We’re sorry to have to break it to you, but there’s no easy way to say it: we’re smack in the middle of a bourbon shortage.
Buffalo Trace distillery issued a statement last week claiming that the entire Bourbon industry is now “feeling the full effects” of an inability to meet demand, reports The Spirits Business. Buffalo Trace first admitted to a shortage of stocks last year, and Makers Mark announced last year that it would lower its abv to stretch supplies—a questionable decision which it has since reversed.
Mark Brown, CEO of Sazerac (Buffalo Trace’s parent company), told The Spirits Business,
“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.”
Brown says the continuing high demand meant the distillery was “100,000 barrels short of where it needed to be.”
Go pour yourself two fingers to soften the blow, and read on to find out exactly why this bourbon shortage is happening.
America just had a banner year for whiskey sales.
Great, right? As long as there’s demand, your favorite distillery will just keep cranking out and aging the magic juice to make your day a little brighter. Sales are what keep businesses going, after all. But, as Maker’s Mark explained, “Fact is, demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply.”
Added to that, export sales in particular have been booming. While Quartz reports that the U.S. is still the strongest consumer of bourbon (73% of stock, at last count), several countries around the world have been increasing their consumption as well. Last year, bourbon export sales topped the billion dollar mark.
We like quality, aged bourbons and whiskeys. A little too much.
The thing about good bourbon and whiskey is, they take time to get so good. You can’t speed up the aging process—well, maybe we’ll be able to in the near future, but not yet anyway. One of the main factors that makes many of the most prized bottles so good is time, and that’s something no one can manufacture. That also means that in times of shortage, distilleries can’t suddenly amp up production for the end of the month—they have to be thinking long-term. Increasing production now means you’ll get some beautiful aged whiskey, but in several years.
When demand is low, distilleries don’t make as much.
Makes sense, right? Basic laws of supply and demand in play. But in recent years, we’ve been spoiled by all the good bourbons, whiskeys, and scotches that weren’t selling in the ’80s and ’90s. Even less expensive brands were putting out stuff that had been well aged, which still tasted pretty great. Of course, you taste something good at a party or a bar, and then you want to buy a bottle for yourself. Multiply that by several million, and then you start selling out because there’s only so much to go around. This cycle isn’t anything new to the industry, but it’s important to understand.
You can blame part of the shortage on the harshness of last winter.
That harsh winter means there’s a serious shortage of American oak barrels available to distilleries right now, which could last as long as 12 to 24 months. The logging industry was hit very hard, which of course makes supplying wood to cooperages (barrel-makers) more difficult, and so on. (What we’re saying is, last winter was just a complete dick.)
Luckily, whiskey stops aging once it’s bottled, so it’s completely possible to hoard your favorites. Eat Like A Man has some other helpful tips to get you through this hard time.
The Spirits Business recently reported that Bourbon distillers predict the shortage will be “short lived”, but is expected to last two years. Ouch.
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