The Imminent Threat to American Bourbon Whiskey
In the summer of 1968, something unthinkable occurred. The American bourbon industry was at the brink of collapse, teetering on the verge of extinction. This amber-colored spirit, so tightly interwoven with the fabric of American culture, was facing a bleak future. Today, it may be difficult to comprehend a world without the smooth flavours of bourbon, but back in 1968 it was a reality that looked increasingly likely. The reasons why are a combination of changing cultural tastes, poor marketing, and a serious lack of foresight.
The Changing Times
The 1960s was a decade of seismic changes, not only in terms of cultural and societal norms, but also in terms of drinking habits. Younger people were moving away from bourbon, viewed as a relic of their parents’ generation. This new generation was eager to establish its own identity, which included savoring less potent drinks like beer and wine.
With the surging popularity of distilled spirits like vodka and gin, coupled with the rise in beer and wine consumption, bourbon sales started to stagger. The demographics were not in bourbon’s favor. The tastes of the new generation were veering towards lighter spirits and cocktails – something that bourbon distilleries had not anticipated or prepared for, leading to a sudden and steep decline in sales.
This sudden shift in consumer preference caught the bourbon industry unawares. Instead of trying to win back consumers through innovative marketing and advertising, many bourbon producers decided to cut their prices in an attempt to allure customers. This tactic backfired spectacularly.
Instead of attracting a new generation of drinkers, slashing prices significantly impacted the image of bourbon. It was no longer seen as a sophisticated, luxe spirit savored by the refined drinker, but rather as a cheap, mass-produced product. The prestige and allure of bourbon had been sabotified by its own makers.
Lack of Foresight
If marketing mavericks had done their homework, they could have ridden the wave of changing tastes, instead of being swept by it. The trend towards lighter alcoholic beverages was not an aberration, but a sign of changing times. However, the bourbon industry failed to anticipate this shift, let alone adapt to it.
They didn’t change their recipes to create lighter blends, nor did they make attempts to introduce an array of new bourbon influenced cocktails that could have potentially appealed to the new generation’s tastebuds. All these factors resulted in bourbon being sidelined in the booze market by a new crop of alcoholic beverages.
How Bourbon Survived the Crisis
If you’re currently enjoying a hearty glass of bourbon, you might be wondering, how on earth did bourbon survive this crisis? The answer lies in the resilience of the few remaining bourbon distilleries that understood the importance of quality over quantity.
During the darkest hours of the bourbon industry, a few distilleries like Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey made a resolute decision to stick with premium bourbon and not compromise on quality, despite the declining bourbon sales. The persistence of these distilleries, combined with a resurgence of interest in bourbon in the late 1980s and early 1990s, brought bourbon back into public favor.
The Resurgence of American Bourbon Whiskey
During the 80s and 90s, amid the culture of cocktail revival, bourbon found its place back in the market. It was now considered cool to know your whiskey and bourbon became a spirit of choice for many. Remixes of classic bourbon cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan were now gaining popularity, and bourbon was firmly back in the game.
Today, American bourbon whiskey is stronger than ever, appreciated by discerning drinkers around the world. The story of its near-disappearance and consequent resurgence is a testament to the dynamism of the beverage industry, one that continually evolves and adapts to the changing tastes of its consumers. So, here’s a toast to America’s spirit and a reminder that, like bourbon itself, tough times don’t last; tough people do.