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Maker's Mark Bourbon Reaches the Half-Century Mark; 
Product Invented The 'Fine Bourbon' Category...
And Became An American Icon Along The Way 
LORETTO, Kentucky - Feb. 25, 2004 -- Fifty years ago at a farmhouse near this rural village, Bill Samuels Sr., a sixth generation Kentucky distiller, burned his family's 160-year-old bourbon recipe. Relying on old-fashioned American craftsmanship, he then produced the first batch of bourbon according to his new formula. No one realized it at the time, but Mr. Samuels had single-handedly created the 'fine bourbon' category that eventually would enable other distillers to follow Maker's Mark's lead in transforming bourbon's image from crass to class.
1951 - Bill Samuels, Sr. developed a new recipe based on locally grown maize (corn) and malted barley coupled with gentle winter wheat – not the traditional and harsher grain, rye. Funny enough, he did this without a distillery. He baked bread in the family kitchen, experimenting with different grains to come to this conclusion. 

1952 - Marge Samuels (wife of Bill, Sr.), designed the bottle and named the whisky. As a fine pewter collector, she had always searched for “the mark of the maker.” She was also a collector of bottles of cognac, many of which were sealed in colorful wax. It was these two things that lent themselves to the Maker’s Mark packaging still used today. 

1958 - The first bottle of Maker's Mark was dipped, sealed and introduced at $7 a bottle. 

In 1954, saying he was fed up with the spirit's prevailing back-water image and rough taste, Bill Samuels Sr. set out to create a good-tasting bourbon that he personally loved and cared about. "My father succeeded at doing just that," said Bill Samuels Jr., president of Maker's Mark. "What he never expected was for Maker's Mark to lead a dramatic change in Americans' taste and attitude toward bourbon. He also never expected that Maker's would become a spirits icon -- first in Kentucky and the South, and now across the entire U.S."

These days, Maker's Mark bourbon is on fire, both literally and figuratively. The brand continues to experience rapidly increasing consumer demand, thanks to the phenomenon that has built the brand since its birth: fanatical fans who spread the word, as well as the curious who want to discover what the fanatics are talking about. And on February 25 - the date that started it all - a fire will once again be set at the historic Loretto distillery as Maker's Mark celebrates the 50th anniversary of the event that brought "good taste" and "tastes good" together for the first time in Kentucky bourbon.

The Maker's Mark anniversary celebration, which will include both past and present distillery employees, as well as a few special friends, will feature reenactments of actual events associated with the product's creation, from the recipe formulation process using bread-baking to the burning of the old family recipe (an act that nearly torched the distillery and Mr. Samuels' daughter's hair!). Convinced that his family's old recipe was not the answer, Bill Samuels Sr. experimented with different grain formulas by baking hundreds of loaves of bread until he found the right balance and the gentle taste he was looking for. Samuels Sr. burned the recipe after deciding he had struck gold by using soft red winter wheat, instead of spicier, bitter tasting rye, as was the age-old custom. The rest is history.

What started out as one man's quest to produce a better-tasting bourbon, eventually became an experience that Americans discovered and embraced. Maker's Mark fans from the across the country have driven the brand's unprecedented growth by demonstrating their passion for this first authentic premium bourbon, and then sharing it with their friends.

Audrey Saunders, renowned master mixologist and beverage director at New York's Carlyle Hotel, stated, "Maker's Mark is an incredible bourbon that created and defined the premium bourbon category. Fifty years of fine craftsmanship opened the door for newer entries. But without Maker's Mark, bourbon would still be seen as a cheap drink for those who cared little or nothing for taste. Maker's Mark is in a class by itself and is the perfect spirit for bourbon novices and aficionados alike, as well as for those who seek an ideal accompaniment to a fine meal."

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Maker's Mark holds a 77% share of the U.S. fine bourbon market. In a bourbon category experiencing relatively flat sales, fine bourbon has experienced high double-digit sales growth annually since 1996, as other bourbon distilleries followed in the footsteps of Maker's Mark and began to offer more upscale products.

"Maker's Mark consumers are fanatical in their love for this brand. It is rare when you see a spirits product garnering such devotion among the general public, ranging from folks in their mid-twenties to those in their fifties," said Joe Congiusti, spirits specialist for Binny's Beverage Depot, one of Chicago's largest spirits retailers.

"Americans are returning to what many are calling the 'Cocktail Culture.' With that, they are seeking out spirits brands with great taste that are also very mixable. Maker's Mark has been doing that for 50 years," said Julie Reiner, owner of the Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan.

"The Maker's Mark Manhattan is a classic cocktail that has seen a real resurgence over the past three years. And, with the rising popularity of the mojito, we have seen bar calls for Maker's Mark Mint Juleps, a longtime Kentucky favorite, also increase."

Maker's Mark bourbon is a destination for its fans, and so is the place where it has been made for the last fifty years. The Loretto, Kentucky distillery was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980, becoming the first distillery in America to be so recognized. Everyone at Maker's Mark takes pride in the bourbon they produce, from accepting a grain delivery to hand dipping the red wax seal on each bottle - a personal touch is part of every drop.

Of the nation's bourbon distilleries, Maker's Mark is the oldest bourbon distillery on its original site, and a key stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Throughout 2004, Maker's Mark intends to incorporate the re-enactment of the burning of the original family recipe into the distillery tours, which are open to the public and run regularly, seven days a week. 

Maker's Mark is produced at the Maker's Mark Distillery and distributed by Allied Domecq Spirits, USA.


Allied Domecq Spirits, USA
David Karraker, 203-221-5573

Also See: Isle of Jura: A Single Malt Scotch as Unique as Its Island Home / Aug 1998

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