The Fundamentals of Whiskey

At Boelter + Lincoln, we appreciate the time-honored, lovingly-crafted distillation process of what many call the “water of life.” And while we prefer a Scottish single malt, we can certainly understand the devotion to its Kentucky cousin, bourbon.

What we DON’T understand are the recent actions of one of the most popular whiskey brands, Maker’s Mark. Bill and Rob Samuels, the son and grandson of the company’s founder, made the collective decision to water down its beloved recipe to stretch a short supply. Yes, water down – the most literal use of the negative phrase.

But the biggest mistake the Samuels boys made wasn’t necessarily watering down its whiskey, it was “watering down” its brand. The president, Bill Samuels said, “…they didn’t consider the emotional attachment that customers have to the brand…”


This is a brand built on a square bottle with a red wax seal – not necessarily the booze inside. In other words, it’s this “emotional attachment” that has made so much revenue for the Samuels. And they didn’t consider their revenue? I need a drink.

As creative minds, we found such a problem as an opportunity to build the brand. Tease the public with a whiskey shortage – “Times are tough,” or a prohibition-style campaign. Take advantage of problems and turn them into rewards.

The last thing one should do is ignore their brand.

In a move to correct their brand ignorance, the Maker’s Mark folks just recalled the plans to water down its drink. This was, of course, after a deluge of customer backlash. “We’ve been tremendously humbled over the last week or so,” said Rob Samuels.

A tweet just yesterday, the company said, “You spoke. We listened.”

Let it be a lesson to us all. Although, didn’t Coke teach us this one years ago? Without emotional attachments, brands are meaningless. And without severe appreciation of those attachments, brands die. Coming out of this debacle, it should be interesting to see what the Samuels do for a follow up. Will it be another mistake, or will they turn it into a reward? Until then… Cheers.