Growing up on Distiller’s Row in Bardstown, Kentucky – son of Maker’s Mark Founder Bill Samuels, Sr. and godson of Jim Beam – Bill Samuels, Jr. has been an eyewitness to many milestones in bourbon history and has made history himself. A legend in the bourbon business, the seventh generation distiller has been hailed as many things: a maverick, one of the last true bourbon barons, a marketing genius, a visionary and the best friend the Kentucky bourbon industry has ever had. Bill’s father forever changed the bourbon industry when he introduced Maker’s Mark, the first ever premium bourbon, in 1953. The Samuels family had actually been making whisky in the United States since 1784, but the family recipe tasted so harsh it could blow peoples’ ears off. Tired of drinking whisky that burned on the way down, Bill Sr. was inspired to create smooth tasting sipping bourbon. And so, in dramatic fashion, he gathered around his wife and kids in their living room and burned up the 170-year-old family whisky recipe (singeing some of his daughter’s hair in the process).
Before Bill's father would let him near the whiskey, he put him in charge of marketing, which turned out to be a very wise decision. Bill’s approach to advertising for the brand followed no conventional marketing wisdom because he decided he would rather be different than right. That touch of rebelliousness led to very successful advertising campaigns, and today Maker’s Mark ads are still written with the “voice” Bill created for the brand. Bill, Sr. eventually let his son take responsibility for making the whisky, and in the mid-1970s Bill, Jr. assumed leadership of Maker’s Mark. When he did, his father had a stern but simple piece of advice for him: “Don’t screw up the whisky.” Despite the labor-intensive, largely inefficient methods used to handcraft Maker’s Mark, Bill heeded his father’s advice and stubbornly stuck with every step in the process his father perfected, even as the brand – and demand – grew exponentially over the years.
For all of his accomplishments, as Bill was beginning starting to think about handing over the Maker’s Mark reigns to his son Rob, he also began to think about his legacy and decided it was time to do something Maker’s had never done before – craft a new bourbon. In 2010, he introduced Maker’s 46, the distillery’s first ever new expression of his whisky. Although Bill calls it “realizing the dream of a desperate old man about to retire with no legacy,” Maker’s 46 is indeed another remarkable achievement in distilling craft, offering a bolder, spicier flavor with an elongated finish yet without any bitterness. Retirement doesn’t exactly suit Bill, who has never sat still a minute in his life, so instead of heading off to the golf course, he is now Maker’s Mark Chairman Emeritus. It’s a role perfectly suited for the very first Maker’s Mark Ambassador: travel around the world, introduce Maker’s Mark and Maker’s 46 to folks and share a story or two about all of the incredible history he’s been an eyewitness to.
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