Why are they diluting the bourbon?

by on February 12, 2013 at 11:23 am in Food and Drink, Uncategorized | Permalink

Numerous readers have requested that I cover this topic, and here is one report:

Maker’s Mark, the Loretto, Kentucky, bourbon manufacturer, has the sort of problem that every consumer-products company wishes it had: too much demand for too little product. But the company’s solution might surprise the very consumers demanding its product—adding water to its existing supply of bourbon, thereby cutting the alcohol content in each bottle from 45 percent to 42 percent.

Let me first note that I have zero institutional knowledge of bourbon.  I have never tried bourbon (I have eaten in the excellent restaurant Bourbon Steak), and even worse I have never read a book about bourbon, but here is one hypothesis.  Could it be that future buyers, who have never tried the older 45 percent will accept the 42 percent as the normal taste?  (The company might even fool some of the current drinkers.)  In that case, if the company has a large flow of future buyers, relative to the current stock of buyers, this won’t even count as a price increase/quality degradation for the future flow.  A direct price increase, in contrast, would be a price increase for everyone, present and future.

This explanation, however, runs the risk of being “too good” (read: not good).  If it is that easy, why didn’t they degrade the quality in the first place, until reaching a margin where framing effects won’t make up most of the difference?

Caveat emptor!  Ask an expert instead.

Edward Burke February 12, 2013 at 11:42 am

Tyler: thanks for tackling. Alternatively: product dilution/degradation could drive away both present and future buyers enough that present (and ongoing replenishment) stocks rebound, no?

Jon February 12, 2013 at 11:47 am

It’s not uncommon to dilute to taste. The most important thing is that the cask strength stays the same.

dead serious February 12, 2013 at 11:51 am

Better solution: hit up Apple for a loan and expand operations. Win-win, as they say.

bluto February 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Good bourbon takes a fairly long time to age in barrels, so any expansions won’t boost supply for at least a few years.

Sol February 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I would presume they are adding the water after aging, so they can make the change whenever they want. See the discussion below on cask-strength Scotch, for instance.

dbg February 12, 2013 at 4:06 pm

unless they’re going to use that money to build a time machine and travel back in time 6 years when they ordered the grain and the barrels for this year’s batch of Bourbon, this is not a solution of any kind.

dead serious February 13, 2013 at 10:19 am

They are.

Ray Lopez February 12, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I am an expert in bourbon. Using my vast library, which is electronically indexed by keyword, and via Wikipedia, I find this:Whisky Technology, Production and Marketing Elsevier, 2003 Edited by: Inge Russell, Graham Stewart, Charlie Bamforth and Inge Russell ISBN: 978-0-12-669202-0 So the name ‘bourbon’ became almost generic for any corn-based whiskey, and a legal definition was only agreed by a Congressional resolution in 1964. The basic elements of this definition are that the spirit must be made from a mash that contains at least 51 per cent maize and is matured for at least two years in charred casks made from new oak. Although the state of origin is not stipulated, as it is for Scotch, nearly all bourbon is distilled in Kentucky. As the Kentucky Distillers Association (2002) is quick to point out, Kentucky is the only state allowed to put its name on a bourbon label, and it jealously guards the traditions of its products. Thus the commercial and technical developments of American whiskey are inextricably linked.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bourbon_whiskey#Legal_requirements The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5) state that bourbon made for U.S. consumption[2] must be: made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn;[3] aged in new, charred-oak barrels;[3] distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume);[3] entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume);[3] and be bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume).[4] Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period.[5] Products aged for as little as three months are sold as bourbon.[6] Bourbon that meets the above requirements, has been aged for a minimum of two years, and does not have added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits may (but is not required to) be called straight bourbon.[7]

doug m February 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm

distilled to no greater than 160 proof? Much lower than Scotch and Irish whisky which is typically distilled to 190 proof.

Andrew C February 12, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Scotch is distilled twice, and Irish whisky three times, which gets up to the higher proof. Also both are generally aged longer so you’re going to lose more of the alcohol. Scotch will be distilled to 95%, but by the time you’re done aging it’s down to 60-65%.

cb February 12, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Scotch can be distilled up to 190, but isn’t necessarily. Also, some is triple distilled

JWatts February 12, 2013 at 4:12 pm

“Although the state of origin is not stipulated, as it is for Scotch, nearly all bourbon is distilled in Kentucky”

LOL, Tennessee would beg to differ. Perhaps, you’ve heard of Jack Daniel’s? Though for branding reasons it’s usually called Tennessee Whiskey, but functionally it’s straight bourbon.

AndrewM February 12, 2013 at 4:58 pm

No it’s not. Jack Daniels is maple charcoal filtered, which just makes it Tennessee whiskey, not Bourbon. See the point about no added flavor, which is violated by the maple flavoring.

cb February 12, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Charcoal filtering isn’t considered an addition of flavor.

Bourbon Wholesaler February 13, 2013 at 8:41 am

Hi Mr. Lopez,

Your knowledge in this catigory is impressive! I do not know what you do for a living, however I could use someone with yourself in my International sales force.

If your interested in talking? send me a e-mail titled “Bourbon Sales” please.

Euripides February 12, 2013 at 12:06 pm

42 vs 45 would not get me to change my buying behavior, but jacking up the price by say $6 might, and I would get Jack Daniels instead. But never go as low as Beam!

Jon February 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Jack Daniels is not a bourbon

James Oswald February 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Jack Daniels is not marketed as a bourbon, but it is a corn based whiskey, so some people regard it as a bourbon.

Spencer February 12, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Jack Daniels is not sold as a bourbon because it is made in Tennessee, not Kentucky.

johnz February 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Actually it isn’t called Bourbon because they don’t care to call it that. It probably qualifies. (I was probably told all the same things that you were about Bourbon and Kentucky)

JWatts February 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm

“Actually it isn’t called Bourbon because they don’t care to call it that.”

+1. Jack Daniel’s and all the major Tennessee whiskey’s are bourbons. The phrase “Tennessee whiskey” is just marketing.

AndrewM February 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm

It’s also maple charcoal filtered, and so by law cannot be labeled as bourbon. If you’ve ever lived in Kentucky, an out of stater trying to claim JD is a bourbon is fightin’ words.

cb February 12, 2013 at 6:06 pm

“If you’ve ever lived in Kentucky, an out of stater trying to claim JD is a bourbon is fightin’ words”

Yes, lots of people from Kentucky have mistaken views about what can be called bourbon.

Some Kentucky bourbons are charcoal filtered, fwiw. There is no law saying they can’t be called bourbon

Brian Donohue February 12, 2013 at 6:37 pm

This is getting pedantic. Think I’ll jump in.

What you’re all overlooking (except JWatts) is that this booze is named after a guy named Jack Daniel (note the apostrophe.)

Which is weird, because Daniel isn’t a common last name.

CD February 12, 2013 at 12:07 pm

The obvious answer is that, as with scotch, bourbon drinkers usually drink it diluted — water, ice, soda water — so you’re not as likely to notice the change and you could adapt easily. Of course this doesn’t answer the question why now. Perhaps the recent increase in demand is unsophisticated.

Hard liquor is a weird category. You’re buying a tasty beverage, but you’re also buying a label.

Edward Burke February 12, 2013 at 12:28 pm

It’s criminal to add water to a single-malt Scotch, however (perhaps possibly maybe only a few DROPS of water can be usefully added to a serving of some of the Islay malts).

My late father was a veteran consumer of blended Scotch (his preferred brand: Teachers). While touring in Scotland years ago, he ordered a (blended) Scotch with ice and soda water. “Ach!” the waiter replied. “You’ve ruined it twice!”

Josh February 12, 2013 at 12:38 pm

That’s because you shouldn’t add ice or soda water to Scotch. However, you should feel free to add some pure room-temperature water (not tap water that might have chemical tastes). Adding water will awaken different tastes in a good single malt and experimenting with this is part of the pleasure of enjoying fine whisky, much as decanting adds interest to the experience of port or good red wine. Some labels offer a cask strength version of their whisky specifically to encourage you to experiment with these ratios, rather than drinking it passively however it happens to be bottled.

I do not know whether or how this may apply to bourbon, but I think if you visit some distilleries in Scotland you’ll find the views I just expressed to be in very broad currency.

David Parker February 12, 2013 at 1:43 pm

This is a very true statement.

For books, I’d recommend any of the books by the late Michael Jackson (not the singer). Particularly, Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide discusses how to drink whiskey.

I’ve been to Scotch tastings and they always serve the Scotch with water droppers + distilled water.

Andrew C February 12, 2013 at 4:51 pm

That’s exactly right. In fact, many Scottish pubs serving good whisky will bring you a pitcher of water with your order so you can add a bit of water if you’re so inclined.

cb February 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Nothing wrong with adding a small amount of water to any whisky.

The problem with your fathr’s order was the ice(too cold) and the soda(not still) water, not that he was adding water

Edward Burke February 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm

The problem with my father’s order: he was drinking blended Scotch (to which, if I understand, grain alcohol is added, which by itself kills all of the nose, most of the taste, and most of the finish): what the blending didn’t kill, the ice and soda did. I tried plying him over the years, but he never took to single-malts.
After converting to single-malts, I could not heartily return to bourbon of any make: far too sweet and syrupy.
I observe further that everyone here seems to’ve left Wild Turkey out of the discussion altogether, perhaps experience speaks.

cb February 12, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Nothing necessarily wrong with blended. I’ve had blends that have fine nose/taste/finish

Benny Lava February 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Except that they already do that at the distillery. The difference between cask strength and 40% is water added. This is, I think, the true measure if ignorant snobbery.

dearieme February 12, 2013 at 4:33 pm

The water you add to your whisky need not be distilled but, to my taste, it’s best if it’s soft.

Brian Donohue February 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Mary Kate Danaher: Could you use a little water in your whiskey?
Michaleen Flynn: When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey; and when I drink water, I drink water.

bartman February 13, 2013 at 8:45 am

Whisky is 50-60% water, some of it added by the distiller as a diluent after the barrel-aging process. So when you drink whisky, you DO drink water.

Marc February 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm

If we start from the not unreasonable assumption that bourbon bottling really took off when transporting an 80 proof bottle led to the same jail time, and lower margin than a 120 proof bottle, then you can conclude traditional bottling alcohol content has nothing to do with a pleasant drinking experience (unless you are a binge drinking college student who doesn’t care about taste.)

If you drink “cask strength” bourbon, you taste alcohol, and you cannot taste anything because your mouth is numb almost immediately.

So, I would imagine lowering alcohol content counter-balances the notion that it is “uncool” to add water to bourbon, but very frequently, especially at the high end, (price and alcohol content) if you don’t add water, the drinking experience is unpleasant, and therefore repeat customers are lost?

The logical question to follow: Which is more efficient for the consumer? In my experience, alcohol content and price are correlated, to the previous “cask strength” comment and the “prestige” implied in such product. However, on very limited sample, the price doesn’t seem high enough on a “water it down to drink it” volume adjusted basis.

Lastly, maybe there should be a market for Kentucky spring water sold specifically to water your beverage??

anon February 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Will be interesting to see if they get any blow back at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

anon February 12, 2013 at 12:28 pm

All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon


K Webb February 12, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Why not dilute earlier? Tradition, inertia, or some other resistance to change.

The founder’s grandson became the CEO of Maker’s Mark in 2011 replacing the founder’s son. Mayhaps the grandson has less respect for the old family recipe or was less resistant to pressure from Maker’s Mark’s owners.

Stuart Williams February 12, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Gordons did the same thing with their gin. It’s now down to 37.5% (from 40%). The stated reason was to match the strength of vodka and rum – which doesn’t strike me as a reason to do anything to your gin. The real reason is said to have been to reduce the sum paid in alcohol duty (but without cutting prices in the shops). I no longer buy it, preferring Tanqueray et sim since they are around 43%. A pity, really, since Gordon’s was always rather delicious.

Rahul February 12, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Did the 40% to 37.5% transition make it less delicious?

Stuart Williams February 13, 2013 at 5:19 am

Yeah – it became too sweet and flabby.

doug m February 12, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Gordons and Tanqueray are the same distiller. Tanqueray is the premium lable.

John Bailey February 12, 2013 at 12:31 pm

According to NPR, the world-wide market for bourbon has increased dramatically and unexpectedly. Bourbon has to be aged for some period, so kind of like demographics, all the Bourbon that will be available for the next several years has already been made.

So diluting the product allows more to be sold now. That might be a function of cashing in on the demand. It might also be a mechanism for keeping supply and demand from increasing Maker’s Mark already premium pricing.

Emil February 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm

You beat me to it

The alternative cost of diluting more or less will change depending on demand because the undiluted amount is not flexible (if you only have demand enough for the 40% dilution then you might as well use it up)

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) February 12, 2013 at 12:33 pm

If you’re buying on ABV then be honest about it and pick up a fifth of Barton’s Vodka (yeah, really, but not mine, eh) in the “traveler” format. Most liquor stores price it to hit 5-bucks, even, with the tax. No change to count, and they’ll even give you a niyshe brown bag … to hide it in. It’sh pretty good.

Eric February 12, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Note that the size of unit that can be sold is fixed to a few values by law. Reducing the amount by selling a slightly smaller bottle is not an option.

The manufacturer has a number of other whiskey brands, at higher and lower price points. Raising the price would cannibalize sales of a higher-end and presumably more profitable brand in their portfolio.

Really not a ton of choice to stretch supply to meet demand.

John Hall February 12, 2013 at 12:48 pm

It shouldn’t seem like an issue to just create another label (like Johnny Walker red vs. black vs. blue) that’s the lower proof and jack up the price of the original as a premium brand.

GiT February 12, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Building a brand can’t be easy.

Marie February 12, 2013 at 12:53 pm

There’s an assortment of rye, whiskey, bourbon, and scotch in our house, though I don’t drink any of it. Husband is generally unconcerned about MM’s watering down as it’s not his top shelf bourbon preference. My dad general cuts his whiskey with a splash of water anyway.

I’ve really tried to appreciate the stuff. After a particularly good distillery tour in Scotland a few years ago I tried to psych myself up for the tasting thinking that now that I knew so much I must at least be able to tolerate it. Still burned. I’ll stick with being a wino.

Bart (again) February 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm

@Eric — true. But I have a bottle of Highland Park 30 I’ve been working on for almost four years, with help from my sons. It was bottled cask-strength, but at 700 mL. Do you think 700 vs 750 was the issue? Again, if you’re buying on ABV I suspect you have a different problem. BTW, “proof” in the Commonwealth is rather different than that in the States. 57% ABV is defined as 100 proof, because it will sustain a fire … in the belly and elsewhere.

Squarely Rooted February 12, 2013 at 12:58 pm

“I have never tried bourbon…”

I highly recommend it.

Nathan Goldblum February 12, 2013 at 4:19 pm

First Gelman with the “I’ve never been drunk”-thing, now this. Oy.

Doug February 12, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Excess demand exceeding capacity to manufacture. Doesn’t sound like an AD shortfall to me. More like a TGS related problem due to Maker’s Mark lacking the technology to scale up production in a quality consistent way.

Are all those 3 year unemployed workers really ZMP as it relates to bourbon?

bluto February 12, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Bourbon mixed and sold today needed to be distilled at least 2 years ago, it’s not legally straight bourbon if it’s aged less than that (it needs to age in oak to pick up the color and flavor). So yeah even an unemployed master distiller is ZMP as it relates to bourbon sold for the next two years (or potentially more).

mulp February 12, 2013 at 11:46 pm

Hiring 6 more workers will not result in a 7 year aged cask completing the aging in 1 year.

Steve February 12, 2013 at 1:01 pm

As someone who has served a lot of Maker’s Mark to customers over the years, is familiar with the taste of Maker’s Mark and many other bourbons, and often reflected on what drives consumer behavior when it comes to alcohol choice, here are my thoughts:

First, Maker’s Mark is banking that customers aren’t going to be able to tell the difference in flavor. In large part they are right. Most people who order MM, are not drinking it neat (no ice or water) or with only one cube let’s say, where the subtlety of a 3% difference in alcohol content may be noticeable. Even to a seasoned pro, it would be hard to distinguish unless the two were side by side, and if you didn’t tell them they were different in the first place. I think a good blind taster of whiskey should be able to tell you if it is over or under 50% alcohol, and can usually tell you if it is say, 40% or 45% or 50%. But again the nuance of 3% is tough–you may notice its slightly softer, but again only if you drink it neat. But of course for most MM customers that doesn’t matter. Because they are not generally drinking the bourbon neat–because its not really a sipping bourbon in that way. They are adding they’re own water (on the rocks) or adding it with a mixer (cola, soda water, etc) in which case there is no way someone could judge the 3% change.

But what does matter? Perception. And that really matters more than anything. Makers Mark has done an incredible job over the last few years building its brand which is why its having this problem in the first place. Its bourbon is in such high demand, it literally is running out–and you can’t just make more bourbon out of thin air–it takes time to age, which you can’t rush. I think they believe that they’re brand is so strong and that they have such a loyal following that they can make this slight change without much reaction. They may be right. The problem is they built they’re brand at a time when bourbon in America was not as cool as it is now. But bourbon consumers have a lot more choice now, and sipping Maker’s Mark is not as fashionable as it once may have been. While there is really nothing wrong with bringing it down to 43%, its much better than 40%, which is where many or even most whiskeys on the back bar stand, the change just may rub enough MM fans the wrong way. Because in reality I don’t think many were fans for the taste as much as they were a result of the marketing of the image and brand. Now they may ask themselves: why am I drinking this? Is it time to change? Do I want to be drinking the bourbon that tried to pull one over on me?

Just because you can’t taste it doesn’t matter. There have never been a better selection of quality bourbons on the market. Somehow after all of Maker’s Mark’s marketing (wax seals, timeless tradition, and handcrafted attention to detail)–this change seems expedient and bourbon consumers are only getting smarter. Bourbon is about tradition not gimmicks, which is why up until now, I think the Maker’s Mark strategy worked so well. But that means you can’t say as they did: we’re cool with making the change because 90 proof was really never that important anyway. There is now a large opening in the market for another bourbon maker to take some of their market share.

Rahul February 12, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Wonder if they could’ve done that “dilution” with extremely pure 100% Alcohol. Then, the label would look the same. Could drinkers tell by taste / smell?

Sbard February 12, 2013 at 11:44 pm

They probably couldn’t legally call such a beverage “bourbon”, they’d also need to list the addition of grain neutral spirits on the label.

Sbard February 12, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Upon checking the laws on the matter, adding grain neutral spirits would require them to label the beverage as “blended” (as opposed to “straight”).

dbp February 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm

They should have just raised the price. Dilution has the potential to harm the brand.

mulp February 12, 2013 at 11:48 pm

And lose their American and Aussie customers to Asian customers with money to flaunt engaged in what might be a fad?

econobiker February 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Jack Daniels already diluted its whiskey from 45% to 40%.

Dilution stretches the amount of liquor which can be bottled. Less proof = more bottles = more profit.

petrilli February 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Here’s a good explanation of the influences, specifically licensing and taxation, that are driving the decision. Personally, as a bourbon drinker, I find anything much above 40% requires dilution to be enjoyed fully. http://drinkwire.liquor.com/post/tiki-timeout-in-which-makers-mark-goes-new-coke

John B. Chilton February 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm

For those who drink Maker’s Mark straight, this is a change in the product that can’t be undone.

For those who dilute their drinks anyway, now there’s going to be greater transportation costs associated with the end product (diluted bourbon). All else equal, this makes no sense. Raising the price and not diluting would save the cost of transporting the water added.

Sounds like they are afraid that if they raise their price they will lose some of the flow of new consumers who become loyal Maker’s Mark customers.

Rahul February 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm

For something pricey like a Bourbon what percent of the cost is transportation? I doubt this change has a discernible impact on their trucking bills.

A. P. A. February 12, 2013 at 1:30 pm

The reason why it wasn’t diluted earlier is that this would have done no good. The issue they’re currently facing is an opportunity / problem due to high demand. Since they have an existing stock of bourbon, they can dilute it in a way that wouldn’t really change the characteristics of the bourbon (45-42%), and make some cash, without having to change the price. But that doesn’t mean they would have saved money or stretched supply if they had made bourbon at 42% from the beginning. It only works with supply you already have. The cost difference in producing a 45% batch versus a 42% batch is probably nonexistant, and mostly has to little changes to the still’s operation. Additionally, the pre-aged distillate is probably about 80%, then diluted to 45% before it goes into the barrels. So again, small changes to alcohol aren’t going to make differences in the front end costs; this only changes the revenue if they can stretch existing stock.

Jeromy February 12, 2013 at 2:04 pm

The alternative to this is letting the prices of makers drift up. Makers is one brand in large catalog of brands owned by Beam Inc including several pricier premium brands like Bookers and Baysil haydons. My guess is they like the price of Makers right where it is: more than Jim Beam but less than the premiums. A makers Manhattan will still taste the same, and I’m sure they expect those that drink it neat will gravitate up the price spectrum if they don’t like the change.

doug m February 12, 2013 at 2:12 pm

They have debased the spirits.

It seems to me that they think that their clientelle won’t be able to tell the differnce. Which is strange since it is a premium brand. It suggests that the premium is in the branding and not in the whisky itself.

James Oswald February 12, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Maker’s Mark tastes like a mediocre bourbon to me. It markets and prices itself at the high end, but I suspect people only buy it for the name recognition. I think you’re right that it’s all about the branding.

Chuck Ross February 12, 2013 at 2:13 pm

This is a case of newbies driving out purists. The purists are mad at both the company and the newbies, but it is the satisfaction of the purists which is part of the reason that the newbies are coming to the product in the first place.

As Tyler writes, newcomers are not fixed to the specific taste of this particular bourbon. They’re coming to MM because drinking whiskey is more fashionable and possibly because of the red waxing on the bottle.

So they’re running off a few purists in order to capture the newcomers. This is tricky because if the newcomers move on to another type of beverage, the purists will have already given up on the brand.

Jack Daniels’ sales didn’t suffer when they lowered ABV from 90 to 86 to 80 (the first decrease happened in 1987 and the second in 2002), but that could be because whiskey was on an upswing anyway. Or it could just be because Jack Daniels was the industry leader and its marketing was capturing all of these new customers.

Guinness faced something similar. Their marketing guy was at a bar and saw four frat dudes order Guinness. He realized that he didn’t want to drink something enjoyed by that type of customer so Guinness purposely began to market to their older and more loyal customers.

They employed Bill Walton to do this.


Geoff Olynyk February 13, 2013 at 8:32 am

Haha, you mean proof, not abv, for Jack Daniels…

Chuck Ross February 13, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Yeah. that would be bad.

Andy February 12, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I guess I’m weird, but I like to drink my whiskey neat even if it’s 50% alcohol. Though I doubt that this change will be something I notice since I don’t really mind the difference between MM and some cheaper brands.

Jon February 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm

If I had to guess why now, I think it is because Makers Mark is a premium brand that caters to low information consumers, not bourbon aficionados (who already regard it as a lousy, overpriced bourbon), and is increasingly moving in that direction.

Orange14 February 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm

TC doesn’t know what he’s missing!!! I’ve been a bourbon drinker for a lot of years and I do prefer the small batch varieties. My personal favorite is Booker’s which may be the strongest in terms of alcohol content sold in the US, coming in at a proof of 121-127 depending on the cask bottling. Next on my list is Knob Creek for a smoother finished make. I don’t rate Maker’s Mark all that high but that’s a personal preference. I like my whiskey untainted by additives such as water, ice, and artificial flavorings! Small batch bourbons are more expensive but as is the case with single malt Scotch well worth it.

allan February 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm

They’re diluting the bourbon to increase their profits. The econo-junk speak for it is “profit maximization.”

James Oswald February 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Why aren’t all whiskey makers watering down their booze then? I think it only maximizes profits if no one notices.

Barkley Rosser February 12, 2013 at 4:33 pm

This is shocking. You are in the same department as D.L., Tyler, and you have never had any Booker’s, much less any bourbon att all? Tsk tsk. Your ethnic dining guide may know about barbecue, but you have just watered down your brand, and not even for any profit, :-).

Brian Donohue February 12, 2013 at 6:46 pm

extremely well played, sir.

Mark Thorson February 12, 2013 at 4:36 pm

If I were head of marketing at Maker’s Mark, I’d wait until Friday and then announce that due to overwhelming demand from our customers we’ll keep the old method of making Maker’s Mark and we’re raising the price 20%. Yes, you twisted our arm and we’re doing exactly what you said you want us to do. No, we didn’t do this for free publicity. No, no, no, we’d never do that. :-)

JWatts February 12, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Bourbon is legally mandated to be a minimum of 40% alcohol.

Sbard February 12, 2013 at 11:54 pm

You can go lower, but then you have to label it “diluted bourbon” instead of “straight bourbon”.

Edward Burke February 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm

@ cb above: agreed, though the only palatable blended Scotch I ever found was Johnnie Walker Red.

cb February 12, 2013 at 6:11 pm

go pick up a bottle of Compass Box Great King Street.

Go Kings, Go! February 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Alcohol duties are based on ABV, so Makers Mark has cut their price.

Skeptical February 12, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Curious-last year our local discount liquor mart here in Western MA (Liquors 44) ran a months long special on Makers Mark. (I’ve been on a rye and small batch jag with MM’s neighbors on the shelf).

Why would MM be discounting their whiskey if it was in short supply? Has demand really spiked so dramatically? Or is this a matter of the marketing department not talking to the bottling plant? Could this dilution simply be a PR stunt?

Mike February 12, 2013 at 9:09 pm

As demonstrated by the many parental posts by whisky aficionados, it is clear that quality whisky makers have very loyal core consumers. Thus, it is important to make sure that these people can consistently acquire their whisky of choice. The recent increase in demand for whiskies of all kinds puts pressure on distillers to raise prices, which makes customers angry, especially new and younger customers. Maker’s Mark has increased price (I am a regular consumer, so I can attest to this), but the increase in demand has been substantial. I have, at times, found my favorite shelf at the liquor store to be empty. Rather than continue to increase price and thus risk losing out on future loyal core customers, Maker’s Mark has decided to sell more bottles. Because it takes time to produce whisky, due to aging, the only way to do this is to water it down. This may risk alienating some of the core consumers, but maybe not many. I don’t know whether it’s the right decision, but I applaud them for taking the risk.

allan February 12, 2013 at 9:33 pm

So much for the great law of supply and demand.

Jesse February 13, 2013 at 2:28 am


Water is ALREADY added to Makers Mark to bring the “barrel-proof” down from 60% ABV to “bottle proof”, which was formerly 45% and is now 42%. Adding this tiny fraction more of water seems rather insignificant, aside from the obvious fact that Makers Mark is adding a little less bourbon to every bottle and getting a little more bourbon out of every barrel.

Not exactly criminal. Not exacty admirable either.

But if this is a great problem in your life, please consider yourself lucky.

ryan February 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

The best argument I’ve heard for why they dilluted the bourbon vs a direct price increase is that this is simply another case of people misinterpreting what the firm is. Beam has many varieties of whiskey/bourbon at various price points. if they were to have raised the price it would have priced some buyers out of the makers market and into the lower priced substitute costing profits. It would have also caused buyers of the premium higher priced product to switch to makers, costing them profit. By degrading the quality of one variety (makers) and maintaining their price structure Beam can maximize the amount to consumer surplus they capture. IMHO this is micro 101 and everything else simply overcomplicates the problem.

zbicyclist February 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm

The Onion:
Jack Daniel’s team considering repackaging its flagship product in 6.75-ounce juiceboxes http://onion.com/14I4X1J

Jason Stone February 15, 2013 at 9:05 am

Is it all about perception? newbies think purists are taking the change all too seriously. purists think newbies dont know sh** about what makes authentic bourbon. personally, I cant help but think all this talk is really about money. and someone is getting the short end of the stick. those who are serious about their drink can opt to make their own if they have a copper whiskey still – aging is also not a problem as there are kits available to age whiskey.

Peter February 15, 2013 at 6:58 pm

I’m pretty indifferent on it myself. I quit drinking Makers long ago except at social events (I keep one of those giant bottles from Costco laying around for guests) and at a bar (it’s a cheap bourbon and mixes well in a Presbyterian when you can find a bartender that actually knows how to make them).

For the higher end stuff (Bakers, Bookers, Knob (my cheaper daily)) this would annoy me but would simply jump ship. Also on the neat argument or not, I drink all my bourbon on the rocks. It’s not so much about less burn or taste but simply you can sip on it longer which is an advantage when you are trying to not get drunk (i.e. three sips of neat goes fast). Also most bourbons I find are a bit too sweet so the ice cuts it a bit.

Now Cognac, if only I could find a way to cut the sweetness on that but still keep in neat. I do love a Remy XO but it’s like drinking syrup :(

John B. Chilton February 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm

They’ve reversed their decision.

So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning.

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. And, with regard to the price, the value of Maker’s Mark isn’t set by alcohol volume. It’s about the quality of the recipe and ingredients that go into it, all the handcrafting that goes into the production and how it tastes.

Thylacinus cynocephalus February 24, 2013 at 3:03 am

Very good (Muy bueno)

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