June 19, 2013
Maker's Mark Destroyed Its Brand Without Changing A Single Ingredient

COMMENTARY | Last week, Maker's Mark announced that it would water down its whiskey with 10 percent more H2O. At the time of the announcement, the company claimed that bourbon supplies couldn't keep up with demand and, therefore, its decision was justified.

More laughable was the company's claim that many people like to water down their mid-range whiskey with ice and soda.

After some serious public backlash, the company announced this week that it would now lower the drink's alcohol content from 45 percent to 42 percent.

After receiving thousands of comments, Maker's Mark COO Rob Samuels responded:

"You spoke. We listened."
Unfortunately, listening after the fact will likely cause many fans of the brand to turn away. Whiskey lovers, myself included, purchase slightly more expensive whiskeys because of the flavors they offer and the quality of the drink they produce.

Whiskey lovers also tend to have "favorites" that they indulge in because of the flavors they provide. Anyone with half a brain cell knows that even a single ice cube melting in several shots (3 ounces) of whiskey can cause the flavor to change drastically.

In fact, I am going to suggest this challenge to our readers: Fill a cup with 3 ounces (2 shots) of Maker's Mark and then fill another cup with the same amount of liquor and 0.3 ounces of water. Taste each drink back-to-back, and notice the difference in taste.

Following the company's original announcement, Maker's Mark Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels claimed:

"Our focus was on the supply problem. That led to us focusing on a solution. We got it totally wrong."
Bill Samuels even admits that the traditional flavor of Maker's Mark would have changed, even if only "slightly."

The biggest problem for Maker's Mark is that of image. It has become quite clear that customers have more of an emotional attachment to the product than the owners of the brand. The moment a company loses focus on its quality, customers quickly look for a better crafted option. Need proof of this fact? Look at micro-breweries and their dismantling of the American beer industry in recent years. Ask the average bar hopper if they want a Fat Tire or a Bud Light, and their responses are vastly different than they were 10 years ago.

Maker's Mark will continue with its original recipe production this week and will now have to wait and see if customers find a new drink of choice from a company that takes its finished product more seriously.

I beg Maker's Mark to prove I am wrong: Send me a case of your finest whiskey for testing purposes. I will be waiting patiently as I sip on a bottle of Glen Livet.