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.


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.


Aperol right.

AperolHere’s a bit of cocktailian heresy: I don’t care for Campari. It’s got one move: bitter. Not much depth. To me, its bitterness upsets the balance of cocktails. It loudly yells, “HEY! THERE’S CAMPARI ALL UP IN HERE!”

Aperol, on the other hand, is excellent. Often referred to as “Campari with training wheels” or “Campari for beginners,” Aperol is sweeter, less bitter, about half the proof and to my palate, more nuanced.

Naturally, I’ve gone about making cocktails that are traditionally made with Campari and substituting Aperol. Since Campari cocktails are definitely bitter, I find that substituting Aperol requires the addition of other bittering agents. This suits me just fine, as you’ll see below.

The most popular Campari cocktail would have to be the Negroni, equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. The only Negroni I’ve truly enjoyed? Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Barrel Aged Negroni at Clyde Common. The wood does something wonderful that smooths out some of the bitterness.


1.5oz gin (Beefeater)
1oz Aperol
.75oz Punt e Mes
Stir with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel, flamed if you like.

The Punt e Mes compensates for the bitterness lost through the switch from Campari to Aperol.

Update: I previously had equal parts of all three ingredients in the above drink. I visited Nostrana on March 6, 2011 and had their “Negroni of the Month” which happens to be the above recipe. It was perfect. Thank you to the bartender (whose name I do not know) for providing the recipe.

Then again, 90% of the time I’d rather have a rye cocktail than one made with gin. Hence, the Old Pal. The Old Pal is the rye-based cousin of  the Negroni, using dry vermouth instead of sweet. Sweet vermouth works better in the Negroni, as gin is generally a drier spirit than whiskey. Conversely, dry vermouth works as a drying agent in the Old Pal. Since we’re using Aperol, something both dry and bitter works even better.

Aperol Pal

Aperol Pal
1oz rye
1oz Aperol
1oz Bonal Gentiane-Quina
Stir with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

[I have to admit, I struggled over what to name this one. Since I decided to substitute Bonal Gentiane-Quina (of the currently popular quinquina family of apertif) I thought about also cramming that into the drink name. It was quite nearly the ‘Ol ‘Nal.]

Coincidentally, Aperol figures into a David Wondrich feature in the November 2010 issue of Esquire, on newsstands at the time of this post. Fun Fact: David Wondrich is 75% of the reason I still subscribe to Esquire.

House Spirits & Krogstad Aquavit

I never expected to buy a bottle of aquavit.

With friends visiting from Brooklyn, my wife and I toured House Spirits Distillery this past weekend. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was our only previous distillery experience, so it was nice to see distilling on a much smaller scale. It was impressive how small the distillery was when one considers the popularity of their flagship spirit Aviation Gin. It’s not much larger than what you can see in the photo below.

House Spirits Distillery

After the tour we enjoyed tastings of Medoyeff Vodka, Aviation Gin, Krogstad Aquavit and 3 shochus from their Limited Release line. The vodka was one of the best I’d tasted in a long time. The gin is superb as everyone in Portland knows. The shochus were nice, though not really my scene. What was surprisingly good was the Krogstad aquavit.

Similar to vodka in texture/mouth feel, aquavit is a Scandinavia spirit traditionally flavored with caraway. The addition of star anise makes Krogstad a Swedish style aquavit, reminiscent of a pastis, though maintaing vodka-like characteristics.

The woman running the tasting mentioned aquavit cocktails and really got my attention when she said one of my favorite words: Sazerac.


Aquavit Sazerac

2oz rye whiskey
1 barspoons 2:1 rich syrup
3 dashes Peychaud’s BItters
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1/4oz of Krogstad Aquavit
Fill a rocks glass with ice and water. In a mixing glass, combine the rye, simple syrup, bitters and aquavit. Stir with ice until cold. Dump the ice water out of the rocks glass. Strain the contents of the mixing glass into the rocks glass. Twist a lemon peel over the drink and rub on the rim of the glass.

The aquavit is more subtle and less viscous than absinthe or a pastis, so it actually works well to add it to the drink rather than rinse the glass. I can easily imagine this variation working it’s way into my normal rotation.