End of an Era: Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels Jr. set to retire this Spring.

This is the end of an era for sure at Maker’s Mark. Today it was announced that President Bill Samuels Jr. has decided to retire on April 15. Apparently he’s ready to turn the reins over to his son, Rob Samuels, who was named the COO this past October. Regardless of your opinion of Maker’s Mark original (I rated it 7.4) or the new “46” released in 2010 (rated 8.9), the company is one of the most storied in American Whiskey. It has become a bellweather in the industry on the back of a well executed product with a soft, accessible flavor profile, and a distinctive bottle with red wax seal.

Bill’s father, Bill Samuels Sr., bootstrapped the company in the 1950s. He received some assistance from none other than Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle to formulate what would become the Maker’s Mark classic wheated recipe. That was a departure from the norm at a time when Bourbons were in some cases crude, raw, and rough. The strategy to bring a softer, smoother bourbon to the market, along with his mother’s decision to create the distinctive bottle that would bear the red wax “mark”, set the tone for what the company is today.

And while he inherited a great product, make no mistake that Bill Jr. took Maker’s Mark to next level on his watch. He stuck with a simplistic approach of doing one thing really really well. Over the years limited release bourbons have come out of Loretto, KY, where the distillery is located. For the most part, however, Maker’s Mark has stuck to what they know best. The addition of Maker’s “46” after much prodding from consumers and Maker’s Ambassidors was well received in the market. And perhaps it was Bill Jr’s “swan song” of sorts.

Sour Mash Manifesto wishes to congratulate Bill Samuels Jr. on his fantastic accomplishments with Maker’s Mark, as well as helping to push and define the whiskey industry in this country. We wish him, Rob, and Maker’s Mark all the best as they push towards April 15th and beyond.

Slainte Bill.



  1. Greg says:

    Jason – It will be interesting to see if Bill’s son take’s Makers in new and creative directions. The Maker’s 46 was very interesting to me and I was glad to see them break out and respond to the public’s desire for something different. I would love to see a barrel strength, 10 year+ offering from them, something similar to the Parker’s Heritage. Wasn’t too many years ago they had a gold wax 101 proof that I’ve heard was very good. As you know, proof plays a significant role in the overall flavor profile. Let’s hope this is the start of some special Maker’s releases.

  2. Greg, I agree in a big way. We all know what glorious things that can happen to wheated bourbon once it gets some age on it. It’s a transformation. And I think you nailed it that they need to start taking some cues from some others and put some longer aged, higher proof bourbon on the shelves. Proof is certainly one of the weapons at a distillers disposal to ramp up flavor delivery. So let’s see it!

    “46” to me injected some spice and interest into a bourbon that is well made, but a big flat. I hope that was a symbolic message to the folks taking over. In no way will they every want to do anything to mess up what they have with the original, but you can have your cake and eat it too. So can consumers.

  3. sam k says:

    I took my family on a tour of Maker’s in 2000; they give a great tour, and it is still one of the most beautiful distilleries on the planet. My daughter insisted I dip my own bottle, and we cracked it open last year and drank it together the week she turned 21.

    Good work Bill, and I appreciate your focus through all those years, shepherding your brand into being one of the world highest regarded whiskeys. Good luck in retirement…you deserve it!

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  1. […] favorite “Pappy” – Mr. Van Winkle – helped Bill Samuel’s Sr with the recipe for Maker’s. None the less – Maker’s is a solid product and is invaluable in bringing the masses […]