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Although many pre-prohibition brands of whiskey made their way back to the shelves after Repeal, they weren't always identical to their older namesakes. One example was Schenley's Golden Wedding rye whiskey, a very popular brand before Prohibition. During the dry years, Seagram had used the same name in Canada, but American bootleggers sold an inferior whiskey that they called Golden Wedding, and thus the public was still very aware of the name. 'When wet days returned, Schenley, which was in the same boat as most other whiskey producers who did not have enough aged product on hand, decided to mix some of their good aged whiskey with some younger straight whiskeys and market it as Golden Wedding-the first "blend" of straight whiskeys on the market.
The upshot? Public confusion. Was this a blended whiskey? No; it didn't contain neutral spirits or added flavorings or colorings. And though Schenley tried ro make that point very clear by printing on the label "It's ALL Whiskey ... No Alcohol or Spirits Added," the result was the wrath of blended-whiskey producers who said that the words were a put-down of their products, Schenley changed the wording on the label to "Whiskey-A Blend-All Straight Whiskeys," but it was too late. The brand died.
Many of the other straight whiskeys on the market at this time were merely young they were bottled at 12 to 18 months and sold under familiar labels. Meanwhile, Seagram introduced its "Five Crown" and "Seven Crown" blended whiskeys to the American public, and they were an unmitigated success. We are willing to bet that if you had to choose between a one-year-old straight whiskey and a well-made blended whiskey, you, too, would pick the latter.
By the early 1940s, however, the distillers had managed to age sufficient quantities of straight whiskey co have an appreciable amount of good aged bourbon and rye back on the shelves. But 21 years had passed since Prohibition had taken such wonderful, big-bodied, rich, flavorful whiskeys away from the public. Tastes had changed, and blended whiskeys had become increasingly popular.
All was by no means lost, however. Nobody stopped making bourbon, rye or Tennessee whiskey simply because sales weren't as good as expected; they dealt with the situation as best they could. In some instances, distillers ventured into importing, exporting and distilling different products to diversify their lines. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the storm that would become World War II was brewing.
During the war, American distilleries were enlisted to produce industrial alcohol (beverage alcohol at 190" proof) for the war effort, and once again, the whiskey supplies began to dwindle, Even the whiskey bottles had to be made to new government standards that called for thinner glass and no unnecessary designs. Strangely enough, one of the major beneficiaries of World War II was the rum industry, the very enterprise that had fallen at the heels of the whiskey business some 150 years previous. Since rum was made nearby, in the Caribbean, and therefore was easy and relatively inexpensive to transport to the United States, it became the drink of choice of many Americans beleaguered by both the shortage of whiskey and a lack of money. By 1945, Americans were consuming about three times as much rum as they had in 1941. Wartime dance bands didn't just sing Rum and Coca Cola; they drank it too.
Whiskey was rationed during the war, and some brands were discontinued. Some distilleries installed newer versions of the continuous still so they could produce industrial alcohol, and others simply sent their low-proof alcohol to distilleries that could redistill it until it was strong enough for the war effort. The government did allow a couple of "distillation holidays" toward the end of the war, but it would be the late 1940s to early 19505 before most distilleries were once again up and running full Force with a decent supply of aged whiskey on hand.
It's interesting to note just how much the whiskey business helped the war effort at this time. Indeed, had Prohibition not come to an end, the government would have had enormous difficulties fulfilling the need for industrial alcohol. And according to various industry documents of the rime, it was used in a variety of astounding ways:
A by-product of making any form of beverage alcohol from grain is the leftover mash, which is dried and used as feed for farm animals. Here again, the whiskey business contributed to the war effort by keeping cattle and pigs well fed when food for the general populace was at a premium. Indeed, for every 1,000 bushels of corn used to make alcohol, the leftover mash could feed 30 head of cattle and 15 pigs for 112 days, thus producing 1,000 pounds of beef and 240 pounds of pork.
So although the public was protected and fed, in part, by the whiskey producers of America, they just didn't have enough decent whiskey to drink. And don't think they didn't complain. An editorial in The New York World Telegram in 1944 stated, "Public and official alarm over the shortage of liquor is pathetic in a people who are supposed to be adult"
It's dear that the whiskey business had its problems. The swingers of the twenties preferred gin to whiskey; post-Prohibition whiskey drinkers got used to blended whiskeys; and then the demon rum reared its head during World War II. Demand was diminished-and things didn't change a great deal until some learned spirits aficionados decided that whiskey wasn't getting enough attention and started to shed some light on the intricacies of single malt Scotch in the 1980s. The timing was brilliant. America had just come through two decades of decadence and was primed to get serious about over-consumption and take a hard look at what it was drinking.
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