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Is America Running Out of Whiskey?

The spirit's popularity could make it hard for producers to meet demand.


Photo: iStockphoto.com

It is no doubt a golden age for American whiskey. Since 2000, whiskey’s percentage of the spirits market share has grown steadily, now accounting for more than a third of the alcoholic beverage market. Visit a decent liquor store and you’ll see shelves filled with a tantalizing variety of brown spirits—bourbons, ryes, sour mash whiskeys—from the American classics to craft distillery small batches.

 

But those delicious whiskeys take a long time to produce—four, six, even 10 years or more—and consumption has for a long time been outstripping production. And now lower tariffs are leading to more whiskey being shipped to overseas markets. Last year Maker’s Mark even considered cutting its alcohol content from 45 to 42 percent to extend supply (then reversed course after a strong backlash among its loyal drinkers). All this has led to speculation and reports that pretty soon American whiskey producers may not be able to meet demand.

In a year that has already seen an ill-timed shortage in one of the most essential of cocktail ingredients, the lime, the idea of a whiskey shortage doesn’t sit well.

So to find out if we really need to worry about an impending crisis, we reached out to an expert on whiskey issues to get the scoop.

“I don’t think you need to run out to the liquor store to stock up,” says Frank Coleman, senior vice president of communications at the Distilled Spirits Council. “There is probably going to be some tightness at some of the higher price points and with some of the smaller brands. But broadly speaking, there’s plenty of supply. There's more than a million barrels of bourbon aging right now in Kentucky alone.”

The whiskey companies have seen ups and down before, Coleman points out, and in the decade plus of the current renaissance they’ve taken steps to meet the rising demand. “The big producers have been ramping up production for years now, investing hundreds of millions into building bigger stills and expanding capacity. They weren’t caught unaware by this trend.”

That’s good to know. Still, maybe we’ll pick up a few extra bottles of bourbon this week to put aside - just in case.


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