Kentucky bourbon brand Maker’s Mark says it has earned B Corporation Certification—making it the largest distillery in the world to earn the distinction.
A Kentucky institution since the 1950s, Maker’s Mark is a beloved American bourbon brand, known for its absence of rye in its mash; it uses wheat, corn, and barley instead. Despite its decades of success, Maker’s Mark says it’s still a small-batch bourbon producer—no more than 1,000 gallons at a time from a mash bill of around 200 bushels of grain, according to the distiller.
The brand has a long history of environmental stewardship and community support, dating back to its founders. And it helped earn the distiller its B Corp status.
The company was recognized for its efforts across five categories of the B Impact Assessment: Community, Customers, Environment, Governance, and Workers.
“Since 1953, my grandparents instilled a sense of responsibility here at Maker’s Mark that started with the way we make our bourbon and extended to the way we impact the lives of our teams, our customers, our communities and our shared environment,” Rob Samuels, 8th Generation Whisky Maker and Grandson of the Founders at Maker’s Mark, said in a statement.
“That commitment to a higher purpose continues to live on, both here in Kentucky and beyond. I am so proud of our team’s tireless efforts that have earned us B Corp certification, and I’m even more excited to continue pioneering social and environmental initiatives that benefit the future of bourbon and greater good for all.”
In the past decade, more than 100,000 companies have attempted to earn their B Corp status, but few succeed. To date, only about 4,000 companies have earned the mark.
Maker’s Mark joins the small but notable list of certified B Corp brands including beermaker New Belgium Brewing, and whisky maker Bruichladdich distillery.
There are other notable standouts, including outdoor giant Patagonia and shoe brand Allbirds. Last year saw French luxury label Chloé and French luxury secondhand platform Vestiaire Collective both earn B Corp status.
Celebrity-fronted brands are stepping up their commitments, too; Khloé Kardashian’s Good American and Brad Pitt’s Enroot both earned their B Corp status last year.
For Maker’s Mark, a big part of its road to earning B Corp status came from its environmental practices. The bourbon maker adheres to a zero-landfill initiative at the distillery, including a robust recycling program—the first in Marion County, Kentucky, and open to the greater community.
The company has also established a natural water sanctuary that protects the watershed at its Star Hill Farm. The distillery’s warehouse complex runs on solar power.
The brand works from an ethos it dubs “Make Your Mark. Leave No Trace.” Its environmental commitments include establishing the world’s largest repository of American White Oak trees and genome mapping of the trees. It also practices regenerative farming, which it says is not only better for the soil and land, but produces a better-tasting grain for its bourbon, too.
According to Samuels, being stewards of nature is “paramount for the future” because bourbon comes from nature.
“Bourbon is nature,” he told Leaders Magazine in 2019. “Maker’s Mark is nature. In the beginning, our founders didn’t stumble upon this location by accident. The reason they purchased the property was because of nature and the 14-acre spring-fed lake.
“Today, we have two spring-fed lakes and our farm manager is an environmental biologist,” Samuels says.
“He, along with our team, are putting conservation at the center of everything we do, from creating the first water sanctuary and planting more than 1,500 American white oak trees so as water comes down into earth, it naturally comes in and is filtered.
“We own our entire watershed, but we are also exploring ways and implementing principles across American oak and grain to push the boundaries of flavor and put conservation at the center, beyond even the product we make.”
At the heart of the family-run business is a strong sense of community that’s been there since day one.
“We keep the founders’, both my grandmother and my grandfather, vision embedded in everything we do. Who they were and their vision are not just fond stories of the past, but they are the guiding light for the future,” Samuels said.
“After finishing college in 1937, they got married, resurrected the legacy family distillery and brought it out of prohibition – it was only the fifth distillery to reopen after prohibition,” he told Leaders.
“My grandfather’s passion and focus were all on the distillery and that famous place that we call home, which today is a national historic landmark. They settled there because of the water source; to my knowledge, we are the only distillery today in North America that only uses water from our own natural source in all of the whisky we make. We also own an entire watershed, so we have 600 acres between our two lakes – every drop of water that has ever been in a cooker has come from a natural source.”
That ethos has led the company to fund a number of philanthropic efforts over the decades, including its recent involvement with the LEE Initiative, where Maker’s Mark serves as a principal partner. The initiative is focused on equality and diversity in the restaurant industry. The company says that during the Covid pandemic, Maker’s Mark and the LEE Initiative helped to feed more than 1.5 million hospitality workers across the U.S.
The company brings that same commitment to its own workers, offering the highest wages in its community and perks like job training and tuition, and six months paid maternity leave.
Last year, the brand launched a limited-edition bottle to honor its co-founder, Margie Samuels.
“Margie was responsible for creating just about everything — except the whisky itself — that makes Maker’s Mark the household name it is today — from the iconic bottle shape and red wax-dipped top, to the name, logo, and unmatched distillery visitor experience,” the company said in a statement.
The company donated $25 from each bottle sold to the Bellarmine University Rubel School of Business to help fund scholarships for the university’s Women of Color Entrepreneurs Leadership Certificate.