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In the 1960s and 1970s Americans reveled in all of the glories the barroom; cocktails were served in myriad pastel hues and in copious quantities. The country drank and drank. Suddenly, though, Betty Ford, Ringo Starr and Liz Taylor came dean and publicly said goodbye to John Barleycorn, and a new interest in sobriety was born. When groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) sprang up, the whole country started talking, once more, about the evils of drink. Happily, the atmosphere was nowhere near as oppressive as it had been for our forefathers at the beginning of this century. These groups took aim at irresponsible drinking. They were out to prevent accidents and to help those with a drinking problem take better care of themselves.
But this new batch of concerned citizens not only did what they set out to do (for which they deserve much accolade); they also paved the path for a return to the bold, rich flavors of straight American whiskey.
Sometime during the mid-1980s, people who were wont to throw $20 on the bar and stay there until it was gone were no longer able to spend it on four or five screwdrivers or seven or eight beers. It wasn't socially acceptable, it wasn't good for the body, and it was no longer a laughing matter. But these people still had the same amount of money to spend. How did they spend it, they spent it on the "good stuff." Drinkers looked to fine wines in the 1970s, and a decade later, they rook the high road that led directly to single malt Scotches. And these were not the bygone days when men were the sale decision makers; by this time, women, too, had buying power-and they were discriminating consumers. The most avid of these budding aficionadas and aficionados worked at learning about their drinks. Some sat alone at the bar taking notes on the malt they were sampling; others assembled in groups, experienced a few different drams and discussed a'1d compared each one's particular intricacies. And so it was that whiskey, albeit Scotch whisky, was once again given the attention it deserved. The American whiskey distillers took note.
Suddenly, liquor store shelves were filled with new bottlings of old brands of fine American whiskey and old-looking bottlings of new brands, and new terms were being bandied about. Finally, "small-batch whiskey," "single-barrel whiskey" and "wheated bourbon" were getting their fair share of attention. Once again, people were demanding straight rye whiskey-not the blended product that had been poured as "rye" at many a bar since as far back as the 1950s.
Some distillers were resting comfortably, knowing that they had been producing fine heavy-bodied whiskeys all along, while others who had "lightened" their products in an attempt to compete with gin, vodka and rum were now, thankfully, rethinking their position. We will not be surprised to see one or two pot-still American whiskeys on the market within the next five years or so.
As consumers, we are lucky that so many good straight American whiskeys are still left in the marketplace. The whiskeys-and the people who make them-deserve a place in our hearts. We raise a glass to the pioneers and heroes of the American whiskey industry: Jacob Beam, I.W. Bernheim, Colonel Blanton, Wattie Boone, A. Smith Bowman, George Garvin Brown, the Chapeze brothers, James Crow, Jack Daniel, J.W. Dant, George Dickel, Basil Hayden, Paul Jones, Henry McKenna, Tom Moore, Elijah Pepper, T.B. Ripy, Robert Samuels, the Shapira brothers, E.H. Taylor, Pappy Van Winkle, W.L. Weller and Evan Williams.
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