Maker’s Mark lit up the Internet this weekend with an email to its ambassadors announcing that the company would begin lowering the alcohol by volume (ABV) of its flagship bourbon by 3 percent – from 45 to 42. The addition of more water will also reduce the proof from 90 to 84.
The reason? “Demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply. We never imagined that the entire bourbon category would explode as it has over the past few years, nor that demand for Maker’s Mark would grow even faster,” COO Rob Samuels wrote in the email. “We wanted you to be the first to know that, after looking at all possible solutions, we’ve worked carefully to reduce the alcohol by volume (ABV) by just 3%. This will enable us to maintain the same taste profile and increase our limited supply so there is enough Maker’s Mark to go around, while we continue to expand the distillery and increase our production capacity.”
(There is no plan to alter Maker’s 46.)
Tampering with a beloved brand is a tricky thing, and many Maker’s fans reacted with outrage. Would they have responded better to a price increase? A third option would have been to just let the supply dwindle and count on customers buying with a vengeance when the supplies are replenished. That has obviously worked wonders for Pappy Van Winkle.
But Maker’s occupies a different shelf in the bourbon world – one that is growing increasingly crowded. In the past, customers had little choice but to wait when a brand’s supply ran low. That’s not the case anymore. With canny marketing, Maker’s is one of the most recognized brands across the country, and the company can’t afford to relinquish that hold.
When asked about the blowback from Maker’s fans by WFPL’s Joseph Lord, Samuels responded: “We’re confident that through maintaining the taste exactly to our standard—that’s paramount, that’s what means most to us, that’s what means most to our consumers. The questions and concerns pale in comparison to the feedback that we’ve received with the shelves being empty.”
What do you think? Will you continue to buy Maker’s? Should they have raised prices instead, or just ridden out the temporary shortage?