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Time will tell if drink makes the mark
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Maker’s Mark fans may not need to order their drinks on the rocks anymore.  

The company is changing its classic 90 proof formula to 84 proof, according to an announcement from Maker’s Mark CEO Rob Samuels.

Rob Samuels, grandson of the founder and creator of Maker’s Mark, said changing the proof is comparable to changing Marker’s Mark’s aging time, which is currently about six to seven years. Changing the proof will affect the strength, but not the taste, he said.

Maker’s Mark is a highly recognized and go-to bourbon made in Loretto, Ky., about 50 miles south of Louisville. It has been family-operated for more than 50 years, but is now housed by Jim Beam, who makes its own variety of bourbon and is home to several other big names. Bill Samuels Sr. used a winter wheat to create Maker’s Mark, and his wife, inspired by the French and cognac, designed the bottle. She hand-dipped the top in red wax in her kitchen and told her husband that any “worthy” product had a “maker’s mark,” according to their profile on Jim Beam’s website. Since its birth, the bourbon has been 90 proof (two times the alcohol by volume); the drink will now have about 42 percent alcohol per volume.   

Maker’s Mark does not buy whiskey from other dealers, according to a press release, of sorts, on their website; so when times are hard, times are hard. Rob Samuels’ father, Bill Samuels Jr., CEO of the company until 2011, said he did not foresee the popularity of bourbon and as a result, the company has had a shortage. 

Demand for the product, reportedly, increased 18 percent last year, but there isn’t enough Maker’s Mark to meet the high-demand, so adding water became the solution. Rob Samuels said he wouldn’t raise the price because he wants Maker’s Mark to be accessible. A price hike at this day and time certainly wouldn’t kill the company, but they seem to have built their company on the taste buds of the general population and Rob Samuels wants to continue serving everyone: devotees and those un-expecting citizens who are just a few drinks away from having their mind blown, and possibly their throats and livers, by the wonderful world of whiskey.

Both Samuels said that taste is the main concern, and I have no doubts that bourbon people know their bourbon. Adding water is a natural part of the process for bourbon makers, anyway; Maker’s Mark will just add more to each bottle.

If Rob Samuels can reduce the proof without dropping the price, about $30 a bottle, then I’m sure the product tastes just as good; but many depended on its proof in addition to its taste. The dilution is said to increase the supply by 5 or 6 percent. When making a cocktail, a higher proof will stand strong amidst the dilution with other products. For some liquor, such as absinthe, which has a strong licorice flavor, a higher proof might preserve ingredients better.

Bourbon is classic, but it can also be trendy. College-aged kids and 20-somethings are known to love their tall boy PBRs, but there is a burgeoning class, raised with good taste and the concept of tradition, that like a classy, yet reliable, drink.

There is probably fear that if there is a shortage, other companies might follow suit and water down their product. Maker’s Mark is a household name and if they feel like they can dilute their product, many up and coming bourbon makers might feel they can do the same.

By all means, for those who aren’t familiar, bourbon worth the price is strong and flavorful. My first run in with Maker’s Mark was an Old-Fashioned: complete with a sugar cube, a maraschino cherry, an orange, lemon, bitters, an ice cube and, after the first swallow, a good bit of water. That was a few years ago and I’ve just recently taken the dive back into the liquor world as I’m a beer-girl through and through. A few whiskey-shots here and there, a whiskey/bourbon and coke, a hot toddy (for the tried and true out there) and my new favorite a Perfect Manhattan (add sweet vermouth, bitters and a cherry, no ice), made with Maker’s Mark, of course.

If you’re a label snob and concerned about the proof, Maker’s Mark makes premium bourbon called Maker’s 46 that is aged longer than Maker’s Mark, and is a 94 proof. There are a number of bourbons on the market, many of which are probably just as good, and now, stronger, than Maker’s Mark namesake bourbon, that are sure to please.

The “new” Maker’s Mark is said to hit shelves in a couple of weeks. Until then, time will tell.