The three things a Kentuckian is most serious about are politics, horse racing, and Bourbon Whisky; and not necessarily in that order. So you can imagine the shock and dismay that is reverberating through the drinking community, upon learning that the producers of Kentucky’s venerable Maker’s Mark Straight Bourbon Whisky are planning to water it down.
In a letter sent out yesterday, Maker’s Mark Chief Operating Officer, Rob Samuels, and Chairman Emeritus, Bill Samuels, Jr., notified the brand’s “Ambassadors” (fans) that the company would begin cutting alcohol in its Bourbon to meet increased global demand. Seems there just isn’t enough of the elixir in storage to keep up with its growing popularity.
The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5) state that Bourbon made for U.S. consumption must be:
- made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn;
- aged in new, charred-oak barrels;
- distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume);
- entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume
- bottled (like other whiskys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume).
Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period, but to be called Straight Bourbon Whisky, it must be aged for a minimum of two years, and does not have added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits.
Because of these rules, Maker’s Mark cannot stretch its limited production by adding water and grain alcohol. The only was to increase the number of bottles of product coming from a barrel of aged Whisky is to add limestone spring water to the mixture; thereby reducing the “proof,” or alcohol contend by weight.
Maker’s Mark is apparently acting in concert with the makers of Jim Beam, a cheaper and more popular bourbon, which sent out an email yesterday, announcing that the only way it could keep up with demand was to make its Bourbon less strong, stretching the current supply. ”We’ve worked carefully to reduce the alcohol by volume (ABV) by just 3%,” the email said.
Bill Samuels, Sr., created the distinctive brand with the red wax seal nearly 60 years ago, and the founder’s son and grandson have now decided to start producing Maker’s Mark as a 42% Alcohol By Volume beverage, which is also known as 84 proof; it was previously distilled to 45% ABV, or 90 proof. Actually, that would be a 6.7% reduction in the amount of alcohol.
Here’s the email that Maker’s Mark sent out yesterday:
Of course, watering down a fellow’s whisky is a mighty dangerous think to do, and simply promising that “…we’ve made sure we didn’t screw up your whisky…” might not be enough to assuage the hurt feelings of the legions of faithful Maker’s Mark customers and fans. Amateur drinkers who are liable to drink their whisky with water, or over ice, or (shudder) mixed with soda pop, are unlikely to take much offense at a mere 6.7% reduction in the kick of their liquor. But Bourbon connoisseurs are a different matter altogether.
Whether Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky aficionados are going to take this affront lying down, remains to be seen.