Audio of WKU Public Radio's interview with Rob Samuels and Bill Samuels, Jr.
WKU Public Radio spoke Monday with two Kentuckians who were the key players behind a decision to lower the proof of Maker's Mark, one of the most famous bourbons in the world.
After being overwhelmed by negative reaction by fans, Maker's Mark Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels and his father, Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr., reversed course Sunday and announced they would leave Maker's Mark at 90 proof.
The Samuels initially decided to lower the proof in order to bottle more bourbon to meet growing demand in the U.S. and internationally.
Here are some excerpts of WKU Public Radio's conversation with the Samuels:
Rob Samuels, Chief Operating Officer of Maker's Mark:
"My father and I, and the team here at the distillery, spent a lot of time on... could we extend the supply and maintain the taste--and that's where we spent all of our time and attention. Because we received a lot of feedback from bartenders, restaurateurs, and package store owners that were having trouble getting Maker's Mark, and they were very unhappy and confused by that."
One of the world's most famous bourbons won't get watered down after all.
Maker's Mark announced Sunday in a Facebook post that the company is reversing course and will not change the alcohol by volume in its whiskey.
"(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," the company said in the Facebook message signed by Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels, and his father, Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels.
A representative from Maker's Mark told WKU Public Radio that the company's website crashed at one point Sunday due to the massive amount of interest in Maker's decision to reverse course and maintain its current alcohol by volume.
The representative said the company was able to get the website back up and running later Sunday afternoon.
The decision to change the alcohol content of their product led to a backlash by many bourbon lovers, who flooded the Loretto, Ky., distillery with negative comments. Maker's Mark officials said the lower alcohol by volume wouldn't impact the bourbon's flavor, but that wasn't enough to quell the controversy.
Here is a copy of the Facebook message posted by Maker's Mark Sunday:
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.
The bad national economy hasn't put a dent in one of Kentucky's signature exports. In fact, bourbon production has increased 115% over the past 13 years, according to Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association.