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LOUISVILLE, KY (WDRB) -- It turns out the proof is in the proof for one of the country's most iconic bourbons.
Maker's Mark's is reversing its decision to lower the alcohol by volume in its classic small batch bourbon. The decision last week to lower the proof from 90 to 84 was met with a "stiff pouring" of emails, phone calls and complaints to the bourbon maker's top executives.
"After listening to our consumers, they were right," Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels of Maker's Mark told WDRB News.
During a one-on-one interview Sunday, Samuels says they'll resume making the original 90 proof Maker's Mark bourbon on Monday. Lowering the proof, he thought, could help avoid a shortage. A booming bourbon industry has left Maker's Mark in short supply in certain parts of the country over the past two years, Samuels says.
WDRB News' Bennett Haeberle: "In your view, was that a mistake?"
Samuels: "It wasn't a mistake, we were very careful. We had focused all our time and attention on the taste."
Fred Minnick writes extensively about bourbon. He thinks Maker's decision to change back is the right move after the tasting the watered-down version.
"I do notice the lack of proof. I don't get that singe on the tongue that I would normally get with Maker's Mark."
If there was a misstep, Samuels says, it was failing to predict just how big the bourbon boom would become in recent years.
"The bourbon category for many years was a very sluggish, no growth category. Now it has become the shining star within all of spirits. And we didn't see that. We missed it," Samuels said.
Many store shelves still have the 90 proof Maker's Mark bourbon, But Minnick says if the lesser 84 proof bourbon hits store shelves this week, it will likely fly off.
"People will be lining up at the stores to buy as many cases of this bottle as they possibly can," said Minnick, who predicts it could be worth thousands of dollars one day.
What was once scoffed at just a week ago will now be seen as a collectible, Minnick says. Samuels believes the feedback - albeit "passionate" complaints as he says - was helpful to his company and the brand of Maker's Mark. He said it taught him a lesson about brand loyalty.
"What we heard back was a very humbling, very clear feedback from our customers. And what they told us was they would rather have the occasional shortage than in anyway change Maker's Mark."
Earlier Sunday, in a statement released on its website and Facebook page Maker's Mark announced that it will not implement a plan to reduce the alcohol content of its bourbon to alleviate a supply problem.
An announcement that the company would reduce the alcohol content from 45 percent (90 proof) to 42 percent (84 proof) because of a supply shortage drew widespread and passionate response, according to company officials.
In a letter to customers, Maker's Mark chief operating officer Rob Samuels and chairman emeritus Bill Samuels wrote, "This is your brand. . . . You spoke. We listened. And we're sincerely sorry we let you down."
A copy of the letter in its entirety: 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.
Rob Samuels Bill Samuels, Jr Chief Operating Officer Chairman Emeritus firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com