Whisky Magazine Issue 41
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When TW Samuels VI first produced Maker's Mark he was dismissed as a crackpot. But he succeeded in changing the image of bourbon forever, and the sector is still benefiting Dominic Roskrow reports
To fully understand just how revolutionary Maker's Mark was when it was launched you have to go back not just 50 years to that time, but further back still. To 1946, in fact, when the classic film It's A Wonderful Life was released.
“There's a scene in that movie when George goes with Clarence in to Nick's bar,” says Maker's Mark's vice-president for production Dave Pickerell. “George orders whiskey and Nick takes the bottle – there is only one bottle – from the shelf and pours him a whiskey.
“Then Clarence asks for a mulled wine and the atmosphere in the bar changes. He changes his mind and asks for a flaming rum punch instead. The piano player stops playing and the crowd parts to let men through to remove him.
“Then Nick leans across scowling and says ‘listen, we sell hard liquor here to men who want to get drunk quick.'
“That was the image of bourbon back then. It was man's drink for drinking in bars. And it was a sector in serious decline. “At that time there were about 200 distilleries but they were closing at a rate of about one every six months. Bourbon sold about 19 million bottles but it was falling away at a rate. We now sell about nine million. And in these circumstances Bill Samuels decided he wanted to launch a new whiskey.”
Bill Samuels Junior takes up the story.
“Truth be told if it had been good times dad would not have been able to buy the distillery. It cost him $36,000. He had sold TW Samuels Distillery and then served in the n...