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‘Whiskey Crisis’ Looms Over America’s Drinking Culture

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Buffalo Trace Bourbon - cocktail with muddled  mint, orange bitters, Bonal Gentiane Quina
Buffalo Trace Bourbon – cocktail with muddled mint, orange bitters, Bonal Gentiane Quina

Just like the craft beer explosion before it, this is boom times for spirits. So many interesting variants available that were not around 20 years ago. But whiskey takes a while to go from still to bottle, and thus the supply of quality whiskey is dwindling. Better stock up, boyos…

The surge of interest in whiskey has been a boon for distillers, but it has also led to a shortage of many brands and varietals that has been dubbed a “whiskey crisis” by the media.

Over the past year, bourbon sales increased 5 percent overall, but premium brands experienced a 20 percent rise in growth, according to the Frankfort, Kentucky.-based Buffalo Trace Distillery. And over the past six years, sales of premium whiskeys costing more than $15 per bottle at wholesale have grown by 97 percent, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. That has led to a series of distilleries reporting that they have been unable to produce enough whiskey to fulfill consumers’ growing desire for the brown liquor.

The increase in demand has driven prices of many premium whiskeys upward, and some have gone through the roof.

Fred Minnick, a Louisville whiskey expert and author of the book “Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey,” says that the whiskey industry is unique because it takes several years to distill good whiskey, and that makes it difficult for companies to keep up with demand spikes.

“The whiskey shortage is very real. The demand is so strong that they can’t meet it. Why is that? The reason is because this whiskey that they’re bottling and putting on the shelves today was conceived at a time when demand wasn’t that high. It was coming off the still in about 2005,” Minnick said. “It’s very difficult for distillers to forecast — in the case of Maker’s Mark, six years out, or Elijah Craig 12-Year-Old, back in 2002 — what the demand will be when it comes out of the barrel. “
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A number of other distilleries have made decisions over the past couple of years to raise prices, reduce proofs — water down their product, that is — or remove age labels from bottles in an attempt to make up for the growing appetite for bourbon and other whiskeys.

The whiskey shortage was back in the news again this month, when Buffalo Trace announced that the company has had trouble keeping up with a “recent surge in demand” for its bourbon.

“We’re making more bourbon every day. In fact, we’re distilling more than we have in [the] last 40 years,” Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace’s master distiller, said. “Still, it’s hard to keep up. Although we have more bourbon than last year when we first announced the rolling blackouts, we’re still short and there is no way to predict when supply will catch up with demand.”

(click here to continue reading ‘Whiskey Crisis’ Looms Over America’s Drinking Culture.)

This article used a photo of mine for illustrative purposes, by the way, though for some reason they didn’t choose a photo of Buffalo Trace.

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Written by Seth Anderson

May 31st, 2014 at 4:24 pm

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