Early Times Whisky Turns 160 Years Old - The Whiskey Wash

Early Times Whisky Turns 160 Years Old

By Nino Marchetti / January 16, 2020

Early Times Whisky is one of those storied American whiskey labels that resides these days in the well of many a bar as a decent cheap drink. It is noted by parent company Brown-Forman as currently being the 7th largest unflavored whiskey in the United States available in markets all over the world. The brand is celebrating its founding 160 years ago this year, and to give you a more complete history of it here is information on it as shared to us by those behind it.

Born in 1860 and raised in Nelson County, Kentucky, one of the most historic whiskey brands on the market, Early Times Kentucky Whisky, celebrates its founding 160 years ago. 

“160 years is a long time in the whiskey world,” said Dallas Cheatham, Early Times Senior Brand Manager. “In 1860, The Pony Express was delivering mail, Abraham Lincoln was elected president and Early Times was born. It’s a true testament to the long-standing history of the brand and whiskey being part of the American fabric.” 

Early Times was originally produced using “the early times method” of whiskey making, which consisted of mashing grain in small tubs and boiling beer and whisky in copper stills over open fires. This unique method of production continued until 1918 when the 18th Amendment passed banning the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol for consumption. For 5 years, barrels of mature Early Times Whisky sat idle in the distillery’s classic iron-clad maturation warehouses. 

Early Times Whisky

Early Times Whisky (image via Brown-Forman)

In dire need of a mature whiskey to operate as a bottler and wholesaler during Prohibition, Owsley Brown, owner of Brown-Forman, acquired Early Times stocks in 1923, the company’s first purchased brand, and resumed sales under its medicinal whiskey permit. As Prohibition came to a close, Brown-Forman geared up to begin distilling Early Times. To keep up with the brands growth, Brown-Forman acquired the Old Kentucky Distillery, which later became the Early Times Distillery, providing the brand a home of its own. Today, the historic plant, now named the Brown-Forman Distillery, remains the home of Early Times and stands as the longest continuously operating distillery under the same ownership in Kentucky.

As the country recovered from WWII, distribution of Early Times spread nationwide. To meet a wide and diverse array of markets and consumers, Early Times offered expressions in a range of proof levels and ages. As whiskey popularity grew, Early Times was one of the first brands to recognize and capitalize on the mixability of bourbon and cocktail trends, which led it to become the #1 selling Kentucky Bourbon in America in 1953. 

“It’s amazing to see how many generations of families have had this brand on their bar,” said Brown-Forman Historian and Storyteller, Tim Holz. “With its rich history and deep connections to Kentucky’s distilling heritage, Early Times has played a key role in the American Whiskey category throughout its 160 years.” 

In 1945, Early Times Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon was introduced adhering to the U.S. Bottled-in-Bond Act (1897) which requires bourbon to be the product of one distillation season, one distiller from one distillery and aged at least four years in secured federal warehouses, while bottled at 100 proof. In 2017, Early Times reintroduced Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon as a legacy expression and a nod to Early Times’ storied history and heritage of quality.