The Booze Bin

Diluting Your Brand. Literally.


By Pia Mara Finkell (@piamara)

Bourbon someecard

I’m a bourbon girl. I’ve never been a huge fan of vodka, gin makes me sort of angry and rum leaves a drumbeat in my skull the morning after. I like a range of bourbons, but Maker’s Mark has always been my go-to with its honeyed flavors and artisanal, but approachable feel. It was not a good week for Maker’s drinkers like me.

The Maker’s brand is well-known for its dedicated customer base, but their strongest loyalists, the Maker’s Mark Ambassadors, shed a few tears this week. The family-run company announced a shocking solution to the increasing demand and limited supply, given the ageing process required in its creation. To make sure there’s enough to go around, Maker’s plans to literally water down their brand…by 6.7%. After months of testing, they promised their Ambassadors the change would not be detectable in taste, but unsurprisingly, fans are skeptical.

Joy Perrine, co-author of The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book told Time magazine she is one of the wary. “Will Maker’s Mark sell more bourbon? Probably so. Many people won’t notice. But will it damage its standing among people who love Maker’s Mark and drink only Maker’s Mark — and there are plenty of those people? I think it will.”


Whether or not this move will hurt the Maker’s global brand remains to be seen, but it has certainly ruffled some feathers down in Louisville and among Maker’s devotees everywhere. One could look for a case study with Jack Daniel’s, another whisky brand that lowered its alcohol level in 2004, apparently for taste reasons and without much fanfare. This move seemed to strike less of a chord, perhaps because of Maker’s premium product and respected reputation among serious spirits lovers and bartenders.

From the PR perspective, the Samuels family was smart to make the announcement directly to its most dedicated fans first. As a bourbon lover, however, what worries me most is that Maker’s Mark might have just set a precedent for other top Kentucky bourbon makers looking to meet growing demands and universal supply shortages. The change isn’t happening for a few weeks, however, so now might be a good time to stock up the bar.


Photos courtesy of Someecards and HelloMyNameisRichard.

About Pia Mara Finkell:

With over a decade of experience in communications, Pia has a strong background in wine, beer and food public relations, marketing and promotional strategy. A vice president in PadillaCRT's Food & Beverage Practice, Pia oversees public relations, traditional and social media programs, strategic partnerships and program development for various beverage alcohol and food accounts, including the Wines of Rioja, Les Vins Georges Duboeuf and the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. Her agency work has helped win various industry awards, including two Bronze Anvils, Silver Anvil, Bulldog Digital/Social (Gold and Silver), PR News Platinum, two PR News Digitals, Clarion, Big Apple, Commonwealth and a Telly. In 2010, Pia created the weekly BuzzBin column called 'The Booze Bin,' offering up interesting musings on the beverage alcohol industry and all things booze. Depending on the season, what she's cooking, and whether or not the Yankees are winning, Pia can be found toasting a glass or pint of something awesome.

9 Comments on “Diluting Your Brand. Literally.

  1.  by  Kim Blake

    Wow…or they could just do like Pappy Van Winkle and embrace scarcity and drive up prices? I can’t believe that they would choose quantity over quality. My husband is a bourbon enthusiast (getting some Pappy for Valentine’s Day!) and I am sure that this will put him in a panic!

  2.  by  Jeff W.

    I prefer to decide how much water I want in my bourbon, thank you very much!

  3.  by  Kim Blake

    Got on the list for Pappy at two local ABC stores in November 2011 – I got a call right before Christmas that we got a bottle of the 20 year. 🙂 Then, the other ABC store was able to sell me a bottle of the 12 year a few weeks ago. Did you know that the Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 year is actually made from Pappy barrels? It’s in limited supply too, but certainly more available.

  4.  by  Robin G.R.

    Great opportunity for competitors to advertise that they won’t compromise their brands for money.
    Disappointing MM.

  5.  by  gdfo

    I have followed this story in my local NEWS. One of the newsies exclaimed that the MM whiskey is to be ‘watered down’.
    I called the station and explained to them what I will write here.

    There are several ways for a distiller to lower the alc.
    If the label does not state Barrel Proof on the label the product has water in it.
    MM can change several things and add slightly more water and keep the flavor profile.
    What affects the flavor profile?
    Yeast. Water. SourMash, the amount of SourMash, cooking time.
    The Oak barrels, the depth of char on the oak barrels, where the barrels are stored in the Rick house. And finally the master blender, whoever it is, can by choosing barrels that will go into the new offering.
    It is not just adding water to the whiskey. Ya gotta do some homework.

  6.  by  Pia Mara Finkell

    Thanks for your comment “gdfo.” As far as doing homework, here is further information about what Maker’s Mark is actually doing, which is adding more distilled water to bring the alcohol level down…thus, “watering down” their bourbon. Of course, their bourbon already undergoes this process; it is simply that they have added more to reach the desired lower alcohol count, while apparently maintaining the same taste (which is yet to be seen).

    Here is the direct response from Bill Samuels:

    Some of you have questioned how we reduce the alcohol content. The fact is, other than barrel-strength bourbons, all bourbons are cut with water to achieve the desired proof for bottling. This is a natural step in the bourbon-making process. Maker’s Mark has always been made this way and will continue to be made this way.

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