Maker’s Mark Reverses Decision to Water Down Whiskey

No need to rush out and stock up on your favorite trademark red-wax sealed bourbon.

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Reuters / Keith Bedford

A bottle of Maker's Mark whiskey is pictured in New York May 9, 2012.

No need to rush out and stock up on your favorite trademark red-wax sealed bourbon.

One week after announcing plans to dilute its whiskey, Maker’s Mark has changed course. The Kentucky bourbon company released a statement Sunday reversing its decision and apologizing for disappointing its loyal fans with the decision to reduce alcohol content to keep up with rising global demands.

“We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we’re doing what’s right, this is your brand you told us in large numbers to change our decision,” the statement from chairman emeritus Bill Samuels Jr. and his son and chief operating officer, Rob Samuels, said.

(MORE: Maker’s Mark Waters Down Its Whiskey, and Anger Rises)

“You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

Last week’s announcement sparked public backlash over the decision to reduce the alcohol content  of the 90-proof whiskey to 84 proof. As TIME’s Michael Lindenberger reports, taste-maker bartenders, who had been essential to the brand’s word of mouth marketing efforts in the 1980s, were questioning whether to abandon the trademark, red-wax sealed bottle in crafting cocktails.

Cocktail bar general manager Alba Huerta tells TIME, “When you are building a cocktail, you really reach for a higher element of proof as a backbone to stand up against the dilution and other ingredients in the cocktail. A lower proof makes a significant difference.”

The company’s decision left many wondering why simple economics couldn’t lead the brand to merely raise the price rather than committing, what Forbes referred to as, brand suicide. But don’t worry, the latest development may not mean a price increase. Bill Samuels Jr., chairman emeritus and son of the founder, tells Lindenberger he doesn’t expect the company to raise the price.

“In my 35 years as CEO we had multiple times when we had out-of-sync supply and demand situations,” he said. “More than 20 times. Never once did we go to the pricing tool. Now, I am retired, but we do have a culture around here. And that culture has always been ‘Don’t abuse your customers.’”

18 comments
rogerwabbit
rogerwabbit

Unlike the snarky "elecutionist", I admire Makers Mark for their decision, with one caveat. When you can't make enough of a product to meet demand, the price goes up. That's the way it goes in the market. I think it would be entirely in order to raise the price of their whiskey by a couple of dollars per bottle. If you are making a whiskey that is so popular, so highly revered, so desired, you should reward yourself with a price per bottle increase. It is, after all, just following the the age-old laws of supply and demand. Next time I order a whiskey drink at a bar I assure you I'll request Makers. It must be good if that many people want it.

elocutionist
elocutionist

You spoke, we listened; therefore, instead of profiting by making you pay the same price for diluted traditional American-made whisky, we've decided (since I need a new yacht to go with my 17th vacation home in the Cayman islands) to ship full-strength whiskey from suppliers in China, at $3.57 per barrel, so we can pocket the profit and load up Swiss bank accounts with our 5000% markup, then give the remainder as "encouragement" to congress to pass better laws that help the super-wealthy, helping us trample the sorry losers, I mean customers, beneath us-- thank you very much.

Pyrrho
Pyrrho

Last time I buy Maker's. Losers…just like NETFLIX

hollywoodbig
hollywoodbig

Well their announcements sure took the glamor out of buying aged 'fine' bourbon whiskey and being willing to pay any premium price. Almost like when we found out our chopped meat is filled with that red slime they add.

JohnNicoletti
JohnNicoletti

can anyone really tell the difference between 45% and 42% alcohol content?

BobLaPolla
BobLaPolla

I think the whole thing was a marketing gimmick like new coke vs classic coke. I also saw beam is introducing "makers 47 " which is a 83 proof variant of makers mark. Coincidence????? No way. Them Kentucky rascals think they can pull. Fast one.

mlnj
mlnj

It amazes me how stupid these whiskey makers think their customers are.  From time to time they try to sell us water at whiskey prices.  I was one of Jack Daniels' best customers when they cut their proof from 90 to 86 and now to 80.  I haven't bought a bottle since.  I even try to avoid it on airplanes and at weddings.

guest101
guest101

At least this company was upfront and its customer base has spoken and they in turn got the message.

skmind
skmind

Remember that New Coke marketing gimmick?


Same thing.

sdgrella
sdgrella

successful viral marketing

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

The people have spoken.  The managers have listened.  Why doesn't this happen in politics?

Harlan
Harlan

I just stop using your Company

BobLaPolla
BobLaPolla

I think makers 47 was 46% alcohol or 92 proof. This makes sense now. Makers 47 was going to be the new upscale higher proof booze . They were taking makers mark down market to compete w jack . Not sure how they will sell makers 47 at 1% higher alcohol . Snazzy advertising like glenfiddich and tanquery 10.

MarcusTaylor
MarcusTaylor

@mlnj You can buy 8 year old "Jack" for 8 year old money ... but you have to either order it or hunt it down.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@skmind

You didn’t ask, but I cannot resist, having known people who knew the truth.New Coke was an attempt to substitute Coke with high fructose corn syrup for Coke with sugar.Coke was having difficulty getting the taste right.Corn syrup is/was vastly cheaper. Coke was Domino Sugars largest customer until this switcheroo. Ching ching.But new consumers did not like the taste (because it was not the same, no matter how many times Coke said it was new and improved).This did buy Coke time to continue working on the recipes, and with a separation of time they were able to get some people to no longer notice that Coke Classic wasn’t quite the same either.Hence, the popularity of Cokes from Mexico, made the old fashioned way, which you can find sometimes in the US.

nashgreenie
nashgreenie

@notLostInSpace @notLostInSpace the country unlike people like to simplify is not a business. there are winners and losers in business but not with government. if this was true then hurricane sandy and hurricane katrina would be bad business decisions. i don't want to live in a country like that. 

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@nashgreenie @notLostInSpace  Sorry man, I don't follow you.  I did not say the government should be run like a business, in fact, it really cannot, as you say we have to deal with emergencies and wars etc.  However, what I was trying to say is that the whiskey guys listened to their customer.  We have a Congress that does not listen.  It goes on and on where a small group (call them t party if you prefer) has hijacked the agenda against the will of the majority and the CEO even.  Most people prefer that the rich pay more taxes.  Most people prefer a simpler tax system.   Most people prefer women's right to choose.  Most people favor social security that is stronger, not weaker.  Most people favored health care for all until they got hit by a huge propoganda storm (death panels!).