Bourbon Woman: Marjorie Samuels

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld Maker’s Mark’s right to exclusive use of its distinctive seal of dripping red wax. The decision came in an appeal brought by Diageo North America and Casa Cuervo of Mexico, which had also used a dripping red wax seal on special bottles of its Reserva tequila. The appeals court ruled that Cuervo had infringed on Maker’s trademark.

The case is a clear victory for Maker’s Mark, and it’s also a good opportunity to talk a little bit about one of the few women you hear much about in the history of bourbon-making: Marjorie Samuels.

It may have been her husband, Bill Samuels, who concocted the recipe for Maker’s Mark, but it was arguably Marjorie Samuels’ flair for marketing that led to its eventual rise as one of the world’s most recognized brands.

She came up with the name, first of all. A collector of pewter, she knew that it was only on the finest pieces that the makers put their mark. The “SIV” symbol was her idea, too – it stands for “Samuels – 4th generation” distillers. (This may lead you to ask why her grandson, Rob Samuels, the current chief operating officer of Maker’s, is referred to as the eighth-generation distiller. Apparently, Bill and Marjorie counted wrong – they were the sixth generation.) She created the brand’s distinctive typeface.

And perhaps most important, she came up with the idea of coating the bottles with that red wax. She also collected old cognac bottles, and she thought their wax seals were classy. Legend has it that she made the original wax coating in her deep fryer. Today, each bottle is still dipped by hand at Maker’s, which the Wall Street Journal once famously called “a model of inefficiency by choice.”

(Photo courtesy of Maker’s Mark)

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