Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Defending Maker's Mark: Whisk(e)y Wednesday presented by Calandro's Supermarket

Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky
This is not a normal Whisk(e)y Wednesday post.  I'm not reviewing Maker's Mark today.  Instead, I decided to make this week's post about current events.  Maker's Mark, a Kentucky bourbon that uses the Scotch spelling of whisky, announced this week that they are diluting their flagship bourbon down by 3% alcohol by volume (ABV).  In an email to their "ambassadors," of which I am one, Maker's officials said that they cannot keep up with demand at the 90 proof level, and that diluting it just 3% (45% to 42% ABV or from 90 to 84 proof) will allow them to produce enough bourbon to satisfy the market.  This move has upset a lot of loyal Maker's fans who have turned the distillery with the signature red wax into a major player in the whisk(e)y world.

I, on the other hand, am at least understanding of the move.  The market for bourbon has exploded recently in a way that nobody could have predicted even 6 to 10 years ago.  US markets and especially foreign markets are demanding a lot of bourbon, and if aged properly, that bourbon would have had to have been distilled earlier in the 2000s to be on the market now.  There simply isn't enough supply of bourbon to keep up with the global demand.  Simple economics tell us that this means the prices will go up, at least until there is an adjustment in the supply.  So, rather than see prices rise for Maker's, the distillers got together, put a lot of thought and taste testing into diluting their product, and made the executive decision that adding 3% more water would create enough extra supply while not sacrificing the quality of the product.

That argument certainly sounds like some marketing jargon from Maker's, but I actually agree with their statement.  I doubt many people could tell the difference between Maker's at 90 proof and Maker's at 84 proof.  Plus, most bourbon on the market is actually 80 proof, so they are still keeping their bourbon at slightly higher ABV.  Truth is, all bourbon, unless it is truly barrel strength, is diluted with water to the proof that the distiller desires, with a minimum of 80 proof or 40% ABV.  Additionally, I applaud Maker's for having the fortitude to tell their most loyal fans what's up instead of just releasing a lower proof bourbon hoping nobody would notice.

The backlash from fans of Maker's Mark shows that they actually have passionate fans.  And my guess is that the strong majority of those fans will stay loyal to the brand.  It's not like they are going to switch over to Knob Creek overnight, a bourbon made by Jim Beam.  Perhaps they'll find other local or small batch bourbons, but at the price point, Maker's is still a pretty good bang for the buck whisk(e)y.

I get why it upsets people, though.  This is clearly a move by Maker's Mark to stretch what's in their barrels, and make more money on the product they have on hand.  It is a change to their product which has been consistent for decades.  All that being said, all we can really do is get a bottle of 90 proof Maker's then wait for a 84 proof bottle to come around, then do a blind taste test to see if there really is no difference in quality.  Challenge accepted!

Maker's Mark

Average Score N/A

Whisk(e)y Wednesday is a blog post series on Bite and Booze sponsored by Calandro's Supermarket. Calandro's has one of Baton Rouge's best selections of bourbon, Scotch, and other whisk(e)ys as well as wine and craft beer. WW is created and rated by the hosts of Raise a Glass. Scores are marked for Nose, Taste, Finish, and Balance and Complexity using our own propriatary scoring system. Marks are then added and averaged, leaving us with a final score out of a 100 point scale. Our scale should be looked at on the full range of 0-100 rather than an academic range where 70 is passing and anything less is failing. A 50 should be considered a very mediocre whisk(e)y while anything below 20 is absolute horse piss and anything above 90 is rather extraordinary.

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