H2O-NO: Maker’s waters-down its iconic brand

Reports of a decision by Maker’s Mark to add water to its signature bourbon in order to meet increased global demand have circulated online among drinkers in recent days. If my circle of friends is in anyway representative of a broader audience, it’s safe to say that the announcement has elicited a substantial amount of consternation, anger, and criticism. I’ve not heard of anyone burning their Ambassador’s Card yet, but the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.

Maker’s has always been one of my very favorite brands. It’s a Kentucky-made product with iconic packaging and print advertising by Louisville agency Doe-Anderson (the horrendous TV ads they’ve produced the past few years are a very different story, but that’s another conversation), a place where I interned a century ago and where I had the good fortune of riding an elevator a couple floors with the very funny and foul-mouthed Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Bill Samuels, Jr. (now retired).

Samuels’s devotion to quality and consistency–and his acute marketing savvy–were the catalysts of the brand’s tremendous growth over three decades. An ad (posted below) produced in response to a spike in demand following a fortuitous 1980 WSJ article thanked drinkers for their interest, but conceded that the time-consuming nature of distilling, aging, and bottling Maker’s Mark didn’t lend itself to ramped-up mass production of the bourbon. This was, of course, partly true, but also a great way to spin the fact that Maker’s simply hadn’t yet grown large enough to produce enough volume to distribute outside of Kentucky. However, Samuels’s response cemented Maker’s position as a premium, hand-made, authentic bourbon and led to the formation of a cult of rabid brand enthusiasts. I suppose that’s much of the reason so many Maker’s drinkers are feeling plenty betrayed right now.

Image“We were very pleased on August 1st to find a story about our little family distillery on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

As a result of the story, we’re getting calls from people all over the country who are ‘suddenly’ interested in buying Maker’s Mark.

And as much as we’d like to accommodate all the inquiring public, we’re concerned that we can’t. Quality is what makes Maker’s Mark special. And if we made much more than we did, well, it just wouldn’t be the Maker’s Mark you read about.

If our special bourbon whisky isn’t available where you live, you might need a little perseverance. If your local retailer doesn’t have it, he can order it for you.

Or, if you’d prefer, write us at Maker’s Mark. We’ll get you started on the right avenue toward finding this one-of-a-kind whisky.”