Since I have been spending a lot of time trawling through 1800's sources on whiskey in Google Books, I would be remiss not to mention the many materials I found which either were frankly critical of whiskey or at best noncommital. I can rarely if ever recall reading a statement in a newspaper, book, pamphlet or speech that had anything positive to say about it. In general, this was true of all alcohol but obloquy was reserved especially for whiskey. There seemed to be an attitude about whiskey that can be summed up by saying that it was all or nothing: the people who drank it were viewed as drunkards or on the way to being so, and people who didn't were preserving life, health and sanity from a terrible danger. The only glimmer I found of alcohol's possible benefit was a limited recognition of its medical value, and even this diminishes as the 19th century wore on. Dr. Benjamin Rush, the well-known early 1800's physician, was a staunch opponent of liquor and many of his colleagues were no less critical.
This attitude seems broadly to have had two sources: first, temperance attitudes grounded in religious beliefs, especially (from what I can glean) of various Protestant denominations and evangelical sects; second, a non-religious, "progressive" (for lack of a better term) stance which viewed alcohol as dangerous to health, family life and public order.
I have to assume that the reality was more complex, that, then, as now, there were people, I would like to think the great majority, who used alcohol sanely and regarded it as an enhancer to civilized life. But this perspective seems absent from the admittedly non-methodical reading I have been doing. This seems the case leading right up to the creation of National Prohibition in 1919.
Thus, in some 1800's histories of Kentucky, there seemed only the barest if any reference to bourbon. Occasionally one could tell that the writer was not opposed to the rational use of spirits but did not feel able to expound on this aspect of State history. Usually, references to whiskey are limited to a recitation of production figures, and in some accounts as I say, even relating to Bourbon County, no reference is made to whiskey at all. A number of travellers' accounts (often visiting Britons), sometimes mention whiskey as a social habit but usually in critical or desultory terms. The depredations visited on Indians through the sale of alcohol to them are sometimes noted with understandable dudgeon, and this probably helped to color the view of whiskey in general.
The leading lights of society at the time - the diverse spheres of influence guiding society's course, in other words - seemed resolutely opposed to drinking and yet we know that a huge counter-current existed in the form of the large public consumption of beverage alcohol. Even though per capita use peaked in the early 1800's (the well-known book The Alcoholic Republic is superb on this aspect), alcohol's attractions never ceased especially but not only in the larger towns and cities.
The social history of the responsible use of alcohol seems largely absent in the "official" 1800's literature, the one that is whose task was to chronicle daily events, give public instruction, write recent history and otherwise describe what society was doing and what it ought to do. I find this extraordinary because as I say the anti-alcohol animus came not just from a certain religious base but also from the scientific, medical, "progressive" side of society. I wonder if perhaps this can be explained by the fact that alcohol and therefore alcohol education were poorly understood at the time. Society, becoming ever distanced from its rural, pre-industrial past, was still grappling with whether and how to include alcohol in its practices and mores.
While this was not a world-wide phenomenon, it did also reflect similar attitudes in parts of Europe then especially northern Europe including Britain. I believe that the common link was the culture of drinking spirits. Spirits had only a limited use in Southern Europe, for example. But in the Scandinavian countries, parts of Britain, Russia and America there was a parallel official concern about the abuse of alcohol and periodic attempts were made to censure or ban it. The U.S.' Maine Law, an early Prohibition effort, found an echo soon in many parts of Europe including Scandinavia. I assume that there was good reason for this concern, in that the costs of alcohol abuse were often evident and undeniable. But I find it remarkable that no sustained effort, from what I can see, was made to teach people who were resolved to drink to do so responsibly. Have one whiskey instead of half a bottle, for example. Lace it with water, sip not gulp it. Maybe have a beer instead of a whiskey. Think about how much you are consuming. And so on. You never see this kind of advice (or I didn't) in the period literature and again it seemed alcohol was viewed as a mortal danger likely to condemn to perdition anyone caught in its grasp. I accept of course that there was a tendency (and still is) in the countries mentioned, really in all countries, to abuse alcohol. It is a serious issue and needs to be taken seriously. We see this issue getting current coverage in the U.K. for example with the suggestion to impose a minimum, higher price for alcohol units sold in bars and restaurants. However, the idea of sustained, early alcohol education involving for example the public educational system seems, now as in the 1800's, not to be seen as a solution.
The flip side of what I state above is that there is almost no record of a "connoisseur's" attitude to whiskey in 1800's literature. I don't think I overstate the position to say that one interested in the different tastes of whiskey or other liquors would, under the official public view, have been regarded as someone engaged in a reprehensible, dangerous and anti-social pursuit. Rarely if ever were different brands compared, vintages assessed, opinions given. Clearly, it was regarded as irresponsible or at least not meet to write about such things publicly. An alternate literature might exist in the form of company records, diaries, private papers and other such sources of popular and social history, but society's official record seems a one-way street. It is unimaginable, for example, that anything like Michael Jackson's writings on whisky could have emerged in America in the 1800's leading up to Prohibition. True, Alfred Barnard in the U.K., in his late 1800's work on whisky (he did one on beer and breweries too), did reflect something of a modern approach to the subject - in fact he was an acknowledged influence on Jackson - but this was an exception and nothing like this occurred to my knowledge in America.