Luxury for the Masses
Prior to last night’s rant, Chuck and I were discussing Maker’s decision and Chuck mentioned that Jack Daniels also went through two rounds of watering-down. He touches on this in his post on the subject.
Jack Daniels has watered-down their No. 7 twice in their history. First in 1987 and again in 2002. They decreased proof from 90 to 86 to 80. Though some were very angry about the most recent decrease – explained by JD’s corporate owners as a response to demand for a lower-proof product – the brand’s sales have not suffered, just as the company predicted.
Among older people, I’ve noticed that Jack gets more respect than it does from the emerging market for whiskey-drinkers. Now it’s all about small scale and craft, and I readily admit I enjoy boutique bourbons, but I suspect it’s more marketing than anything else. For example, check the picture that Chuck used (also once tweeted to me by Bronan):
That’s where Maker’s has gone. Its ubiquity isn’t a result of more consumers seeking out a quality bourbon to sip neat or over ice—it’s become an “and coke” bourbon. I’ve drank it that way myself in stadium parking lots.
Back during the vodka trend I was waiting tables. People would pay stupid amounts for vodka drinks, and vodka reaches a level of diminishing returns far before you get to the Grey Goose price point, for sugary abominations that were little more than shooters in martini glasses. The glass does not the drink make–a Cosmo ain’t a martini, honey–and there is no reason to go top shelf when adding twelve iterations of HFCS.
But, as I suspect is the case with Maker’s, it wasn’t about flavor, it was about ordering the Belvedere or the Goose. It’s an attempt to purchase class via luxury goods. That isn’t to say that Maker’s fans are all dumping it on swimming roly-polies, but liquor stores don’t set up endcaps of 1.75s and two-liters of Coke because the target market is the sippers. But as Maker’s Mark has successfully established itself as a premium bourbon, it can expand its market share to include the top-shelf mixed drink crowd without suffering much loss to its cachet.
It reminds me of some dating show I saw years ago in which the girl said, “I’m classy. You take me out to dinner and I’m gonna get the steak [ed. presumably well-done] and the lobster. You gonna take me to an eloquent hotel.”
I’ve never been to an eloquent hotel, but I imagine it would tell great stories.