As the leader in the American bourbon market – with its family heritage and time-tested practices and traditions – Maker’s Mark is known for its smooth whiskey and hand-dipped bottles. But the Loretto, Kentucky-based company, founded in 1953, is also building a reputation as an innovator with forward-thinking projects and collaborations designed for social and environmental good.
Rob Samuels, eighth generation whiskey maker and Managing Director of Maker’s Mark Distillery, is the latest in a line of family members who have led the business over the years and established its place as a mainstay Bourbon Country, home to barrel-aged whisky. corn-based whisky. The grandson of Maker’s Mark founders and other team members are establishing practices within the company and with its business partners, to strengthen its strong foundation and chart a course for a sustainable future.
This includes taking a stakeholder approach to the Maker’s Mark acreage by pursuing a pesticide-free orchard and collaborating with research experts in regenerative agriculture and animal husbandry practices; obtaining LEED certification for its cellar and operating building; and provide career advancement opportunities and comprehensive benefits to its workers.
These and other initiatives are part of the culture of Maker’s Mark, which earlier this year became part of the Certified B Corporation community. It is now the largest distillery in the world and the first in Kentucky’s Bourbon Country to achieve B Corp certification, which recognizes companies assessed for their social and environmental impact. According to Samuels, the B Corp certification also reflects the way of doing business he learned from his grandparents, Bill and Margie Samuels, and his father, Bill Samuels Jr.
Grow with purpose and commitment to craftsmanship
Bill and Margie Samuels chose the Maker’s Mark site for its water source when they purchased the property in 1952 for $25,000. It’s off the beaten path, says Rob Samuels, but less than 20 miles from Bardstown, Kentucky, a town of about 13,000 people known as the Bourbon capital of Kentucky. Now, this 1,000+ acre property includes a nature preserve and water sanctuary as well as the original, still-operating distillery and a National Historic Landmark. The natural resources are what set Maker’s Mark apart from other bourbons, says Samuels. “If you talk to really passionate whiskey aficionados, knowledgeable whiskey consumers, almost all of them think whiskey is a manufactured product when it’s basically agricultural. Flavor comes from nature.
But it took time to appreciate that flavor as well as the company’s financial strength and production. Premium bourbon didn’t have a huge market in the 1950s, Samuels says, until a 1981 article changed that. “The the wall street journal “Maker’s Mark is a model of deliberate inefficiency, which is exactly how we think about everything,” he says. “The goal here has never been to be the biggest. The goal has never been to be the most efficient. But you had a craftsman and his wife with a very clear vision of what they wanted to create and an unwavering commitment.
Since the early 1980s, Maker’s Mark has experienced strong average annual growth in volume and value. Beyond the strong financial performance, Samuels says he’s most proud of how the company treats its team and prioritizes a healthy work culture. “If you were to go talk to the people who hand-dip the bottles, the people who spin the barrels, our salaried crew members, they could explain who Maker’s Mark is. They could tell you why we do what we do,” he says. “It’s about treating team members well, growing with a purpose to ensure quality over time – which is really hard to do in the whiskey business – and giving back to society. “
By connecting with its community and within the hospitality industry, Maker’s Mark pursues a purpose beyond the bottom line. “From the beginning, this brand has believed in the importance of giving back, being active in the community and playing an important role in giving back to society,” he says. “Our whole team is committed to this vision, to really living these values, even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s never easy. »
Lead by example and create a regenerative supply chain
Choosing to pursue B Corp certification is another way for Maker’s Mark to take on challenges rather than opting for the easier route. Samuels and other Maker’s Mark leaders have found that rigorous third-party screening in Impact Assessment B can help them build on their strengths and encourage other companies to take into account their social and environmental impact.
“What I’m so proud of is that we were B Corp before we knew there was a B Corp. We qualified to be a B Corp based on how we already operated,” says Samuels. “They helped us understand that we can use the power of our brand to really encourage our supply chain to live these values as if they were Maker’s Mark. Because in the end, they are.
That can mean using regenerative farming practices at Maker’s Mark to show its suppliers — local corn and wheat growers — how they lead to competitive yields and more flavor. It’s part of the company’s perspective to innovate for long-term growth rather than seek immediate, albeit short-lived, gains, Samuels says.
“Companies and brands that play the infinite game – that give back to society, get involved in the community, treat your team members really, really well, quality, innovate with purpose, have that mindset infinite – that’s how great brands are built,” he says. “The reason our team has embraced B Corp so much and this value system is because we play the infinite game.”
At its property known as Star Hill Farm, Maker’s Mark continues to innovate to preserve the natural resources used to create its whisky. These include a distillery-wide zero discharge initiative; an on-site recycling program open to community members; and the implementation of a solar panel that powers the Maker’s Mark warehouse complex. It’s all designed to help celebrate agriculture’s role in its flagship product and encourage other growers and producers to adopt environmentally friendly practices, Samuels says.
“We want to prove that flavor, in large part, is created by more sustainable farming practices. Farm-to-table chefs will tell you that their palates can taste the difference, but on a biological level, that has never been proven,” he says. “What would it be like if we could actually prove that these more sustainable farming practices not only minimize environmental impact, but also help us get more flavor?” Because they go together.
Maker’s Mark did this as a subsidiary of Suntory, a Japan-based family business that bought the company in 2014. “They have an endless mindset and they’re a related partner,” he says. “They have many, many businesses. But their heart is in the whisky.
With a century in business, Suntory is a perfect fit for Maker’s Mark, says Samuels. “If they were here today to talk about what they’re most proud of, they wouldn’t be talking about the P&L. They wouldn’t talk about economic success or value creation,” he says. “They were talking about Suntory and the family legacy” which includes a commitment to community and public health.