When History Repeats Itself, Whiskey Version

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March 23, 2014 by Bourbon Empire

One recurring theme in my upcoming book is how history repeats itself, and sometimes gets turned on its head. As the landscape of America’s whiskey renaissance continues to emerge, many things are billed as brand new, yet a lot of them have actually happened before. Other things are billed as a return to the past, but are actually quite new. Nostalgia creates a past that never existed, and the attempts to resurrect that past end up building a whole new future.

To me, this is what makes interpreting whiskey fun, and I think that walking through the stories of whiskey’s past provide a unique way of understanding and appreciating the spirit. Patching together stories of how various liquor companies created their business strategies against the economic and cultural backdrops of their eras can teach just as much as tasting notes.

I don’t tend to use this blog to write about what’s in the book–it’s more of a place to put down random thoughts and musings. But I do have pile of ‘outtakes’ that I need to get around to sharing. Some time ago, I came across a product campaign by Brown-Forman in the 1950s to market a “legal moonshine.” The company saw moonshining in the hills, understood that it had a romantic appeal, and released a product called White Lightning, seeing if it could capitalize on all that. Whereas real moonshine went for $1.50 per pint, B-F marketed WL for $2.25 per pint, basically as low as it could go and still make a profit after all the tax stuff, but still fill what the company saw as a demand.

It echoes the modern white whiskey trend, although the contemporary prices are much higher. Honestly, I think whiskey geeks have tired of hearing about the white whiskey thing, knowing and understanding that it’s probably headed toward the same graveyard as the “light whiskey” movement of the 1970s, so probably not worth harping on to a huge extent. Regardless, I thought this was funny when I saw it, and figured that I’d share a harbinger of things to come for any that might care. The Brown-Forman campaign was cut short pretty quick.


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