On the label of Maker’s Mark bourbon you will find “Maker’s Mark is America’s only handmade bourbon whisky – never mass produced”. Looking through the COLA database, this statement goes back for at least 14 years. I visited my local store and it was on every bottle I saw in both 750ml and 1.75liter.
I have visited close to 100 distilleries located all over the world. Some have been very technologically advanced with computer screens and automation performing some of the work while others have been at the opposite end with every valve hand turned by a person. I would say every distillery I have visited could make a valid claim of being handmade. At some point in the process hands are involved. For instance barrels are all rolled by hand. You will not find any definition of handmade in the TTB’s CFRs. Maker’s Mark hand dips all of their bottles. So, I have no issue with Maker’s use of handmade on the label. They also claim never mass produced. Again, there is no legal definition for mass produced in the CFRs, so it is just a marketing statement.
What I found perplexing was their use of the word ‘only’. With the boom of new craft distilleries in the US in the last 10 years certainly there are plenty of whisky distilleries operating on a smaller scale than Maker’s Mark with more hands-on involvement. Frankly I was flabbergasted they would dare to make this statement.
When I started writing this blog post, the first thing I did was reach out Maker’s Mark to see if they would like to comment on this. I received a response back the very next day. Here is the message:
“As the category has evolved, we have made updates to the label, including removing the word ‘only.’ Sometimes inventory takes a while to clear off the shelves, so it’s entirely possible that you’ve seen or even purchased bottles recently that still have this language (as noted in your picture). However, new bottles coming out of the Maker’s Mark Distillery today no longer include the word ‘only’.”
I was expecting to post a hard take on this issue and see if it would convince them to change. Looks like they outdid me; good for them for making this change. At least Bourbon geeks in the future will be able to quickly glance at a Maker’s Mark bottle and proclaim that’s a pre or post 2018 label change bottle.
Let me know in comments if you see a bottle with a label that reflects this new change.