By Richard Thomas
As soon as the Tennessee whiskey law wrangle was out of the news, it was replaced by “The Great American Whiskey Shortage.” Sparked by an announcement from Buffalo Trace that they wouldn’t be able to meet demand for the foreseeable future, the storyline has been flogged in the mainstream media for a month now. Much like the whiskey shortfall itself, the story has no end in sight.
Along the way, the story has been inflated from Buffalo Trace announcing the necessity continue its rationing policy for many of its brands for the foreseeable future into a veritable Whiskeygeddon, a Summer of the Shark-style hysteria. According to this telling, a painful crisis awaits whiskey drinkers, one that will see entire liquor store shelves laid bare, astronomical prices, and declining quality in American whiskey products.
However, this problem is nowhere near as severe as this recent example of yellow journalism in effect would make it out. Demand for American whiskey has undeniably surged ahead of supply, especially in the last few years, and that has been marked by a handful of adjustments. Wild Turkey increased their barreling proof, Maker’s Mark attempted to water down their bourbon and is now using barrel wash to eek it out, and Buffalo Trace introduced their aforementioned rationing in place of jacking up prices. Almost unnoticed, except by Steve Ury of Sku’s Recent Eats, has been the shift of many expressions to No Age Statement (NAS) status.
At the same time, the single worst symptom of a whiskey shortage was caused by the media itself, when the idea that W.L. Weller expressions could serve as a Pappy Van Winkle substitute caught on, was repeated on multiple major websites and in magazines, and caused a run on everything named “Weller.” Excepting when the rye craze caught the industry in general unawares, this is the only instance of a whole class of whiskey disappearing from American shelves nationwide during the entire ongoing boom.
Don’t believe everything you read, and don’t get caught up in a yellow media panic. Jack Daniel’s has kept on top of things, and so has Jim Beam according to Fred Minnick. Wild Turkey has just completed a major expansion project, Maker’s Mark has embarked on one after years of delay, Diageo is preparing to break ground on a new major distillery, and there are many solid new entrants in the craft sector. Even if demand continues to surge, the worst outcome will be a few years where the supply gets a little tighter and prices rise a little faster while all the new output readies for market. Tales of the world supply of whisk(e)y being guzzled down are, as usual, overdone.