The Chairman Emeritus of Maker's Mark blames himself for the company's recent decision to lower the proof of its famous bourbon. Bill Samuels Jr., the son of the founder of Maker's Mark, tells the Courier-Journal he failed to foresee the worldwide surge in demand for Kentucky's famous spirit.
Maker's Mark has announced it will dilute its bourbon from 45 percent alcohol by volume, to 42 percent, so that more whiskey can be bottled to meet demand.
"I was the forecaster in chief around here...I must have been asleep at the wheel," Samuels told the newspaper.
Kentucky is bourbon country. Bar shelves in Louisville are stocked with a crowded field of premium bourbons; the city's Theater Square Marketplace restaurant alone carries close to 170 different brands. So when news trickled out that longtime distillery Maker's Mark plans to water down its bourbon, locals were stunned.
Bourbon has to be aged at least two years — and that's where Maker's Mark got in trouble. Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels says the company simply didn't make enough.
More than 500,000 people visited distilleries along Kentucky's bourbon trail in 2012, marking a 15% increase over the year before.
The Trail's director said the new attendance record was 509,292. It's the first time since the trail opened in 1999 that the number of visitors broke the half-million mark. Adam Johnson said visitors came from all 50 states and more than 50 countries.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a distillery tour that features Four Roses and Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Jim Beam in Clermont, Maker's Mark in Loretto, Town Branch in Lexington and Woodford Reserve in Versailles.
One of the big issues Kentucky lawmakers are expected to take up in the next legislative session is an overhaul of the state tax code. It's something that the commonwealth's bourbon distillers will have their collective eyes on, because a provision under consideration would create a new tax credit for manufacturers designed to offset a longstanding barrel tax.
"We pay a tax on every barrel that is aging in the commonwealth, as long as it sits in one of our warehouses. So if you're drinking a bottle of 18-year- old bourbon, it's been taxed 18 times," says Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association. "That makes Kentucky non-competitive in the global marketplace. We are the only alcohol manufacturer in the world that pays such a tax."
Tax legislation designed to help Kentucky's bourbon distillers has previously passed in the Senate, but has never made it out of the House. Gregory says distillers are sensing a renewed seriousness on the part of many lawmakers to get a tax code overhaul passed next year, either in the regular session that begins January 8, or during a special session.
They may not be household names like Jim Beam or Wild Turkey, but Kentucky's craft bourbon distilleries now have their own tourist trail. One of the stops on the list—Corsair Artisan Distillery--is found in downtown Bowling Green.