Frodo wrote:...I would guess the fact that a lot of distilleries are privatly owned (Barton's, Maker's Mark) might be a contributory factor. ..according to Jim Murray, a lot of distilleries that have been bought up by big companies are allowed to "do their own thing" (Wild Turkey, George Dickel) as opposed to being turned into "whisky factories". ..
Alas, not true on either count. Barton Brands is part of Constellation, Maker's Mark is Allied Domecq-cum-Fortune Brands (Jim Beam) after the in-progress deal-making. Only Heaven Hill (the Shapira brothers, whose family was the original owners) is privately held, while Buffalo Trace is part of Sazerac, largely owned by the Goldring family.
As for being allowed to "do their own thing", well -- Jack Daniel's (Brown-Forman) recently lowered its proof to 80 from 86, after having lowered it from 90 several years ago. Wild Turkey's (Pernod Ricard's) suits have recently ordered the dilution of master distiller Jimmy Russell's namesake "Russell's Reserve" from 101 to 90 (it's already on the shelves in Kentucky, and soon will be everywhere). In neither case has the price been reduced, so we're buying less whiskey, more water -- they're price increases in disguise, while also lowering the distillers' taxes per unit sold. George Dickel (Diageo) has only been distilling again for 18 months after a 4-year layoff because of overstock and declining sales. Money, it seems, is at least of equal importance to the whiskey.
As for Murray's description of the wet/dry scenario in Tennessee -- well, it's laughable. I live in a 'wet' county NOT one of the three he incorrectly states there are, and I'm surrounded by others. Much (though, granted, not all) of Tennessee is 'wet' these days -- and has increasingly been for some time -- and even the so-called 'dry' counties, in most cases, allow beer sales. Liquor licenses in Tennessee require a police jurisdiction for enforcement, and many rural counties have only a county-wide sheriff's patrol/jail.
Murray's book is quite readable and full of valuable information -- but it's tiresome having to fact-check so much of it before you can believe it. That's what editors/researchers are for.