You might be thinking, “What company would have the audacity to use the above title for a marketing slogan?” The Samuels family, in the words of Robert Frost, frequently took the road less travelled, and for them, it made all the difference.
Maker’s “It tastes expensive” ad came out in the mid-1960s, just as the industry was crumbling. Young drinkers avoided bourbon like the plague. It’s what their grandparents drank, and those grandparents weren’t exactly trendsetters. Prices plummeted, and bourbon was fast becoming something only suitable for the down-and-out. So why did Maker’s push their product in such a way? Like Macallan in the 1980s, Maker’s decided to court wealth, a demographic largely ignored by the bourbon industry at the time (but definitely not today).
In addition to boasting about their outrageous $6 price tag, they also “premiumized” their product by dipping it in red wax, a tactic long used by the Cognac industry. Their first dipped bottle was “baptized” in a kitchen deep fryer of all things. Maker’s trademarked its red wax seal and drippings in 1980. Jose Cuervo challenged this claim in 2001, when they started dipping their premium tequila, Reserva de la Familia, in red wax. Maker’s sued, and eventually won after appeal. Maker’s had one more trick up its sleeve.
Bill Samuels Sr. had many friends, one of whom happened to be the CEO of American Airlines. Maker’s mini-bottles became a fixture on flights throughout the country, prompting many people to go out looking for it once they arrived at their destination. Johnnie Walker did something similar a century earlier when they hired ship captains to transport their whisky around the world. In the mid-1970s, Bill Samuels Sr. and his wife Margie handed the company over to their son, Bill Samuels Jr. Maker’s Mark 46 was released shortly before Bill Jr. retired. It was the company’s first new expression since that inaugural deep fried bottle way back in 1953.
Maker’s Mark 46 is a whiskey specialty. A product that isn’t matured entirely in new, charred oak can’t technically be a bourbon, and must include the word “finished” on the label. For this expression, ten seared French oak staves are inserted into the barrel for a few months prior to bottling. Maker’s tried dozens of different wood samples before deciding on one called “Stave Profile No. 46” (hence the name). The French oak gives Maker’s Mark 46 an engaging mouthfeel, something the original Maker’s sadly lacks. Oak (obviously), floral, composed corn, baking spices, caramel, vanilla. It’s sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.