Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bourbon Shortage - maybe / maybe not

Let's say you live in Houston Texas...chances are you can walk into any store and find W.L. Weller 12 year for $23 (I paid that just two weeks ago so it's real).  Let's say you walk into a liquor store in Pensacola Florida and see that same bottle on the shelf except it's behind glass and costs $199 (that's real too).  Here in Virginia fat chance finding any Weller products as Weller 12, Weller Antique and Special Reserve have pretty much disappeared from the shelves.  So, for me, there's a shortage because what was once found simply by walking into an ABC, now is not. 

About 6 weeks ago Tripp Mickle a staff writer with the Wall Street Journal contacted me about a story he was doing on whether there was a pending bourbon shortage.  It was a simple question but really produces a complex answer...or maybe non-answer.  Go back 4 decades and the American Distilling industry experienced a significant downturn in demand.  So much so that distilleries were bottling extra aged bourbon in labels that stated "This whiskey is four years old", only, it wasn't.  The glut lasted for quite a few years.  The difference now is that world demand for whiskey is at an all time high.  Japan has been a large consumer of American whiskey for a long time; so much so that they purchased both Four Roses and Beam Global.  China is a large consumer as is Europe.  That wasn't the case back in the 70's when all those barrels sat in the rick houses.  So, while a second glut is possible, I think unlikely.  The world loves bourbon and rye.

The Wall Street Journal article was released yesterday and makes for some interesting reading.  Yours truly is featured in the piece.  Additionally, the WSJ blog has a secondary posting on three bourbons worth the hunt.  Before anyone comments on the picture....I agree, I look pretty miserable.  I didn't get to pick what Polaroid was used.

Distillers are producing more now than ever, new distilleries are opening, craft distilling is gaining greater foothold in the market, storage is expanding and new expressions are popping up almost monthly.  It's a great time for whiskey drinkers; even for Scotch, Irish, Japanese and other world whiskies.

My take?  There is a shortage but the net effect isn't felt among the typical consumer who picks up a Jack Daniels, Jim Beam White label or Makers Mark.  Those guys pump out serious distillate.  I'm talking about Limited Release and Small Batch.  Those bottles when released get snatched up in no time making acquisition very difficult.  I've been collecting long enough to have seen the shift in the marketplace where bourbon is hotter now than ever before.  So, if you like Blanton's, maybe pick up two bottles instead of one....you never know what tomorrow will bring.