In the year 1950, the whiskey industry in America was just recovering from the hard times of the past. Prohibition ended in 1933, but it was in the middle of the Great Depression and the distillers needed to build their distilleries and build their stockpiles of aged whiskey. They were just coming out of the shortage of aged whiskey when the Second World War started and the distilleries had to switch to making industrial alcohol for the war, at the expense of producing beverage alcohol. The war ended in 1945 and again, the distillers started to rebuild their stocks of aging whiskey. The year 1950 was the first time in thirty years that the distilleries had plenty of good, four year aged whiskey to offer to the public. 

Brown-Forman celebrated Christmas that year by offering a special release of a decanter bottle of Old Forester. The decanter was made of molded glass with a glass stopper. The advertisement features a wreath with a bottle of Old Forester Bottled-in-Bond next to the decanter. It has Christmas imagery, but does not feature Santa Claus or any other image that would appeal to children. This was because the industry leaders met at the end of Prohibition and, in hope of avoiding the outrage that brought on Prohibition, set the standards for whiskey advertising. Owsley Brown was instrumental in creating these rules in 1934, and Brown-Forman was careful not to break these rules they helped create. 

The tag line of the advertisement reads “Now! Two Ways to Say “Merry Christmas” with Famous Bonded Old Forester”. The bonded version was the only version of Old Forester in that year. It would be a few years later that they would create the 86 proof version of Old Forester. People still expected their flagship Bourbon to be a four year old bottled-in-bond whiskey. There were 90 proof whiskeys available at the time, but they were considered lesser brands. However, in the 1950s, people still considered the “good stuff” as Scotch whisky, which was bottled at 80 proof. Consumers had learned to like the lighter flavors of Scotch whisky and American distillers started to pay attention to the trend in the 1950s. As the decade progressed, the Christmas advertisements would start to feature 86 proof versions of their whiskeys.

Christmas of the year 1950 can be seen as the end of one era of Bourbon and the beginning of a new era. The old era was the post-Prohibition hard times. The new era was an era of expansion and overproduction that led to the hard times of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The new era would see decanters being offered, first as Christmas decanters, but eventually ceramic decanter figurines offered all year round.  The reputation of Bourbon declined as distilleries saw the only way to get rid of their overstock was to reduce prices. People turned away from whiskey and started to drink more beer, wine and clear spirits such as vodka and tequila. It was not until the 1990s that Bourbon would begin to come back to become America’s beverage of choice.

Christmas 1950 was full of Christmas spirit and special Christmas decanters as consumers enjoyed the Holiday Spirit with fine Kentucky Bourbon.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller