Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

Bourbon’s boom and bust

04/18/2014 4:28 PM

04/23/2014 10:43 AM

Did you know there’s a serious shortage of Kentucky bourbon whiskey?

Did you also know bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States as long as the distiller adheres to the United State government’s rules for bourbon production?

Yes, the government has specific guidelines pertaining to the production of bourbon whiskey, America’s native spirit. Think of it this way, all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.

I’ll have more on the distinct nature of bourbon production, but first back to the shortage of bourbon from Kentucky, where the vast majority of this long-prized, primarily corn-based spirit is produced.

Lately, Kentucky bourbon’s popularity is on the rise, and that popularity is to blame for the shortage —increasing popularity is leading to decreasing availability.

“We are making more bourbon every day,” said Kris Comstock, bourbon marketing director for Buffalo Trace Distillery, which traces its heritage back more than 225 years to 1787.

“Our warehouses are filling up with new barrels. Waiting for the bourbon to come of age is the hard part.”

Buffalo Trace Distillery is home to brands such as Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace and the hard-to-find Pappy Vanwinkle.

The company is selling more of those, and other premium brands these days and because of that, supply is having a hard time keeping up with demand.

Nielsen data backs it up. Bourbon sales are up more than 5-1/2 percent over the last 12 months, according to according to company research.

Sales of ultra-premium brands — those over $25 bottle — and the bourbons that age a lot longer in barrel before release are growing even faster, nearly 20-percent in the last year. That means limited supplies and likely higher prices for your favorite Kentucky-based libation.

Chris Ridler, whose whiskey-themed restaurant/bar Barrel 31 recently opened 31st Street in Kansas City, doesn’t appear concerned.

“Whiskeys have gone through shortages and surpluses for years,” he said. “We were lucky over the past 10 years to enjoy at lot of 1980s-era whiskeys as the spirit fell out of favor for vodka. But as the pendulum swings, we are seeing the expensive whiskeys getting more difficult to obtain, and I think it will make that bottle on our shelf that much more meaningful for special occasions.”

There are other options, too, including local bottlings. As I mentioned earlier, as long as distillers adhere to the precise rules for bourbon production, which includes, but is not limited to the following: The spirit has to be comprised of at least 51-percent corn. It must be potted in charred, new oak, white barrels. And, it has to be aged a minimum of two years prior to its release.

So, if you’re having trouble finding your favorite Kentucky Bourbon, why not try a Lenexa bourbon from Dark Horse Distillery, which offers a spirit called Reserve Bourbon Whiskey.

“Kentucky is the birth place and the state most well-known for bourbon,” said Damian Garcia of Dark Horse Distillery. “It’s a really interesting time, though. There are many distilleries outside Kentucky, including ours, who are bringing their own taste to the industry.”

Garcia describes the Dark Horse Reserve Bourbon as “smooth and smokey, with caramel and a light maple flavors and a distinct silky finish.”

As for as the Kentucky Bourbon shortage, Garcia had these thoughts.

“We’ve been lucky in that our production has met demand,” he said. “But we’d like to think that our Reserve Bourbon would sell regardless of any shortages from Kentucky.”

Still, the bourbon shortage is real and it’s here. And, Buffalo Trace’s Comstock said it could last a few years based on current sales trends.

Dark Horse Reserve Bourbon Whiskey anyone?

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.


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