In reality, Bourbon has faced much peril in the almost 200 years since the word was first used to describe the Whiskey from Kentucky predominantly made of corn and aged in new charred oak barrels, and it is thanks to the hard work of the people of the Bourbon Industry and their dedication to preserving the image and identity of Bourbon and for keeping the industry alive in the face of near-constant hardship.
Here are some of the major milestones that shaped Bourbon as we know it today.
People were getting sick and distillers knew they had to act fast if they were to save the public image of Bourbon.
E.H. Taylor, Jr. led the charge to pass the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897, which required Bonded Whiskey to be produced under government supervision at one distillery in the same season, aged at least four years under government supervision, and bottled at 100 proof with only pure water added to adjust proof.
When consumers bought Bonded Whiskey they knew what they were getting, and it quite possibly saved the Bourbon Industry from irreparable reputational damage.
President Taft eventually had to moderate dissent between rectifiers and distillers, and ultimately the Taft Decision said that Straight Whiskey could only have pure water added, while Whiskey with other additives would have to be called “Blended Whiskey.”
Consumers were ensured of the purity of Straight Bourbon Whiskey and protected from harmful imitations, preserving Bourbon’s reputation once again.
This consolidated Bourbon production to a handful of major distilleries that would open or reopen after Repeal. Distillers came together to form the Distilled Spirits Institute (now the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States) in order to form an agreement on how beverage alcohol could be marketed and distributed - an effort to show they didn’t want to create the same kind of environment that had led to Prohibition in the first place.
But they did their part, even changing over from 48 to 53 gallon barrels to save wood - those were the largest barrels that would fit in current ricks and it saved a significant amount of lumber. To this day most distilleries still use 53 gallon barrels.
The 1964 Congressional Resolution declaring Bourbon a “distinct product of the United States” would help, those effects would not become tangible for decades. Those price drops would also stick around for decades, zapping the industry’s profitability, and many distilleries are just now slowly and quiety beginning to adjust for market demands.
Those brands were built by determination to stay afloat during the tough times and Master Distillers and owners who pounded the pavement and educated consumers and just plain refused to give up on Bourbon.