Watered-down whiskey: Makers Mark thinks about changing their popular recipe
By Anna Meany–
Maker’s Mark Distilleries has now recanted its decision to change their famous bourbon’s alcohol content, and relieved Maker’s customers from their panic. The company had previously said they would change their recipe.
According to the Courier Journal, the announcement came through emails last weekend to “ambassadors” of the brand, which attributed the recipe change to their short supply and increased international want for their bourbon. The company will immediately begin to sell bottles of their infamously unique bourbon with more water and less alcohol content per container.
The small-town whiskey, easily identified by its distinctively red, wax-dipped lid, is made and bottled in Loretto, KY – the company has made its brand known for locality and acute attention to the meticulous bourbon-making process.
As companies add water to its existing bourbon supply, they change the proof of their product.
In the states, half the amount of the bottle’s proof is how much pure alcohol is actually in the bottle – to put that in the simplest way possible: proof is how much bang you get for your buck. If Maker’s dilutes their bourbon from 90 to 84 proof, customers will be spending the same amount of money for 3 percent less alcohol. To those who don’t prefer Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskey, this number may seem insignificant. But to others, like Nathan Gardner, senior Education major at U of L, the watered-down recipe is unacceptable. Outrage from loyal customers has caused Maker’s Mark to reconsider their decision.
“Maker’s Mark claims customers won’t notice a difference…but now, it’s psychological. If customers are conscious of the new formula, they will notice.”
Before the decision was reversed, President Bill Samuels, Jr. assured readers of TIME magazine that there is no blatant taste difference. He also stressed the importance of the company’s intimate relationship with its customers and keeping those relationships strong. It was these relationships that showed serious snags that caused the company to keep its historical recipe.
Bourbon whiskey production can take up to several years, according to a Kentucky Bourbon Case Study at the American University in Washington, D.C., a determining factor of this controversial decision.
Jacob Bell, senior Pre-Med students, said he understood “I’m sure it will still get the job done, but the demand will only continue to increase.”
Bourbon is formed when ingredients, usually corn, rye, malted barley and wheat, are mashed, cooked and mixed with yeast that will then break down sugars in the mash to create alcohol. At this stage, beer is actually produced. But to make whiskey, the product still must be distilled to enhance flavor and contained in oak barrels. And after all of that, it’s stored for at least two years (and sometimes, longer), subject to harsh summers and winters to create the ideal flavor.
What makes this company’s bourbon so special is that, instead of rye, they use red winter wheat from the very beginning.
Responses to the company’s decision were strongly opinionated, considering the homemade brand has become an icon of Kentucky. Chelsea Jackson, junior Spanish vocal major, says “The strong character of Maker’s Mark has always represented the people of Kentucky – strong and sometimes a little rough around the edges, even when used to make the refined mint juleps.”
Bell added, “people just get sensitive with you start messing with their bourbon.”
It was responses from customers like these students that seemed to force Maker’s Mark to back down. In a later article, the Courier Journal reported that Maker’s Mark had listened to their demographic and apologized to their customers.
Gardner even cited the locality and premium taste of Maker’s Mark bourbon enough reason to justify a price increase, as long as they can maintain their current recipe, calling the change “detrimental” to the company’s reputation and product.
As Derby season approaches Louisville, bourbon-stocked shelves become an absolute must. Laughing, Jackson said, “This watered-down Maker’s Mark would take some of the fire out of my mint julep.”
Photo by Tricia Stern/The Louisville Cardinal