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Fmr. Maker's Mark CEO: "This Is the First Time That We’ve Had Our Enemies Not Trying to Kill Us"

John Null/WKMS

Former president of Maker’s Mark Bill Samuels Jr. says that Kentucky’s so-called bourbon boom still has a couple years of exponential growth in it.

Samuels spoke Thursday on the campus of Murray State University, where he said the boom is partly a result of distillers taking their business back in their own hands.

“They’ve never made better bourbon,” Samuels told a standing-room-only marketing class. “They finally turned their distilleries back over to the distillers, took them out of the accountants' hands, who were basically in the business of screwing down the cost, which means screwing up the flavor. Now the distillers have it and we’ve got some great whiskies made in this state.”

Samuels, currently the chairman emeritus of Maker's Mark, said another major factor in bourbon’s resurgence is the state’s General Assembly getting behind the product. Last year, the Kentucky legislature passed a bill that eases property taxes on distillers.

Credit John Null/WKMS
Bill Samuels Jr. speaks to Dr. Glynn Mangold's MKT 578 class Thursday at MSU.

  “We actually have the General Assembly on board,” Samuels said. “This is the first time that we’ve had our enemies not trying to kill us and thinking of us as a sin industry as we create all these jobs in our little place.”

Samuels said Maker’s Mark is in the process of a $150 million expansion, which, according to Samuels, is almost the total asset value of Marion County, home to the distillery.

“Other distilleries are for the most part doing more,” Samuels said. “Owensboro is starting to make a comeback as a spirit center that’s been lost for almost 100 years now. They never came out of Prohibition right. But they are now.”

Samuels was in town to see the MSU men's basketball game against Belmont University. He was asked by someone in attendance if Maker's Mark would ever make a blue and gold variant bottle in honor of MSU's colors, as the company has done for the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. Samuels replied maybe, "if they keep winning."

John Null is the host and creator of Left of the Dial. From 2013-2016, he also served as a reporter in the WKMS newsroom.
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