The Reason Maker's Mark Doesn't Label Its Bottles As 'Whiskey'

Walking down the whiskey aisle of your local liquor store, you may have noticed the candelabra-looking whiskey bottle with the red wax dripping down from the top. It's a bottle of Maker's Mark, an icon of Kentucky bourbon whiskey – only if you look at the bottle, it's spelled bourbon "whisky." What gives?

Maker's Mark is made in America and American whiskey is always spelled with an "e," unlike in every other country — except Ireland — where it's called "whisky." It may seem like just a matter of spelling, but there are actual differences between whiskey and whisky. So, it's certainly odd to see a distiller bucking the trend of its home country. 

When representatives of Maker's Mark were asked about it, they stated in a Tweet on X (formerly known as Twitter) that the traditional Scottish spelling was in honor of the Scottish-Irish heritage of the Samuels family, who brought the Maker's Mark brand up from its humble roots to its current legendary status of making bourbon for over eight generations. Of course, Maker's Mark has only been around since the 1950s but its founder, Bill Samuels Sr., hails from a long and respected lineage of whiskey distillers.

Maker's Mark doesn't always respect family

The choice of spelling is an oddity in the American whiskey scene, especially considering that plenty of other distilleries have Scottish-Irish heritage. It becomes even stranger when you consider the origin story. Remember the eight generations of whiskey-makers? Well, it turns out that Bill Samuels Sr. inherited a 170-year-old whiskey recipe that his family had come to be known for. Only Bill and his wife didn't like it very much. 

His wife is even widely quoted as saying, "That s*** will blow your ears off." So, when Bill finally came into possession of the recipe, he ritualistically burned the only copy. It's honestly the most American thing we can think of, but it still feels like a slap in the face. Bill then came up with his own recipe and named it Maker's Mark. Perhaps he felt guilty for breaking the link in a long family history and called his product "whisky" to make up for it.

The Samuels no longer own Maker's Mark, but the tradition seems here to stay. The distillery has changed hands several times over the years. Bill Samuels Sr. would break tradition again by selling the company in 1981 instead of keeping it a family business. Later, Jim Beam bought Maker's Mark in 2005, and then the company Suntory bought Jim Beam in 2014. Maker's Mark is now produced by the Japanese company Beam Suntory. It's not clear why Beam Suntory would continue to label it as "whisky," but that is how it's spelled in Japan.