“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice,” said Che Guevara, “then you are a comrade of mine.” Of course, he was speaking of overthrowing brutal, corrupt dictatorships rather than resisting the tyranny of a smidgen of liquor. But whatever. I’m hoping to soon see an update of the old revolutionary T-shirt, with a Maker’s Mark activist in a beret in place of Che.
I have been asked about this matter, and here is my take: Maker’s Mark, you are really stupid. But Maker’s Mark fans who are frothing at the mouth, you might be even stupider. If only such outrage could be channeled and directed toward something truly meaningful. Maybe like, say, stopping gun violence, fixing deteriorating schools or helping people fight their way out of poverty?
First of all, if you’re going to scream and cry over a dilution of Maker’s Mark, why aren’t we talking about how much the product is already watered down from the time it is distilled to when it gets bottled? A bourbon can be distilled up to 160 proof and can go into the barrel at anywhere from 105 to 125 proof. That’s a long way down to the 90 in the bottle. That’s why most whiskey aficionados seek out 100-proof-plus bottlings. If you cared about proof, you’d have already graduated from Maker’s to, say, Weller Antique 107, a higher-proof wheated bourbon.
Second, if you are the typical Maker’s Mark loyalist, you probably enjoy sweeter, rounder bourbon and are not an aficionado who has long since moved on to “craft” or “premium” whiskeys. In which case, I would like to observe a blind taste test in which you try to discern the 90-proof offering from the 84-proof. After all, there have been occasional investigative reports of less-than-reputable bars filling an empty Maker’s bottle with a cheap rotgut whiskey and getting away with it for years.
“It comes off the still at 130 proof. Yes, bourbon is watered down, check.” That was the nonplussed response of Dave Pickerell over the whole debacle. Further, he says, “if you drink Maker’s Mark on ice or with water or in a cocktail, you won’t notice a difference.”
I called Pickerell when the controvery blew up. That’s because for 14 years, until 2008, he was the master distiller at Maker’s Mark. That means Pickerell is the guy who made the whiskey in the bottles that are now sitting on store shelves. And he was involved in the decisions that left the company running low on supply, the reason for the proposed drop in proof.