When Prohibition was repealed, the distilling industry adopted some self-regulation policies. This included not advertising to those too young to drink. One of the specific parts of this regulation was no use of Santa Claus in alcohol advertising. However, a good bottle of whiskey was still considered a good Christmas gift, so it did not take distilleries long to start packaging for the holidays.
Glenmore Distilleries was the first to market a holiday-themed Bourbon package in 1934. It was a cardboard snowman that fitted over a 4/5 quart bottle of Kentucky Tavern Bonded Bourbon. The snowman held a broom and the label information was on the head of the broom. There was no public outcry over the package and it helped sell bottles of Kentucky Tavern, so the next year the other distilleries followed suit and released their own holiday packaging. Most were not elaborate. For the most part, it was simply a bottle of their bourbon in a carton that looked as if it was already wrapped in Christmas or decorated paper. Slap a bow on the top and it was ready to give as a gift.
In the late 1940s, Brown-Forman introduced a designer decanter for the holiday season. It was a glass decanter with a very modern design from a well-known modern architect. Stitzel-Weller came out with their own glass holiday decanter for Old Fitzgerald Bonded Bourbon the next year. This decanter has since been reproduced by Heaven Hill for their special releases of Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Bourbons. By 1950, other distilleries were also coming out with their own decanters. They often were sold in gift boxes that looked like wrapped gifts and sometimes even had a bow placed on top of the package.
In the 1960s and 70s, the decanters became more colorful and made of ceramic. They were figurines that often appealed to collectors of specific themes. Beam created the widest variety of these decanters, but Ezra Brooks was not far behind them in variety. Soon, every holiday had a themed decanter from a distillery. For example, Old Fitzgerald had a different St. Patrick’s Day decanter every year. Derby Day was also a very popular theme for a special decanter.
By the 1980s, the cost of ceramic decanters caused the distilleries to focus on new holiday packaging that would be a bottle of spirits with glassware or some other cocktail-themed item sold with the bottle. The packaging design became less important. The focus was the additional gift item included with the bottle. There were exceptions such as Blanton’s, Weller 107, Pappy Van Winkle and Crown Royal came with the bottle in their own colored cloth bag. These bags became popular and soon these brands were sold in the bags all the time.
Holiday packaging has not changed much since the 1980s. Brands still release a bottle of their spirit with some glassware or a cocktail muddler or some other cocktail related item. It would be interesting to see if some of the newer brands come out with specially designed holiday decanters to attract consumers in this highly competitive market.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller