By: Fred Minnick
ON THE EVE OF HIS RETIREMENT, THE TASTING PANEL SPENDS TWO DAYS BEHIND THE SCENES WITH THE BILL SAMUELS JR.
As Bill Samuels Jr. walks onto the stage to give his final words as Maker's Mark President, his stringy pinkish, reddish orange polyester wig glistens in the spotlight and his purple vest beams flashing lights like a Christmas tree. He could have easily been mistaken for a Van Halen roadie, but those who know the man understand that his eclectic nature requires a few, let's say, creative costumes from time to time.
He tips his small glass of Maker's Mark to the crowd of brand ambassadors who've come from all over the country to see him in Lexington, Kentucky, and says, "This party's about you all and not me"-even though it's his retirement party.
Maker's Mark brand ambassadors are the loyal customers who share their Maker's Mark passion with friends in tastings. It's one of the first loyalty programs, which recruits passionate fans to spread the word about spirits.
As soon as Samuels appears on the stage, the crowd erupts in cheers.
"We love you, Bill," a deep voice echoes.
"Don't go," a woman yells.
Samuels looks into the sea of faces, pausing for a few seconds, as if he's taking it all in, and jokes about the rain-there's nearly a monsoon showering the party tents. With the wig brushing against his cheeks, it's hard to see his emotion, but his voice slightly breaks when he says, "It's been a long career, a hell of a time," he says.
He looks at his glass one more time, tipping it toward the crowd and gives his final words: "Let's have a cocktail."