Back in July, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association announced that in another sign of bourbon’s remarkable resurgence, the number of barrels aging in Kentucky warehouses has exceeded 5 million for the first time since 1977 (5,294,988, to be exact). Kentucky distilleries filled 1.2 million of those barrels in 2013, the most since 1970.
There’s no question that’s a lot of barrels of bourbon. But the number is still significantly smaller than it was during the last bourbon boom, during the 1950s and ’60s. In 1967, there were 8 million barrels of whiskey in Kentucky warehouses, Clay Risen wrote earlier this year in Fortune.
Unfortunately, American tastes turned to clear spirits before all that bourbon could be bottled and sold, leading to a whiskey glut and a drastic slowdown in subsequent production: In 1999, distillers put just 450,000 barrels away, Risen noted.
Now bourbon is hot again. But for how long? It’s a serious question for distillers, because the juice they are putting away today won’t be ready for consumption for four, eight, 10, 12 or 20+ years. Let’s hope the increasingly global appeal of our native spirit helps to ensure that those 5 million barrels are still in demand when they are ready to be dumped.
(Thanks to Julie Bartlett of The Bourbon Society for bringing this article to my attention.)