Oh yeah, before my time I'm afraid, I was dating my experience from the mid 1960s. Interesting though, how the pattern went from 100 to 90 to 86 then 80 proof over the years.
The official story being told by Chris Morris is that in the 1980s B-F was looking for a lighter flavored whiskey to sell and decided to make ET that brand by using used cooperage to lighten the flavor. Both ET and Old Forester 86 were more heavy bodied products and really competing with each other for the same market. I think that this story is the truth, but I also suspect that with declining Bourbon sales of the time, the chance to save some money by re-using barrels played a role in the decision as well. Accountant always have their influence in these decisions.
Ravensfire, I agree. If the distillery does not make money, it closes and we lose another line of brands. I was just pointing out that there were probably other reasons involved besides the official storyline.
I believe ET went to 80 proof in 1985 when the FET was increased. By cutting proof they could avoid raising prices, a benefit for a value brand. I was in the room when the change to 'Kentucky whiskey' was announced and the reason was ROI (Return On Investment). With various costs going up, substituting 20% of the new barrels with used saved enough to keep the ROI unchanged without a price increase. Chris Morris was in the same room so he knows that anything about a 'lighter-tasting product' was post-justification or, at best, a rationalization for why they could make the change without losing share.
They lost share anyway. At the time, ET was selling only slightly less than Jim Beam. Since then the gap has only grown.
Not coincidentally, it was at about this time that Brown-Forman stopped its arms-length relationship with Jack Daniel's and accepted that the tail was now wagging the dog. Up until about 1985 they pretended that Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon were in different categories, a level of denial similar to the West not recognizing so-called 'Red China.' JD was run out of Nashville as a separate division that only connected to the BF at the highest management levels. In about 1985 a BF person was put in charge of JD for the first time.
BF has a long-term policy of only keeping category leaders. Although they kept ET and OF for what might be called sentimental reasons, they stopped supporting them in any significant way and put everything behind JD.
Chuck, what year was that? I have a couple et straight bottles, I may be wrong, but I have a straight from the US I think dated 84 or 85. The other is 70's. Both are nothing to write home about.
Both the FET Increase and the switch to Kentucky Whisky took place in 1985. I see that there was 80 proof ET further back, which doesn't surprise me because the popular price brands all went to 80 proof in the 50s and 60s. I know there were some brands that cut proof in 1985 to avoid increasing prices because of the FET increase.