The Endangered Era of American Bourbon Whiskey: A Near-Extinction in 1968

The Endangered Era of American Bourbon Whiskey: A Near-Extinction in 1968


American bourbon whiskey is known for its rich history and distinctive flavor. However, in 1968, this beloved spirit faced a crisis that almost led to its extinction. This article explores the events that unfolded during that critical year and the subsequent revival of bourbon whiskey.

The Decline

In the mid-20th century, bourbon whiskey had become a staple in American culture. However, as tastes and drinking habits evolved, the demand for bourbon started to decline. In the 1960s, vodka and other spirits gained popularity among consumers, and bourbon struggled to maintain its market share.

The Rise of Clear Spirits

During this period, clear spirits like vodka and gin became synonymous with the modern and cosmopolitan lifestyle. They were seen as more versatile and mixable, appealing to younger drinkers. Bourbon, with its rich caramel flavors, was perceived as old-fashioned.

Misconceptions and Aging Process

Another factor contributing to bourbon’s decline was a misconception about its aging process. Some consumers believed that bourbon had to be aged for an extended period, which led to a scarcity of older barrels. This misconception added to the perception that bourbon was inaccessible and expensive.

Near Extinction

By 1968, the bourbon industry was on the verge of collapse. Many distilleries faced financial difficulties and were forced to shut down or switch production to other spirits. The future of American bourbon whiskey looked bleak.

The Turning Point

Fortunately, a few dedicated individuals and organizations stepped in to save bourbon whiskey from disappearing forever.

The Fight for Recognition

Lobbying efforts by bourbon enthusiasts and distillers began in the late 1960s to promote bourbon as a unique American spirit. They successfully advocated for legislation that would define and protect the term “bourbon,” setting specific guidelines for production.

Marketing and Rebranding

Bourbon distilleries realized the importance of rebranding and appealing to a younger demographic. They embarked on marketing campaigns highlighting bourbon’s history, craftsmanship, and versatility. These efforts aimed to dispel the misconceptions surrounding the spirit and attract new consumers.

The Revival

Slowly but surely, the efforts of bourbon enthusiasts paid off. By the 1980s, bourbon began to make a remarkable comeback. The renewed interest in traditional and authentic products, coupled with the growing cocktail culture, worked in favor of bourbon whiskey.

Small Batch and Premium Offerings

Bourbon distilleries started experimenting with small-batch productions and releasing premium offerings. These limited-edition bottles created a sense of exclusivity and catered to connoisseurs seeking unique flavors and experiences.

Tourism and Bourbon Trails

The establishment of bourbon trails and the growth of whiskey tourism further boosted the industry. Visitors flocked to distilleries, learned about the production process, and tasted various bourbon expressions, fostering a deep appreciation for the craft.

The Modern Bourbon Renaissance

Today, bourbon whiskey enjoys a renaissance like never before. It has captured the attention of palates worldwide, with demand reaching an all-time high. Craft distilleries are popping up in different regions, offering their own interpretations of this iconic spirit.

Global Recognition

American bourbon whiskey has transcended borders and gained global recognition. Bartenders and enthusiasts around the world incorporate bourbon into their cocktails, further solidifying its position in the spirits industry.

Continued Innovation

Bourbon distillers continue to innovate, experimenting with aging techniques, barrel finishes, and unique grain combinations. These advancements keep bourbon relevant and exciting for both seasoned aficionados and newcomers alike.


The near-disappearance of American bourbon whiskey in 1968 serves as a testament to the importance of adaptability and perseverance. Thanks to the dedication of bourbon enthusiasts, distillers, and the love of this exceptional spirit, bourbon whiskey not only survived but thrived, capturing the hearts and taste buds of millions around the world.

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  1. This article delves into the fascinating history of Bourbon Whiskey, shedding light on its decline in the 1960s and the resurgence it experienced afterwards. It offers valuable insights into the factors that contributed to the revival of American distilleries, reestablishing the traditional and authentic production of bourbon whiskey. A must-read for anyone interested in the history of this beloved spirit and the industry’s inspiring comeback.

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Written by Olivia Taylor

Olivia Taylor has been writing about bourbon for the past five years and has become an expert in the field. She is passionate about educating people about the history and culture of bourbon and loves to share her knowledge with others. Olivia is also an avid traveler and has visited many of the world's top bourbon distilleries. She is a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the American Whiskey Trail. Olivia is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and holds a degree in English Literature. She currently resides in Louisville, Kentucky, where she enjoys exploring the city's vibrant bourbon culture.

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