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Brand reverses decision

Published: 2/18/13 @ 12:00


Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky.

After backlash from customers, the producer of Maker’s Mark bourbon is reversing a decision to cut the amount of alcohol in bottles of its famous whiskey.

Rob Samuels, Maker’s Mark’s chief operating officer, said Sunday that it is restoring the alcohol volume of its product to its historic level of 45 percent, or 90 proof. Last week, it said it was lowering the amount to 42 percent, or 84 proof, because of a supply shortage.

“We’ve been tremendously humbled over the last week or so,” Samuels, grandson of the brand’s founder, said of customers’ reactions.

The brand known for its square bottles sealed in red wax has struggled to keep up with demand. Distribution has been squeezed, and the brand had to curtail shipments to some overseas markets.

In a tweet Sunday, the company said to its followers: “You spoke. We listened.”

Fans of the whiskey applauded the move and questioned why the company moved to change in the first place.

“Some things you just got to leave alone,” Todd Matthews, 42, of Livingston, Tenn., said.

Company officials said much customer feedback came from Twitter and Facebook. On those sites, comments on Sunday’s change of course ranged from angry to celebratory to self-congratulatory. The statement on Maker’s Mark’s Facebook page drew more than 14,000 “likes” and 2,200 comments within two hours of Sunday’s announcement.

The change in recipe started with a shortage of the bourbon amid an ongoing expansion of the company’s operations that cost tens of millions of dollars.

Maker’s Mark Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, the founder’s son, said the company focused almost exclusively on not altering the taste of the bourbon while stretching the available product and didn’t consider the emotional attachment that customers have to the brand and its composition.

Bill Samuels said the company tinkered with how much water to add and keep the taste the same for about three months before making the announcement about the change. It marked the first time the bourbon brand, more than a half-century old, had altered its proof or alcohol volume.

“Our focus was on the supply problem. That led to us focusing on a solution,” Bill Samuels said. “We got it totally wrong.”