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Maker’s Mark Partners with SFA
Rob Samuels, managing director, is an eighth-generation distiller at the Kentucky-based Maker’s Mark, which has gifted $200,000 to support the work of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi.

Just as well-thought-out drink pairings enhance a meal, the partnership between the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) and small-batch bourbon whiskey distillery Maker’s Mark is proving to be a winning combination.

At the Maker’s Mark toast for the Lifetime Achievement Award at Southern Foodways Alliance’s Fall Symposium 2023 were, from left, Elle Andress of Maker’s; Valerie Netherton of Maker’s; Claire Moss, SFA associate director of development; Rob Samuels, managing director of Maker’s; Vishwesh Bhatt, a chef with the Snackbar & City Grocery Restaurant Group in Oxford, Mississippi; John T Edge, Mississippi Lab director and SFA founding director; Anne Hardy of Maker’s; and Amanda Humphrey of Maker’s.

Rob Samuels, an eighth-generation distiller at the Kentucky-based Maker’s Mark, is a longtime admirer of John T Edge, founding director of the SFA, which is based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“John T’s writings gave me a window into the beautiful layers of culture in the South and taught me so much of the region,” said Samuels, the managing director of the Maker’s Mark Distillery.

“After attending an SFA symposium and learning more about their work to preserve the history of the South, I saw a similarity in the leadership there and the values held by our founders, Margie and Bill Samuels, Sr.”

Since 2018, Maker’s Mark has contributed $200,000 to support the SFA’s ongoing mission, including a recent $50,000 gift. Along with being the underwriter for the Maker’s Mark toast to SFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award honoree at the annual symposium, Maker’s Mark cocktails are proudly served at various SFA events.

Marker’s Mark Distillery was founded in 1953 by Margie and Bill Samuels, Sr. and was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 16, 1980. The distillery is on Star Hill Farm, which comprises approximately 1,100 acres in central Kentucky.

Grandson Rob Samuels is working to make Star Hill Farm sustainable and culturally rich while meeting the increased demand for its products.

“Rob and his team are doing some incredible work in sustainability and regenerative agriculture,” said Claire Moss, associate director of development for the SFA.

“It’s inspiring that the leaders of one of the oldest family-owned and operated distilleries are becoming the leaders in this emerging area and are working to restore native plant species and preserve them for future generations,” she said.

Maker’s Mark distillery is located on Star Hill Farm, which comprises approximately 1,100 acres in central Kentucky. Rob Samuels is working to make the farm sustainable and culturally rich while meeting the increased demand for its products.

Samuels’ goal is to ensure that every drop of Maker’s Mark is made the same way as the first. Efforts to guarantee that consistency include planting 300 variations of White Oak trees for preservation research, achieving a Regenified Tier 2 certification for their exploration/growing of estate wheat, and being a founding member of the Common Ground 100M Acres Initiative.

The company has pledged that 100% of Maker’s Mark grain will be sourced from Regenified Certified farms by 2025. Regenified recognizes farms, ranches, forests and producers committed to the growth of regenerative agriculture and the adoption of certified products.

“The whiskey made here comes from nature, and it’s our responsibility to work with our 26 partner growers to educate and inspire, to be good stewards of the land and to create better economic opportunities for families,” Samuels said. “I see those same goals and values within the SFA and believe the work they are doing is allowing for new avenues of thought and new discoveries that will inspire others to lead change.”

For more information about supporting the SFA, contact Claire Moss, associate director of development, at or 662-915-3380. To support the Southern Foodways Alliance Fund, send a check with the fund’s name written in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or give online here.

By Mary Stanton Knight/UM Development


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