Shaking and stirring appeared to be pretty much the same thing to the bartenders: gently swirling the drink in a shaker with ice.
  • None of the drinks were served on the rocks.
  • The Maraschino liqueur was for a time misplaced, which led the bartenders to use the red goo from the jar of Maraschino cherries, WHICH IS NOT THE SAME. After hearing a couple people (including my wife) note that the Bridal was too sweet and tasted a little funny, I sought out the bottle and remedied this.

While this may sound like a list of crimes, everything turned out fine and I was probably the only one to notice. I heard the next day that a few people attempted to try them all, which is sweet, but ill-advised. Everyone was happy with their drinks, particularly the bride and groom. And that’s the point.

Takin’ It Easy

No new experiments. I’ve been:

  1. getting the hang of using a julep strainer. The secret is maximum ice.
  2. enjoying my new mixing glass. I got it at a vintage store and it has recipes round the outside, most of which are good; it says to stir the Manhattan and Martini, rather than shake. The weirdest bit to me was that it offered an olive as a garnish for a whiskey sour. That sounds gross to me, but I’m sure some people like it?
  3. entertaining guests from Brooklyn who appreciate fine cocktails.
  4. waiting not so patiently for an internet booze order so I can participate in the current Mixology Monday hosted by Lindsay Johnson of Lush Life Productions. I don’t think it’s going to make it in time, but damn it’s full of bitter goodness.
  5. preparing to entertain other guests from Brooklyn who appreciate fine cocktails.

I didn’t want you to think I was neglecting you.

Getting it together

By gum, it’s time to turn this blog from a place holder into something real: a booze blog. I make or drink cocktails darn near everyday and I take pictures of them and post them on Twitter and  Facebook, mostly for friends who occasionally care. On occasion– occasions like “it’s Tuesday” or “I wonder how Fernet Branca plays with any other ingredient in the liquor cabinet”– I come up with my own cocktails or variations on classic recipes.

Anywho, it’s time to get going. Cheers.