It is interesting in the fact that distillers did not rely upon taste to sell there whiskey as much as the concept of "purity" of their product. There are many advertisements that discuss the chemical analysis of the product proving the whiskey is "pure" but very few that even mention taste. The one I do recall is from the 1913 Southern Prosperity edition of the Courier-Journal. The distiller advertises that his whiskey still has that "scorched corn" taste that so many people liked in older brands made by farmer distillers in their pot stills. i am not sure that was a good approach for long time sales, but what the hey, if it worked for him...
Anyway, the idea of "Purity" was a more important concept than taste. With the muck rakers writing about the unsanitary conditions of the meat packing industry and the unhealthy component of patent medicine, the consumer actually was more interested in finding products that were not going to maim or kill them than what it tasted like, assuming the product did taste good. In many ways this concept held true until the 1980's when the wine craze with its tasting notes were everywhere in magazines and people started to apply the same ideas to whiskey and offer them to the public.
In the 1950's bourbons were advertised as being pure, and with a certain amount of prestige indicating an upper class element to drinking bourbon. Slogans included "Always a Pleasure" with a tuxedo clad bowing man for I W Harper, 'The Keys to Success" with Old Fitzgerald, "The Aristocrat of Bourbons" with Kentucky Tavern and so on. What they actually tasted like and how the brands differed in taste were not a selling factor. This does change some in the 60's and 70's as words such as "mellow" and "smooth" become an important part of advertising, but still no real flavor discriptors.
The idea of tasting notes before 1980 just did not seem to exist. The closest anyone might find to such notes witll probably be the recipes used by rectifiers to recreate aged whiskey without aging. Caramelized sugar, mint oil, strong tea and coloring are the components from the 1860's rectifying book in the Getz Museum. These ingredients indicate that the old bourbon he is trying to duplicate is similar to what is often found today.
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873