Bourbon is as popular as ever, but as the beverage continues to grow, it is going to have to conquer some tariff and production problems as well as the stiff competition whisky is putting forth.
See, by statute, bourbon is required to be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. If it doesn’t meet this criteria, among others, then it isn’t considered bourbon. Even with the oak barrel market on the verge of a slight recovery, years of decreasing oak supply and increasing oak prices plus this two-year aging requirement has bourbon struggling to keep ahead of another popular brown spirit: whisky.
Whereas bourbon needs at least two years to age, distillers can whip up a batch of whisky in no time. Moreover, 60 to 80 percent of bourbon’s popular taste comes from the aging, so a lot of premium brands age their product for much longer. The result is an eventual very smooth batch of bourbon…and a bourbon shortage in the meantime.
Many whisky innovators are taking advantage of technology shortened aging processes and, you guessed it, stainless steel tanks and barrels to create unique flavors in days. Or, they use oak wood chips or other oak alternatives to age their product in just four months. Using stainless steel and other technological advancements allows whisky distillers to save time and money all while making more product.
Meanwhile, bourbon distillers are left dropping big money on new oak barrels and waiting the required two years or more before they can send their product to market.
While Skolnik’s stainless steel food-grade barrels are most often used in winemaking, we have quite a few partners using them for spirits as well. We’ll be curious to see how/if the bourbon industry adapts to the challenges that face them.