Green Room

Endgame: Maker’s Mark to meet increasing demand by … reducing its alcohol content

posted at 1:54 pm on February 11, 2013 by

I’m trying to imagine any other company in any other industry handling a global clamor for its product this poorly. It’s like BMW advertising the fact that it can’t keep pace with demand and as a result will shift to slightly lower-quality engine components.

Alternate headline: “Prestige brand turns PR bonanza into PR disaster.”

Maker’s Mark is distilled to 45 percent alcohol by volume — or 90 proof — and, after the change, would go down to about 42 percent ABV or 84 proof.

“Lately we’ve been hearing from many of you that you’ve been having difficulty finding Maker’s Mark in your local stores,” Maker’s Mark executives Rob Samuels and Bill Samuels Jr. wrote in a joint email to clients.

“Fact is, demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply.”

A local bartender insists that consumers will notice the difference, the same way they’d notice if he started diluting beer by pouring a half shot of water into everyone’s pint. I’m … pretty sure most people wouldn’t notice that, but that’s not the point. The point is that MM is actually broadcasting the fact that fans will get less bang for their buck henceforth. If only there was an alternate solution suggested by, say, third-grade economics:

As I joked on Twitter, the geniuses at Maker’s Mark are diluting their product in order to ensure that more people have access to a crappier product. This is so remarkably stupid I don’t even know where to begin. All I’ll say is that we have a tried and true solution to this problem: raise the price! When demand for your product increases and you have no ability to make the same product at the same price point, you raise the price of the product. Then, once your production capabilities have caught up or demand slackens, you lower the price again. You don’t damage the brand by making an inferior product.

Indeed. Wouldn’t surprise me if they see fewer profits doing it this way than if they declared a worldwide shortage, jacked up the price by 20 percent, and forced Maker’s Mark fans to start hoarding bottles in a scarcity panic. If anything, they should have boosted the alcohol content by a point or two. Madness.

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Well there goes one of my favorite whiskeys. Stupid.

Daemonocracy on February 11, 2013 at 2:00 PM

Wow, I thought Blake Shelton was wearing black at the Grammys last night to be formal. But this news makes me think he might have been in mourning.

radjah shelduck on February 11, 2013 at 2:08 PM

Stupid indeed. Perhaps Maker’s Mark’ PR department had been drinking when they came up with this idea. They need to be fired and someone who actually knows a thing or two about supply & demand brought in to run the department.

TKindred on February 11, 2013 at 2:14 PM

Has anyone called Killary yet?

trs on February 11, 2013 at 2:15 PM

That would definitely fix the availability issue…

Knott Buyinit on February 11, 2013 at 2:15 PM

The Cadillac Cimaron of liqueur.

portlandon on February 11, 2013 at 2:17 PM

That’s what they get for running 5 ads during “Justified” last week. Geez boys, make sure you got them bottles filled before you launch a national ad campaign.

Brat on February 11, 2013 at 2:18 PM

A local bartender insists that consumers will notice the difference, the same way they’d notice if he started diluting beer by pouring a half shot of water into everyone’s pint.

Trust me, we notice (especially now that it’s public). Prices are inflated enough as it is and whiskey shouldn’t be compared to beer.

When I drink whiskey, it’s two glasses on the rocks savored over a period of time, I know exactly how different whiskeys effect, with different alcohol content, effect me. Maker’s Mark was perfect with its taste and kick, now they’re slightly altering that kick which will most likely alter the taste as well.

Daemonocracy on February 11, 2013 at 2:19 PM

Ah, they are trying the New Coke strategy.

rbj on February 11, 2013 at 2:19 PM

Err, maybe expand production? New building or adding to existing?

smfic on February 11, 2013 at 2:28 PM

Then why are they advertising so aggressively?

John the Libertarian on February 11, 2013 at 2:29 PM

i’m insulated from all this. i prefer 4 Roses.

Steven McGregor on February 11, 2013 at 2:31 PM

Economics? Pretty sure Obama signed an executive order outlawing that…

Shump on February 11, 2013 at 2:31 PM

So what you are telling me is that in addition to hording ammo I am now going to have to make a run on the package stores to grab makers mark before they change the formula…

If that is not bad enough it is Mardi Gras down here and we are already operating on a booze shortage…

I guess it will be Blanton’s all the way when the supply dries up….

Tilly on February 11, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Pabst Blue Ribbon did the same thing several years ago.

ted c on February 11, 2013 at 2:33 PM

I’m trying to imagine any other company in any other industry handling a global clamor for its product this poorly.

Schlitz

Makers mark deserves the same result.

cozmo on February 11, 2013 at 2:37 PM

The Glenlivet. ’nuff said.

CurtZHP on February 11, 2013 at 2:38 PM

Love Maker’s. Please don’t run an ad campaign and do the same to ‘Knob Creek’ Beam.

D-Bar on February 11, 2013 at 2:41 PM

Schlitz

cozmo on February 11, 2013 at 2:37 PM

first thing I thought of too…heard they were going to try to get it back and haven’t heard anything sense

DanMan on February 11, 2013 at 2:44 PM

I’ll stick with my Jack Daniels – every bottle comes from the same water source – take their tour if you are ever near Lynchburg, TN. It’s pretty cool.

ncsully on February 11, 2013 at 2:46 PM

Hillary Clinton hardest hit.

Bitter Clinger on February 11, 2013 at 2:55 PM

I’ll stick with my Jack Daniels – every bottle comes from the same water source – take their tour if you are ever near Lynchburg, TN. It’s pretty cool. – ncsully on February 11, 2013 at 2:46 PM

Jack Daniels lowered their alcohol content in 2004 from 45% to 40%.

SC.Charlie on February 11, 2013 at 3:01 PM

In Maker’s defense, just riding the supply/demand wave has some serious perils, due to the nature of the specific nature of the manufacturing process here.

I wrote a deeper look at what Maker’s (and other large) bourbon distillers are facing here: In Which Maker’s Mark Goes New Coke

I don’t hold their choice against them. It’s where they’ve gone among a choice of only bad options. I don’t think I’d have chosen the route they took, though.

dougwinship on February 11, 2013 at 3:02 PM

I seem to recall a number of years ago, back when Bill Samuels was in charge, that there was a similar “shortage” of Maker’s. Bill’s response was to basically say he wasn’t going to mess with anything, wasn’t going to rush anything, and they’d work hard to alleviate the supply shortages.

I think there was a similar run on Maker’s 46 with the same assurances to people.

Now that Rob is in charge, we get to pay the same amount of money for a bottle that has another 6.5%ish of water in it.

I’ve been a Maker’s Ambassador for many years, but this has shaken me. It’s clear that in the New Economy, we now have to hoard gold, .223 ammunition, and original 90 proof Maker’s Mark.

Dumb dumb dumb.

JohnTant on February 11, 2013 at 3:26 PM

This is just too stupid for words.

I smell a cheap publicity stunt.

Captain Kirock on February 11, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Corporate suicide.
I can tell when a restaurant/bar starts making their drinks weaker to cut costs – and it’s usually one of several early indicators of a business that will likely be gone within 6 months.
Are they really that clueless to think the people who drink their stuff on a regular basis won’t notice?

dentarthurdent on February 11, 2013 at 3:36 PM

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!

Maker’s Mark was my favorite bourbon but looks like a switch to Knob Creek is in order. Jimmy Beam knows what bourbon drinkers want…

Wyznowski on February 11, 2013 at 3:57 PM

Knob Creek has a reserve that’s 60% and has a kick comparable to Booker’s. Jack Single Barrel and Woodford are also good if you don’t want to do any more Maker’s.

SirGawain on February 11, 2013 at 4:08 PM

I’ve been torn between Maker’s Mark and Crown Royal Reserve. I guess that problem is solved.

trigon on February 11, 2013 at 4:19 PM

Looks like management may be consuming a bit too much of the product at the office!

bushhog on February 11, 2013 at 4:20 PM

well damn, guess i’ll find another favorite bourbon

burserker on February 11, 2013 at 4:21 PM

If only there was an alternate solution suggested by, say, third-grade economics:

I’m pretty sure that whatever they call economics in schools nowadays, we wouldn’t recognize any free market notions about supply, demand, and price.

But the problem here goes beyond a failure to grasp basic economic principles. They have a product whose price and place in the market rests on its quality, and they are going to sacrifice its identity for a marginal increase in production. The people responsible for this idiocy don’t understand their own product or anything, apparently about marketing or the market they compete in.

They could have raised the price, accompanied by an oh-so-sorry press release about how demand for the product has skyrocketed but unfortunately their signature quality takes time, etc., so it will take a while to make more. Presto: More snob appeal for a product that depends to a large extent on its snob appeal.

As a long time bourbon drinker I find the sudden popularity of bourbon to be mildly amusing, but the rising prices are becoming inconvenient. Unfortunately, it takes years of aging to make good bourbon, so production can’t be ramped up overnight, even if distilling capacity is available.’

The answer sure as Hell isn’t to water down the bourbon. The only water I want in my bourbon is ice.

novaculus on February 11, 2013 at 4:26 PM

tom0508 on February 11, 2013 at 4:32 PM

Knob Creek has a reserve that’s 60% and has a kick comparable to Booker’s. Jack Single Barrel and Woodford are also good if you don’t want to do any more Maker’s.

SirGawain on February 11, 2013 at 4:08 PM

Knob Creek, been a while since I tried that. I like Jim Beam, I used to love the Beam yellow label for mixing.

I don’t believe I’ve ever tried Woodford, I’ll have to check it out.

When it comes to sub 90 proof I prefer Yamazaki 12 year (86) and Powers Gold Label (80). I prefer to use sipping stones with those drinks while Maker’s just went perfectly with ice as it slowly melted to bring out the taste, but that also dilutes the drink over time. I’m just real fussy when it comes to my whiskey, right down to the type of glass and shape of the ice, a lot of whiskey drinkers are this way so I’m surprised they would think a change like this isn’t that big of a deal.

Daemonocracy on February 11, 2013 at 4:51 PM

From a beer drinker’s viewpoint, this is a bad idea.
I’m trying a new beer. I had one last night late, expecting it to knock me out. A good beer with a decent alcohol content should do that.
But this one didn’t, although the listed alcohol content suggested that it would.
Or maybe I’m just becoming even more of a fatty.

22044 on February 11, 2013 at 4:58 PM

As a long time bourbon drinker I find the sudden popularity of bourbon to be mildly amusing, but the rising prices are becoming inconvenient. Unfortunately, it takes years of aging to make good bourbon, so production can’t be ramped up overnight, even if distilling capacity is available.’

The answer sure as Hell isn’t to water down the bourbon. The only water I want in my bourbon is ice.

novaculus on February 11, 2013 at 4:26 PM

I think the popularity of Mad Men had something to do with it, and then it just snowballed from there. I’m sure a lot of bottles are being wasted on coeds binge drinking, but that’s how trends work.

I never bring a bottle to a party anymore, it’s very disappointing to see people poor a glass and then drown it with coca cola.

Daemonocracy on February 11, 2013 at 5:07 PM

My father-in-law is– or was– a MM drinker.

His hypothesis is that Beam (who now owns MM) does not want it to compete with their own new brand, Devil’s Cut (currently at 45% alcohol).

benjamin on February 11, 2013 at 5:08 PM

Baker’s 107 proof. It’s for men who drink bourbon. Maker’s Mark is for boys who read Cosmo for Boys Men’s Health and watch a lot male soap operas crap on TV like The Walking Dead and the gayness known as Sons of Anarchy.

M240H on February 11, 2013 at 5:31 PM

When Jack Daniels did this and came out with:

“The main reason we lowered the proof is because we’ve noticed in recent years folks tend to prefer lower-proof products, and this includes most of our friends who enjoy our Tennessee Whiskey. This has not hurt sales of Jack Daniel’s.”

This, of course, was a lie. Jack became “not-my-friend” and I have not, and will never again spend another dime on their bellywash.

Now? Makers Mark trots out: (excerpt)

“Some people are asking why we didn’t just raise the price if demand is an issue. We don’t want to price Maker’s Mark out of reach. Dad’s intention when he created this brand was to make good-tasting bourbon accessible and to bring more fans into the fold, not to make it exclusive.”

Bill Samuels, Jr.
Chairman Emeritus
Ambassador-at-Large

Bill… Shove it. You reduce a noble brand to junk with one ill-advised move and a transparently ridiculous press release.

Not only have you lost my business, but Loretto, Bardstown and the formerly Great State of Kentucky in general, are now dead to me. I am ashamed that I ever gave MM as a gift and will never do so again.

Oh! I hope you have a similar oh-so-convincing press release for the local citizenry when business drops and their livelihood goes into the toilet. Have fun shopping in town!

You used to stand for something. Now? You’re dirt.

Watered-down dirt in a joke bottle with a joke excuse for your stupid actions.

What you have done is like pi$$ing on an Americana exhibit at the Smithsonian.

But, hey! You’ll make more money, right?

Right?

heldmyw on February 11, 2013 at 5:48 PM

I’ll put in a few words here too, beyond my link above, for those of you Maker’s Mark partisans who are feeling betrayed. If you genuinely prefer MM in comparison to other bourbons that you have actually tried recently, chances are, you will still prefer Maker’s after the change. Not as much perhaps, but still….

If you’ve just been going with Maker’s because you are just used to it, or it seemed like the thing, or was just always available, may I suggest you give Four Roses Yellow Label a whirl. It costs the same or less than Maker’s, is a shade dryer, and tastes more like a premium mainstream bourbon than Maker’s does, before or after the change. It kinda pushed Maker’s off my home bar shelf about two years ago.

dougwinship on February 11, 2013 at 6:06 PM

When I buy alcohol (which technically I don’t, as I’m 20), I go for flavor, alcohol content is a secondary concern, as I never drink with the intent of getting drunk or tipsy or buzzed or whatever. So long as the flavor of Maker’s Mark isn’t compromised, I don’t care. 3% isn’t enough of a difference for my pie crusts to be any less flaky, so I really don’t mind.

vegconservative on February 11, 2013 at 6:37 PM

Never understood the fascination with Knob Creek. I like Makers to mix, Blantons to drink over ice. Always loved Blanton’s the best.

Tilly on February 11, 2013 at 6:47 PM

Sounds like former Enron advisor Paul Krugman is giving them advice…

rcpjr on February 11, 2013 at 6:50 PM

vegconservative on February 11, 2013 at 6:37 PM

I don’t drink to get drunk either. I am 32, and when I was 20 I was exactly like you but the more I got into certain drinks, the more I appreciated them beyond taste. With the bourbon and whisky, the kick is very important to me, and how I drink it, what I drink it out of, what I drink it with, and possibly when I drink it are all contributing factors to my enjoyment and the controlled effect it has on me. Then there are other elements to drinking a good whisky such as the “nose” and the lingering after taste, it just goes beyond simple taste.

Daemonocracy on February 11, 2013 at 6:56 PM

How many of you drink your whisky straight on the rocks with a dash of water. If you don’t stop your whining. I have never understood anyone who bought “the best” and then had a mixed drink with something like Coke or Pepsi. If you do, you are just wasting your darn money. The same applies to any other premium liquor.

SC.Charlie on February 11, 2013 at 7:09 PM

This post has been promoted to HotAir.com.

Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Allahpundit on February 12, 2013 at 12:43 AM

Makers will still sell since most bourbon drinkers are pretty brand loyal and price will always be a factor.

Blanton’s, Basil Hayden and Woodford Reserve sell as well. There’s enough market share for them all…

lilacs on February 11, 2013 at 8:28 PM