Then, in 1983, Brown-Forman, which purchased the old label back in the 1920s (that's right, during Prohibition), started called the stuff "Kentucky Whiskey." This is not because the formula had changed at all. Rather, Brown-Forman began aging the liquor in used barrels, rather than the new charred American oak barrels required by law if one is to use the name Bourbon. No doubt this was a cost-saving measure.
Now, Brown-Forman is rolling out the new barrels again. There will soon be two Early Times whiskeys on the shelf: the Kentucky Whiskey we all know; and Early Times 354, a full-fledged Bourbon with a flashy new bottle.
One can easily tell the difference between the two. The old Early Times is smoothly and more innocuous. The new stuff has more spark, spice and depth. The 354 is not exactly Earth-shattering, simply a decent bench-level Bourbon. But I definitely prefer it, and it makes a decent Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
Back in 1958, Early Times was actually America’s number one selling straight Bourbon whisky and Brown-Forman’s biggest seller. Don't know if history will repeat itself itself now, but anything's possible.