Featured photo courtesy of Doe Anderson Advertising.
Past the simple green farmhouse, which has since been converted to a welcome center for guests, lush green fields dotted with giant trees stretch as far as the eye can see. Peeking out just above the tree line stands the pride and joy of generations of Samuels: the distillery and stillhouse that to this day continues to make Maker’s Mark bourbon as it was first made.
When Bill Samuels, Sr. and his wife, Margie, purchased the property in the 1950s, the distillery started as a hobby. But they did have a dream of creating a welcoming atmosphere and creating a brand that could give as much to their community as the community gave back to them. After all, this was a family business, so why not treat their loyal partners and customers as family?
To this day, the idea of serving the community and treating everyone as family has continued to push Maker’s Mark above the competitors. While it might have been tempting to give in to the “easy way out”, the dedication to the little details (labels which are still hand-cut and bottles that are individually hand-dipped into the signature red wax) and the quality of service are still ever present. Now at the helm of this family affair, sits a new captain: Rob Samuels.
The first thing that Samuels will tell you is he would not be where he is today without the support of his family and community. A soft-spoken but commanding presence, Samuels serves as the Chief Distillery Officer and Global General Manager of Maker’s Mark. It is his mission to continue what his grandparents so lovingly created by continually setting the stage for growth and planning for the future.
But what Samuels lives and breathes through his involvement with Maker’s Mark is the idea of community.
“If you were to ask me what are the qualities of Maker’s Mark that I am most proud of, this is a brand that has been a giving brand,” said Samuels. “This is a brand and a distillery in a community that stood for something more.
“As we have grown over time, it has been important to our family and our team here at Maker’s Mark that we give back to those causes that are most meaningful here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
The very first case of Maker’s Mark was purchased by the Keeneland Racecourse, located in Lexington, and from there on out, an important partnership formed. To celebrate the richness of that first transaction, Maker’s Mark teamed up with Keeneland to give back to their community.
Every spring, a limited edition commemorative bottle of Maker’s Mark is released to celebrate Keeneland, which then raises money for noble causes, such as University of Kentucky healthcare initiatives and a new academic center at the university.
This idea of service to the community was always engrained in Samuels, ever since he was old enough to realize that the community was such a vital part of what his family had created.
“When they [Samuels’ grandparents] were first getting started, and the market was in a very different place, were it not for Kentuckians, Maker’s Mark would have simply never existed,” said Samuels.
So, when Samuels was searching for a way to uphold his love of service in college, the men of Lambda Chi Alpha naturally peaked his interest.
Samuels recalls, with a laugh, that it was never his intention to join a fraternity his first semester. Coming from a family where most of the men had been a part of Greek Life in some way, Samuels says he was encouraged to keep his options open, though.
But as soon as he met the members from the Epsilon-Psi chapter at the University of South Carolina, he knew he had found a family away from home.
“What drew me to Lambda Chi Alpha was because they were so very different from all the other fraternities, that was a big draw for me,” said Samuels. “When I reflect back upon the experiences, they further embedded me into the community and the campus life.
“They instilled a lot of lessons that the community is a lot more than just the brothers of the fraternity.”
Now, looking back on his experiences with the fraternity, Samuels assures that the aspect of service that was strengthened from the bond of brotherhood is a large part of his life with Maker’s Mark.
“What Lambda Chi brought to those experiences was a deeper meaning…we were all committed to the higher calling of the community and serving the community through various programs that we implemented,” said Samuels.
Samuels sits proudly at the helm of his grandparents’ vision and continues to find ways to serve the community around him. Most recently, the 1000 acres the distillery rests on was transformed into a nature preserve. Maker’s Mark has also become the first distillery in America to create a water sanctuary on their property.
From the very beginning, Maker’s Mark was so much more than a bourbon brand, it was a lifestyle. Every day presents a new challenge for Samuels, but he continues to tirelessly work to ensure the brand is the most endearing, culturally rich and environmentally conscious brand in the world. His love of the work his grandparents started is apparent in everything he does, but most importantly through the service to the community that made his life’s work possible, a value that he has cherished in his Lambda Chi Alpha experience and beyond.
“This is a brand that has always been a giving brand,” said Samuels. “We have the legacy from our founders, but one of the aspects from my experience at the University of South Carolina, as part of Lambda Chi Alpha, was we were expected to uphold those same values.”
Maker’s Mark crafts its bourbon carefully, so responsibility is key.
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