Brand interview

Making a Mark in travel retail

As Maker’s Mark launches its first travel retail-exclusive expression, Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels, grandson of brand founder Bill Samuels Sr., spoke exclusively to Jason Holland about craftsmanship, family and heritage – and the increasing importance of the travel retail channel.

“Maker’s Mark was a Kentucky-only brand for its first 35 years of existence,” says Rob Samuels, an eighth-generation whisky maker, grandson of Maker’s Mark Distillery Inc. founder Bill Samuels Sr., and current Chief Operating Officer [the Bourbon manufacturer traces its history back to 1953].

“But in the last 30 years it has become a global icon; we as a company have expanded and taken it around the world.”

Given that popularity, and with customers from across the globe more interested in handmade whisky and super-premium offerings than ever, Maker’s Mark realised the time was right to launch its first travel retail-exclusive expression – the limited-edition Maker’s Mark 101.

'Hand-rotated, hand-dipped, hand-cut': Maker’s Mark believes that the human touch gives its Bourbon its character, and this key element of the whisky-making process is highlighted in this video.

Keeping it in the family: Rob Samuels is an eighth-generation whisky maker and grandson of Maker’s Mark Distillery Inc. founder Bill Samuels Sr.

“It is about consumers in great cities,” explains Samuels. “They are interested in what Maker’s Mark represents, and the launch is in celebration of this opportunity.”

Maker’s Mark 101 responds to consumers’ desire to discover new products and explore the American whisky category, and builds on the travel retail success of Maker’s Mark Original, according to brand owner Beam Suntory Global Travel Retail.

The long journey each Maker's Mark bottle takes is revealed in this video.

The rare expression now being shared in the channel was once reserved for special guests to the brand’s distillery in Loretto, Kentucky, having been produced in small batches there some 25-30 years ago. Maker’s Mark 101 represents Maker’s Mark’s signature bourbon bottled at a higher proof, delivering what Samuels says is a bolder taste. "Nothing expresses our vision like this higher proof," he states.

Maker’s Mark 101 features the strong flavours of cask-strength while retaining the smoothness of signature Maker’s Mark. [The expression has an ABV of of 50.5%]. “It is sweet on the nose and rich and creamy – it is an amplification of the original expression, a little bolder and very versatile,” he explains.

It is this versatility that makes Maker’s Mark 101 ideal for the travel retail channel, as it suits many drinking occasions and appeals to a variety of customers. “It can be enjoyed neat or as part of a cocktail,” says Samuels. “The higher proof gives it a defining flavour.”

Maker’s Mark 101 was once reserved for special guests to the brand’s distillery in Loretto, Kentucky.

The launch is also timely given the emergence of craft spirits in travel retail and in a channel where customers are increasingly looking for authenticity and experiences. Maker’s Mark’s story is one of family and of sharing the drinking experience, and spans 65 years.

“The original vision for Maker’s Mark was the beginning of the modern era of Bourbon,” explains Samuels. “My grandfather was a true craftsman – he was purposely inefficient as he committed to the craft. He never wanted to be the most efficient or the biggest producer.

“Today consumers all over the world are interested in products that are real. Human beings guide every step of our process, from the label, to rotating the barrels, to the packaging.”

"This is how we roll": Maker’s Mark rotates its 500-pound barrels by hand in a crucial part of the handcrafted process.

Indeed, the packaging stays true to Samuels’ grandmother and Maker’s Mark co-founder Margie Samuels’ original vision, combining premium design and craft elements. Margie Samuels was responsible for the brand’s name, the shape of the bottle, the look of the label, and the signature hand-dipped red wax seal.

Maker’s Mark 101 features a gold bottle decoration alongside the seal. The bottle is presented in a bespoke carton to honour the process and craftsmanship that has contributed to producing the liquid.

A global campaign in travel retail will celebrate this craftsmanship and mark the launch of Maker’s Mark 101, says Samuels. “It will be iconic, experiential and in the leading cities in the world.”

Long tradition: Founder Bill Samuels Sr. started production of Maker’s Mark in 1954.

The expression has been launched primarily in cities in Europe and Asia, as this is where Beam Suntory Global Travel Retail and Maker’s Mark see most demand coming from.

For Samuels, the launch makes a statement that Maker’s Mark is here to stay in the travel retail channel – and not just to be present but to thrive. “We have made a long-term commitment to offering a travel retail expression, and Maker’s Mark 101 is a permanent addition to the channel. We are also committed to collaborating with global travel retail partners.

“We see global travel retail as a very important part of the brand’s future.”


The Moodie Davitt e-Zine | Issue 251 | 12 November 2018