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Issue 59 - A free sofa with every case

Whisky Magazine Issue 59
October 2006


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A free sofa with every case

The dignified advertisements you see in this publication belie the rough and tumble past of American whiskey promotion. Charles K.Cowdery reports

Although advertising historians usually cite soaps such as Ivory and Pears as the first products to be promoted with modern mass marketing, American whiskeys such as Old Forester first appeared at about the same time – in the late 19th century – and pioneered many of the same techniques.

“I'm convinced Old Forester was the first bourbon to advertise to the consumer,” says Brown-Forman master distiller Chris Morris, an avid student of American whiskey history.

The claim makes sense because of the unique way Old Forester was marketed.

In those days, distillers sold their whiskey by the barrel, usually to middle men who dealt it – still in wood – to saloons and grocers.

Barrels then were not necessarily the big 55- gallon jobs that when full weigh 500 pounds and are standard today; some were smaller.

But most whiskey was sold in some kind of barrel. If you didn't want or couldn't afford a whole cask you either brought your own stoneware jug or glass bottle to the store to have it filled, or purchased one from the proprietor for that purpose.

Likewise, saloons would have a supply of bottles into which whiskey and other spirits could be decanted for easier serving.

When bottles were smashed in a bar brawl it was a costly loss. Glass bottles did not become cheap until after Michael Owens perfected the automatic bottle-making machine in 1904.

Among other problems, distributing whiskey in barrels made it impossible for a distiller to control what happened to his p...

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