I have seen some refrences to the fact that we are in a "Golden Age" for bourbon. I wonder if this is true. I believe that there is a curb and that we are actually on the downward slide. Let us consider some historical perspective. About 150 years ago bourbon began to improve with the advance of technology allowing better control of the manufacture of spirits. The bourbon was made with lower entry proofs and smaller barrels and had a lot of flavor that bourbons today does not have. I admit some of these flavors might not appeal to us today, but then again I say who can really say if nobody is making the whiskey the old fashioned way anymore so there is no comparison standard. Prohibition changed the industry creating standards for manufacture that made the industry look more like what we have today. Barrels got bigger. The change would have been subtle and maybe not noticed by most people and it saved money. Entry proofs started edging the way up. The accountants have started to get involved in the manufacturing process and marketing people started telling everybody what "they should like" (exception is Linn who has very strong opinions of what he likes, damn the marketing people). As we go into the 21st century almost all of the distillers are using 125 proof as entry proof. This leaves less flavor from the grains so recipe becomes less important. Marketing people are changing the packaging taking a product that once was proudly sold as "8 Year Old" and making it "No. 8" with no age statement. The product is changing in subtle ways hoping nobody will notice and for the vast majority of the people, they won't notice.
I say if we are in a "Golden Age" it is of marketing. The distillers art golden age was the 1950's and 60's. I would rather have some Old Fitzgerald made in the 1950's that is 5 years old than I would the current 12 year old product. Others have talked about the "Pre-Beam Old Grand Dad". This was a time when modern methods improved control but the Master Distiller was still in control of the manufacture of bourbon. I wish Pappy Van Winkle was still in business today. His motto of "Always Fine Bourbon" should be a standard for the industry. At the Heritage seminar at the Bourbon Festival about 5 years ago someone asked Ova Haney who would be the Master Distillers of the future and his reply was "The F*!@'n accountants". I fear he may be right. What do you think?