February 27, 2014 – Maker’s Mark will break ground next month on a $70 million expansion of the historic distillery in Loretto, Kentucky that will increase capacity by 50% with the addition of a third distillery line inside the historic stillhouse. Beam directors approved the project Wednesday, and Commonwealth officials signed off Thursday morning on changes to an existing package of tax incentives that will provide $5 million in assistance. In addition to the distillery expansion, the project will include up to nine new 50,000 barrel rickhouses that Maker’s Mark has been building around the Loretto area for the last three years along with $3 million worth of infrastructure additions, including new access roads and parking lots. This project has been in the works since 2008, and follows a previous expansion of distilling capacity in 2005.
In a telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie Friday, Maker’s Mark President Rob Samuels said the project will allow Maker’s to meet the increasing global demand for Bourbon. “We think this is the beginning of a really robust period of growth and demand for Maker’s and premium Bourbon, and this expansion ties in with our existing growth plan,” he said. “We do have existing supply to support in the range of growth that we’ve seen over the last 25 years with Maker’s Mark, so when the available Bourbon from this third still comes on line, it will be a continuation of that growth trajectory.” Maker’s Mark sold 1.4 million cases of whisky during 2013, up nearly 11 percent from 2012. Unlike other Bourbon distillers, which are able to buy, sell, or trade whiskey stocks as needed to meet demand, every drop of Maker’s Mark is distilled and bottled in Loretto using a unique wheat-based mashbill.
The distillery expansion is expected to take 18 months to complete, with the first spirit expected to come off the new still late in 2015 and be ready for bottling around six years later. The announcement comes a year after Maker’s Mark raised the ire of its fans by lowering the strength of its Bourbon in the US from 45% ABV to 42% ABV in order to stretch existing supplies. Rob Samuels reversed the decision less than a week later following a social media-led protest, and the estimated 30,000 bottles of the lower-strength Maker’s are now collector’s items.
In a telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, Samuels said the distillery’s visitor experience will also be changed dramatically. The current welcome center will be closed, and visitors will now arrive at the Victorian house on the hill that overlooks the distillery. A walkway down the hill will be built for visitors to reach the stillhouse, along with new parking lots at the house. Samuels said the existing access roads to the distillery have become a problem because of increasing truck, visitor, and employee traffic. New access roads and parking lots will take vehicle traffic out of the heart of the distillery campus, improving access and safety at the same time.
The decision also comes as Beam prepares for a March 25 shareholder vote on Suntory’s $16 billion offer to buy the company. Suntory’s interest in expanding outside its home market in Japan was the key reason for the move, and the acquisition will make Suntory the largest Bourbon producer and the third-largest spirits company worldwide.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 1 with additional information.
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