Originating in Kentucky in the mid-1800’s, Early Times is an American whiskey that boasts modest roots and an identifiable yet straightforward flavor. Under the parentage of Brown-Forman Corporation, the whiskey continues to flourish even in times of changing consumer tastes and creative new products entering the market.
A few passing modifications of the original blend resulted in nine different bottlings of the whiskey, but the Kentucky Whiskey seems to be the only one on the market today. The fermented mash blend produces a light-colored whiskey that works well on the rocks or in mixed drinks.
What is Early Times?
The whiskey brand emerged in 1860 with a name that references the initial methods of whiskey-making in Kentucky and across the United States. Its label advertises the product as “Kentucky Whisky,” but in markets outside the US, it meets the criteria for bourbon.
Raw ingredients, including natural limestone-filtered water from local springs, produce an alcohol that is 80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol volume. While the two spelling variations of the spirit don’t signify technical differences, the origins of “whiskey” are primarily Irish and American. In contrast, other countries which produce whiskey use the variant “whisky.”
Since Early Times does not meet the federal requirement for labeling as a bourbon, it goes by the title whiskey, although the brand’s Early Times 354 offshoot is a straight whiskey. Fermented barley, corn, rye, and wheat form the base of whiskey, but each brand’s formula is proprietary.
After the distillation process, the alcohol ages inside wooden barrels, most often charred white oak. Stills are usually copper, which is ideal for removing the sulfur compounds from the alcohol. While a pot still is the simplest, many whiskey producers use column stills, particularly for grain whisky.
The Early Times brand originated at a station in Shively, Kentucky, but in 1923 joined the Brown-Forman Corporation as its first acquisition. Along with names like Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, and Old Forester, Early Times continued to thrive under Brown-Forman.
Prohibition EraAccording to the Wikipedia page’s history of the brand, it only became popular immediately after Prohibition, because the producers had a license to continue distilling.
Like other spirit brands in the 1800’s, the whiskey received a protected status as a “medicinal” product, meaning production could continue throughout the Prohibition period from 1920 to 1933. At the time, physicians could prescribe medicinal spirits to their patients for a variety of conditions.
Medicinal alcohol for everything from snake bites to disease treatment meant there was still a high demand for whiskey and other spirits during Prohibition. Although a resolution from the American Medical Association claimed that alcohol for therapeutic uses as a “tonic or stimulant” had no scientific value, prescriptions still gave people access to their favorite beverages.
When Brown-Forman bought out Early Times, the company transferred all the whiskey stock to a government-designated warehouse. In this way, the company was able to continue to profit even when distillery production slowed.
When prohibition ended in Kentucky, eight whiskey distilleries opened in the town of Shively. However, in the late 1960’s, higher taxes and consumer preference resulted in the closing of most of the distilleries in the area. Today, the original Early Times distillery remains, alongside newer construction like Bernheim Distillery.
Bolstering its title as a great American whiskey, Early Times is not shy about advertising its relationship with the United States military. With fundraising activities, substantial donation matching, and even media promotions, the brand aligns itself with US soldiers from all walks of life.
The brand produced the documentary “Reinforcements,” which details the military experiences and subsequent homecoming of two veterans who have companion service dogs to help them recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
K9s for Warriors
So far, the company has donated $100,000 to K9s for Warriors to help train service dogs for veterans with PTSD. The film “Reinforcements” supports training efforts by increasing awareness about the bond between veterans and their service dogs.
K9s for Warriors is a nonprofit founded by the mother of a veteran who suffered from PTSD, with over 160 veterans welcoming service dogs into their families. This helps veterans reduce their stress as their dogs recognize the symptoms of PTSD and help relieve them.
Brown-Forman started with original owner George Garvin Brown in 1870, and over the years amassed millions in sales and acquired numerous brands within its industry. In 1953, Early Times became the number one “bourbon” in the country, although today’s federal standards have wiped that award from the history books.
Today, Brown-Forman owns brands in six categories; whiskey, scotch, tequila, vodka, liqueur, and wine. The corporation reported 7 percent growth in fiscal 2017 while focusing on the unique attributes and selling points of each of its brands.
The corporation produces everything from tequila to wine in facilities that span the globe. The company’s brands include:
- Jack Daniel’s
- Woodford Reserve
- Old Forester
- Canadian Whisky
- Coopers’ Craft
- Slane Irish Whiskey
- El Jimador
- Don Eduardo
- Pepe Lopez
- Santa Dose
Despite its global popularity and reach across 140 countries, Brown-Forman maintains that it’s a family company that relies on shareholder support and transparency. Throughout the growth of the company, the powers that be have focused on each brand, revamping distilleries, continuously training staff, and creating historical tour experiences and monuments to highlight the origins of each product.
Although its original owner passed years ago, Brown-Forman remains in the family, and descendants of George Garvin Brown still participate in day-to-day business and decision making. At the same time, staff contributions have high value, and many employees work their way up within the company over the years.
Production and Sale
Part of a more extensive line of liquor that enjoys popularity across the globe, the humble whiskey brand is one segment of Brown-Forman Corporation’s beverage offerings that stays true to its roots despite global demand.
Because Early Times does not fulfill the requirements for labeling as a bourbon, its marketing approach focuses on its Kentucky roots. While a row between parent company Brown-Forman and British alcoholic beverage company Diageo threatened the categorizing of the brand, for now, it remains a whiskey.
Its aging process utilizes used barrels, which is the main reason why the whiskey can’t compete with bourbon, which requires new barrels. The spirit ages for at least three years, resulting in a semi-clear amber liquid in the bottle.
A unique aging process and specific grain formula result in a smooth and flavorful whiskey that earns high marks for its relatively low cost.
One reviewer noted that despite its “used barrel” appearance, the whiskey within has a corn sweet scent and touches of vanilla and rye spice. While it may not compete with pricier brands, Early Times holds its own whether it’s in a shot glass or a cocktail.
At the same time, the bold whiskey is the only flavor in today’s line, so there are no holiday blends or floral notes in any of these Kentucky whiskey bottles. Still, special editions in unique bottles emerge depending on the season and occasion.
A neat glass of whiskey (without ice, flavorings, or other alcohol) is one way to experience all the flavors of the drink fully. Adding ice won’t disrupt the taste substantially, so whiskey on the rocks is another common serving method. However, in bars, this type of whiskey often serves as the base for adventurous cocktails and mixed drinks without the cost of high shelf varieties.
Because it’s a lower-shelf variety, the brand is often available in big-box stores as well as wine and spirits outlets. For that reason, it’s an easily accessible product that appeals to a wide range of consumers. However, although past bottle variations have come and gone, the Kentucky Whisky version is the only consistent product on the market.
Since its ranking as the number one “bourbon” in the country, Early Times has mostly remained under the radar in the beverage world. Even without flashy campaigns and media spotlighting, sales continued to grow, and the personality of the brand was uncompromised.
Brown-Forman even claims that Early Times has ranked as the best-selling whiskey in the country, and it sells in over forty countries. Outside the United States, it also ranks as a top-selling bourbon, holding its place in the top four.
In 2006, Early Times Whiskey earned the silver award from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, an influential competition that started in 2000. Panels of judges participate in a blind taste test and rank spirits based on their quality and craftsmanship.
The Competition suggests that its medals are valuable as sales tools that set brands apart from their competitors and elicit trust in consumers. Brands must apply to the competition, and if they win, their award is part of a yearly magazine whose audience is companies in the beverage trade.
Yearly media and trade tasting events also position products in front of an esteemed audience, allowing additional opportunities for promotion and brand growth.