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Smart move Maker’s Mark

Last week Maker’s Mark sent communication out through their Ambassadors membership program that they were reducing the percentage alcohol from 45% to 42% (90 proof to 84 proof). This angered me greatly. Not because I drink a lot of Maker’s Mark, but because clearly others do. I saw reducing the proof as a slap in the face to consumers. Chuck Cowdery posted some excellent thoughts on this on his blog if you’d like some more back story. Obviously I’m sure Maker’s Mark wouldn’t have made that decision were it not for parent company, Beam. But nevertheless the backlash was intense.

Today, Maker’s Mark issued the below statement on their website. I for one applaud them. This is the way it works in today’s digital age. The power of social media and the ability for company’s to read and process what is being said about them, made it far easier for Beam and Maker’s to address this. Companies are ran by people (and bottom lines), and they make mistakes. What’s important here is they corrected it. As angry as I was about the decision in the first place is as pleased as I am to see the change of heart.

Smart move Maker’s Mark!

-Jason

You spoke. We listened.

Dear Friends,

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.

Sincerely,

Rob Samuels Bill Samuels, Jr
Chief Operating Officer Chairman Emeritus
rob@makersmark.com bill@makersmark.com

Review: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon

Larceny Bourbon is the latest release from Heaven Hill Distillery. This small batch bourbon consists of 100 barrels “or less” aged in the 4th, 5th, and 6th floors of the aging warehouse. The name refers to John E. Fitzgerald’s (Old Fitzgerald namesake) propensity to use his keys to the aging warehouses to “steal” bourbon from the very best barrels at his disposal. These barrels became known as the “Fitzgerald barrels”.

I’m not exactly certain if Heaven Hill intends to eventually replace the Old Fitz line with Larceny, or if this is simply an additional product offering. Time will tell. For now, let’s take a taste of this new wheated bourbon.

John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon, 46% abv (92 Proof), $24.99/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar, caramelized banana, honeysuckle, corn, and a healthy dose of ground cinnamon. There is a bit of oaky resin as well.
Palate: Velvety on the tongue and surprisingly well spiced. Brown sugar syrup, vanilla, and notes of sweet corn are livened up big time with a cinnamon and wood spice punch.
Finish: Falls off quickly, but with an even warmth, never too hot, and a hint of honeyed sweetness.
Overall: This is an impressive release from Heaven Hill at this price point. First off – the proof is right on for an easy sipping and inexpensive wheated bourbon. They’ve left the flavor here without compromising drinkability. Because of the price, the natural comparison is against Maker’s Mark, but to me this compares closer in flavor profile with Maker’s 46. The healthy doses of cinnamon and wood spice have made for a much more interesting sip than the standard Maker’s.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)

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.

-Jason

Bourbon Style Comparison: Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Bourbon Whiskey has a vast range of styles. Here’s an example of two on opposite ends of the spectrum: Rare Breed with it’s rye-heavy and barrel proof offering and Maker’s Mark with it’s soft, younger, wheated style. There’s something out there for everyone – give ‘em a try.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky, 45% abv (90 Proof), $25/bottle

To many folks, Maker’s Mark IS bourbon whisk(e)y. Regardless of your stance on where it sits amongst its peers, Maker’s Mark is a well executed wheated bourbon made with a “forward” flavor profile in the mouth. The nose and sip mirror one another with chewy caramel, vanilla, nougat, toffee, toasted nuts, and light oak. Very minimal spice, moderate body in the mouth, and a clean finish that falls off sharply leaving little trace of warming heat or spice. A great “gateway” bourbon for those that are looking for some classic bourbon flavors without the burn and spice. But you sacrifice complexity, nuance, and finish mightily. Still, it’s well crafted and extremely easy to drink.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.4 (Good/Solid)

AND

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon Whiskey, 54.1% abv (108.2 Proof), $40/bottle

Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a barrel proof, uncut, and rye-forward Bourbon Whiskey. The nose is almost savory with tobacco, leather, barrel, charred oak, sour dough bread, pancake batter, and maple syrup. There’s some rye spice lingering, ready to assert itself with that first sip. The flavors of this bourbon are somewhat bracing and hard with a leathery, resiny grip from the barrel, some maple syrup sweetness, and then a punch of rye spice that moves along the spine of your tongue. The finish is long and hot with plenty of spice. Unfortunately, bitter tannins assert themselves a bit too heavily on the mid-palate through finish. In lengthy tasting sessions with this bourbon I found it best straight up without any water added. The high proof seems to combat some of the bitterness. Diluting with water subdued the alcohol punch and sweetness, thus elevating the tannins. I can’t help but wonder how good this whiskey could be if it had more balance. Personally I find this whiskey very solid, if unspectacular, and a bit overrated. Still, it’s a good expression of barrel proof, rye-heavy bourbon.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.8 (Good/Solid)

WhistlePig Rye Whiskey Review

WhistlePig Rye Whiskey (10 Year Old), 50% abv (100 Proof), $70/bottle

As one of the few 100% rye whiskeys on the market today, WhistlePig has an interesting story. First off, any rye whiskey must be at least 51% rye grain (in the grain recipe) to technically be called “Rye Whiskey” in the U.S. Typically most rye’s don’t exceed much more than 60-65%, with corn and/or barley making up the remainder. But then again, this ten year old WhistlePig doesn’t have just any man (or men) behind it.

During a year plus long search, David Pickerell, previous Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark for 14 years through 2008, came across this wonderful expression of rye in Canada. That’s correct, WhistlePig was not distilled by Pickerell and WhistlePig distillery (yet), but rather “sourced” or “found” and bottled. Pickerell partnered up with Raj Bhakta, an entrepreneur and former “Apprentice” reality show contestant, to form WhistlePig and get this great rye whiskey to the public. Today it is bottled at Bhakta’s 500 acre WhistlePig Farm in Vermont. It has been said by a number of sources that their goal is to create a fully sustainable “farm to bottle” distillery, growing the rye grain that will eventually become WhistlePig Rye Whiskey. But until they have their own distilled product we’ve been given a little gift to satisfy our thirst.

WhistlePig is pure rye without the training wheels. The nose brings a big burst of spearmint, wintergreen, menthol, licorice/anise, and woody spices. All this freshness is anchored with a nice core of sweetness that exudes spun sugar, cotton candy, and some light maple syrup. The nose as a whole is extremely complex but also airy, fresh, and lively for a 10 year old whiskey. I found myself nosing this rye forever to uncover all of the nuances it has to offer. The first sip explodes in the mouth, again with sweet southern red stem spearmint and wintergreen, rye grain prickliness, licorice, a big dose of honey, and dry oaky flavors. Texturally, WhistlePig takes over the mouth with it’s intense spices and lingers on long after it’s “down the hatch”. You’re left with those wonderful spearmint, honey, oak, and licorice flavors.

WhistlePig Rye Whiskey is an outstanding pour, and one of the most unique I’ve ever tasted. It’s currently only available in large markets like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, so order quickly online before all 1000 cases are gone. I highly recommend it.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

****Note: Most of the information above came from some general forums and various websites. But I want to point out a couple of websites in particular that have some great background on WhistlePig. Davin De Kergommeaux of http://canadianwhiskey.org has a fantastic article on WhistlePig. He also has a great site loaded with Canadian Whiskey info. Second, Chuck Cowdery is a Bourbon Hall of Famer and a true historian. His site, http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/ is a fantastic source of information on Bourbon and American Whiskey. Give both of these great sites a visit!****

Maker’s Mark 46

Maker’s Mark 46, 47% abv(94 Proof), $35/bottle

Maker’s Mark 46 is the first true (read: not limited edition) product line of bourbon that Maker’s Mark has produced in over 50 years. Talk about pressure! With a “finishing” process to the tried and true, but somewhat flat, Maker’s Mark original, Kevin Smith (Master Distiller) and Bill Samuels Jr. (CEO) have delivered with a pretty impressive bourbon whiskey. Maker’s 46 opens up far bigger and fuller than its little brother with intense vanilla, caramel, maple syrup, toast, cinnamon, and baked apple. It’s really a masterclass of Bourbon noses with sweetness and high notes of spice. The first sip assures with that smooth, sweet “front of the mouth” flavor of caramel and vanilla that are so familiar with the original Maker’s Mark. “46″ takes that a couple notches further with heaps of maple syrup and honey. The major difference between these two family members is almost immediately felt down the top center of your tongue. Intense cinnamon bite akin to fireball candy or big red chewing gum emerges. There’s a hint of wood tannin and bitter grip that asserts itself as the spirit runs it’s way to the back of your throat. In this moment, this bourbon is telling you, “See – I’m very different!”. The finish is long and lingering with cinnamon burn and toasted oak. Maker’s Mark 46 is an outstanding pour that is a recommended “buy” for any bourbon or whiskey lover.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.9 (Superb/Outstanding)
***Note: The only thing keeping this bourbon from scoring well into the 9′s is that slightly intense wood tannin that shows late, growing in intensity as you sip. I’d recommend taking your time with this one, thus lessening that impact. I think over time Maker’s Mark will get this fine tuned and I can’t wait to see where it goes. And it’s also possible this bottle I purchased was just a little more tannic than others.***