Earth Day report: Will climate change affect bourbon production?


We had kind of a strange winter in Kentucky this year – very little snow, just a few cold snaps, and overall pretty mild. Since the variation in seasonal temperatures plays a huge role in bourbon production – the liquid expands into the staves of the barrels during our (usually) hot summers and contracts during our (usually) cold winters, drawing flavor and color from the wood with it – I started wondering about climate change and how, or if, it might ultimately affect bourbon in Kentucky.

In honor of Earth Day, I posed that question to Dr. Rob Kingsolver, dean of the new School of Environmental Studies at Bellarmine University in Louisville. He directed me to the Nature Conservancy’s Climate Wizard map, which you can find here.

“This interactive climate map is a good representation of the average predictions from lots of climate models,” he said. “As the modelers get more data and improve their methods, their predictions are yielding more and more consistent results, so our confidence in their accuracy continues to grow over time.”

As you’ll see when you click on the map, you first choose an area of the globe to analyze. Under “time period” you can choose near term or long term. Under “map options” you can select the expected change from present averages. Under “measurement” you can select temperature and see projections for different times of year.

“My interpretation is that we can expect warmer and wetter conditions year round, but Kentucky will not see as much climate change as some other parts of the country,” Rob said. “More frequent droughts in the corn belt may cause higher corn prices. I don’t know how that affects the industry, but it could make our smaller farms in the commonwealth more viable.

“I guess hotter summers could increase the ‘angels’ share’ of alcohol lost to evaporation, so the angels can look forward to good times ahead.”

Leave a Reply

The Bourbon Babe