Will Consumers Shun Maker’s Mark at 84 Proof?

Will Consumers Shun Maker’s Mark at 84 Proof?

maker's mark whisky bourbonThe story of the year in the bourbon biz is (and will continue to be) Maker’s Mark abrupt decision this week to lower the amount of alcohol in its flagship whiskey.

To hear whiskey nuts talk about it, the end of days are upon us. Calls for a boycott — driven by the obvious greed of Maker’s owner Beam Inc., right? — are common. Declarations that Maker’s Mark will no longer be consumed are also rampant.

Maker’s Mark, for the next few weeks anyway, is bottled a 90 proof, or 45% alcohol. This has been a point of pride for the company for years, which has celebrated the little extra kick that gives you over the now-standard 80 proof whiskey.

By dropping down to 84 proof — that’s 6.7% less alcohol than before — Maker’s will be able to stretch its whiskey surprisingly far. Maker’s produced 1.3 million cases of whiskey last year. With the reduction of proof it will be able to add another 90,000 or so cases to its annual shipments. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but figure a wholesale price of $15 to Beam and you’re looking at an annual revenue addition of $16 million to the company. That’s substantial.

So what happens now? Are you going to revolt? If Maker’s is your standby drink, are you suddenly going to start drinking Evan Williams or Old Crow?

Probably not.

First, I believe the Samuels clan when they say its professional tasters can’t tell the difference between Maker’s at 90 proof and Maker’s at 84 proof. I haven’t had the new Bourbon yet, but I look forward to doing the Pepsi challenge myself. I imagine telling them apart will be difficult at best. Most MM faithful will probably have that skeptical first sip, find it palatable, and promptly forget the whole thing.

Second, this is not the first time proof reductions have happened in the world of booze. They’ve been commonplace for years — remember that in the early 1900s, Bottled in Bond whiskey, mandated to be sold at a full 100 proof, was the sign of a quality product. Proof levels started coming down post-Prohibition during wartime years, and the gin industry has been slowly lowering proof levels for decades.

The most notable proof-dropper, however, is Jack Daniel’s. JD dropped from 90 proof to 86 proof in 1987, then to 80 proof in 2004. There was an outcry. There were petitions. There were assurances that JD would vanish from the market as drinkers flocked to competitors.

Today, Jack Daniel’s is — by far — the best-selling whiskey in the world.

Will you begrudge Beam that $16 million for watered-down Maker’s Mark? Probably. But look at it this way: It will give you something to complain about with the bartender who pours it for you.


  1. Keith on February 12, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    I doubt most consumers even know the proof, and most whiskey nerds who do probably weren’t ordering much Makers in the first place. This will be a non issue for MM

  2. Brandon on February 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Are you positive that math is correct? Cutting the proof from 90 to 84 should increase output around 7.1% (assuming the same supply). Using your other figures, this yields about 93,000 more cases per year, which equates to roughly $16.7 million more in annual revenue.

  3. Christopher Null on February 12, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Brandon – Not at all positive. At the time I had a really good reason for using a smaller % increase in production but now I realize that must have been totally wrong. I think your numbers are probably much closer to reality, and I’ve updated the post to reflect that. Thanks.

  4. Michael on February 13, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I agree with Keith.

    I started my bourbon journey two week ago. On Day 1 I picked up mini bottles of Jim Beam White, Wild Turkey 101 and Maker’s Mark. A week later, I picked up a bottle of Knob Creek. It was clear that MM was the best of the group, with WT101 a distant second, and KC third. Had I stopped there, I would be buying or ordering MM like my few other casual-bourbon-drinking friends. And I doubt I would be knowledgeable enough to notice the proof change.

    Luckily, my journey hasn’t stopped. I’ve been reading a lot and was very curious to try another wheated bourbon. I picked up a WL Weller 12 Year Old to start the week and am loving it! A day later the MM announcement came out.

    I plan on buying a few more bottles and switching to the Weller 12 as my daily drink. But I doubt it is as readily available as MM for my friends in Maryland or Maine. My buddies may venture out to try another brand, but I suspect the lazier ones will just reach for MM regardless of proof.

    So in other words, I doubt my brand switch story will repeat in enough numbers for Beam to care. And most Maker’s drinkers won’t care or know enough to switch.

  5. mark on February 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    i will not be buying anymore makers due to this stupid move on their part corp greed.

  6. mark on February 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    wellers will be my go to (owa 107)

  7. Chris on February 13, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    The sad thing is that before Beam bought Makers, there was a plan in place to increase production capacity by 50%. However, Beam has sat on those plans since then, presumably because it’s more profitable to not build more capacity. And as for Makers saying their tasting panel couldn’t tell the difference, what else could they say? They certainly couldn’t admit that it does taste different, given how much emphasis they have put on their quality-focused approach. It’s possible that it really tastes exactly the same, but I doubt it. And I certainly don’t think we can just take them at their word.

  8. Adam on February 17, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Looks like they already changed their minds about watering it down.. ha!

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