Perhaps I should recognize that the difference between Jack Daniels and bourbon is essentially terminological. Even so, there could have been 20 or 50 big international straight whiskeys like that. Instead, we have Jack Daniels, and to be sure Jim Beam, and Maker's Mark and a host of other brands (mostly for the domestic market) at different price points. I am not taking away from any of this success or market availability of good bourbon. But again in comparison to vodka sales, it could have been so much bigger. Maybe one day it will again.
Just for some context, here is an impressively detailed report from the British Columbia Liquor Stores:http://www.bcliquorstores.com/files/att ... Review.pdf
Look at the pie charts on page 30. Vodka sales were approximately 5 percentage points higher than whiskies of all categories. I would view this as more or less typical of established beverage alcohol markets today.
To view this from a different prism, is the majority of the beer consumed today clear and tasteless? No, not even mass-produced beer was ever reduced to that. As a fan of fine beer I want to anticipate the possible objections that mass market lager became fairly tasteless - to be sure this is all relative but even the big national brands are still beer and do not taste like seltzer water. The brewers kept the essence of beer as beer. Perhaps a better example is the international wine market. Wine was never turned into something not tasting of wine. Certainly a product has evolved today which is rounded and fruity (for the mass market I mean) but it is certainly wine. I suppose one could say that wine just naturally tastes better to people than straight whiskey decently matured. But I am not convinced of that.
In referring to established spirits markets, I want to except Russia and numerous eastern European countries since vodka is traditional in, indeed derives from, those places. In the 1800's, the norm in Britain and North America for spirits was whisky. However long it was aged - and obviously there were different qualities from the beginning - whisky was inherently highly flavorful by comparison. Even the least matured moonshine (or potcheen in Ireland) had taste galore. True, by the later 1800's, methodical blending became common in Canada and the U.S.. I have heard that around, say, 1900, the majority of whiskey sold was blended, not straight. I haven't seen hard figures on that, but even if it was true (it appears to have been in Canada at least), I would say two things. First, the blended whisky of 1900 was probably pretty good in relation to today's version. Second and more important, it was still a form of whisky. It will always be a conundrum I guess to know exactly why even this attenuated form of whisky became a much smaller thing than it was originally in the national spirits markets. I have an older relation who used to drink Wiser's. In the last 20 years, he drinks only vodka. I once asked him why. He said, "I don't know, that's what everyone was drinking". My point is that straight whiskey producers in the 1930's-1970's might have made a greater effort to explain what they were selling, how to drink it, and why it was a valued part of the heritage of spirituous drinks. (Some did, e.g., Maker's Mark, Stitzel-Weller, but very few. Most of the ads from the 30's-70's I have seen from the large companies for bourbon speak to status, or historical pedigree in a vague way. At most they might mention "rich" taste or something like that). Cognac makers had always done this. Perhaps the legacy of Prohibition and the always Janus-faced side of the alcohol question inhibited them.