Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Maker's Reverses Its Decision:

Thought I should at least post this here if you have not yet heard. This was one of the letters sent to the Maker's Ambassadors. Smart move Beam:

Dear Ambassador,

Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.
You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.
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.
The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we'll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.
Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.
We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.
As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us.
Rob Samuels
Chief Operating Officer,

Friday, February 15, 2013

My thoughts on the Maker’s Mark Dilution:

The tempers have calmed a bit and clear thinking has hopefully come back for the most part since last weekend’s announcement went online. To get you up to date on the whole thing, here is what Maker’s Mark sent out to its followers that has been making such a splash: 

“We wanted you to be the first to know that, after looking at all possible solutions, we’ve worked carefully to reduce the alcohol by volume (ABV) by just 3%. This will enable us to maintain the same taste profile and increase our limited supply so there is enough Maker’s Mark to go around, while we continue to expand the distillery and increase our production capacity.

We have both tasted it extensively, and it’s completely consistent with the taste profile our founder/dad/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr., created nearly 60 years ago. We’ve also done extensive testing with Maker’s Mark drinkers, and they couldn’t tell a difference.”

I have been trying to get my head around the whole thing and to look at the situation clearly. I’ve read Time, John Hansell, Chuck Cowdery, etc. Positively Beam has been forthcoming in what it is doing, something not always seen in the industry. It is also a solution to a problem. There is a lot of demand for the product. What will a few percentage points actually do? But we ultimately come back to the same questions: Why didn’t they anticipate the increase? They had time, and they could have expanded a few years ago – we all know they could afford it. Will they lower the price? No, and it makes sense to look at this as a price increase rather than a dilution issue (as Cowdery pointed out).

So is this a big deal or not? I think it is because it ultimately it shows a shift which appears to be occurring in the industry: A push for lower abv so as to increase stock and make easy money. We have seen it with Jack Daniels. It appears that Wild Turkey is setting up its 81 proof whiskey to possibly overtake the harder and harder to find 101. And now it’s happening with Maker’s Mark – a seemingly calculated response, as Hansell points out, not an unexpected demand increase as Maker’s is saying. I have usually defended the industry – when people compare the micro-distilling industry as a savior against the large multinational corporations as if the current situation is like the beer industry in the 70s – but when I see shifts like this it doesn’t leave a ton of room for credibility. This might be the way of things, but let us hope not. Let’s hope people make enough noise so as to keep these older and larger distilleries from lowering their standards.Yes, I am claiming this as a lowering of standards.This isn't simply about if a product "taste the same" (which is a rather odd thing to say). It's about the small steps that lead a product to big changes.

image from inc.com.

Friday, February 1, 2013

White Whiskey Climbing the Ranks:

Just another example of white whiskey climbing the ranks as a viable product: Chuck Cowdery made a small post about the the delay of Beam's Jacob's Ghost which I believe highlights an interesting trend. Since micro-distilling has jumped on the scene, most have not known what to make of many of these young and unaged spirits flooding (or more of a trickle) into the market. Is it a viable product, even within a niche market? Will it only be something bartenders latch onto? Or is it something that will disappear once many of the current craft distillers release extensively aged products? I think Jacob's Ghost is a possible clue into the turning market. Tuthilltown, as one of the first major players in the craft distilling industry, has been putting out partially aged products for some time now. And without getting into the small barrel debate, we see there is more of an appeal for products that are partially aged, to take some of the green-ness out. Jacob's ghost is doing something on a large scale and it appears they are putting a bit more thought into it than Jack Daniels with the release of their unaged white whiskey. Aged in barrels for one year, the products, though "still raw, [is] much milder than the white dog, with significant amounts of corn body and barrel sweetness." This is a product almost entirely produced for the bartender and at $22.00 per bottle, compared with Jack Daniels ridiculously high price tag, this is nothing to dismiss. Something we have rarely seen and something which might be a turning point in understanding the place of young whiskey.

Photo from guyism.com.