Demand for Kentucky bourbon pushes timber market to its limits - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Demand for Kentucky bourbon pushes timber market to its limits

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Every batch of bourbon must be aged in a brand new barrel made of virgin White Oak. Every batch of bourbon must be aged in a brand new barrel made of virgin White Oak.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- With the demand for bourbon comes the demand for timber and the future of the White Oak used barrel making isn't so cut and dry.

Every batch of bourbon must be aged in a brand new barrel made of virgin White Oak and with bourbon quickly taking over the spirit world, the timber industry is struggling to keep up.

Around 2,500 barrels are made every day. The journey to bourbon barrel starts with the White Oak tree -- found in large numbers across Kentucky. But experts warn the species may not always be in large supply.

"Right now we're growing what we're cutting," Jeff Stringer, with UK Department of Forestry, said. "Increased demand could cause a change in that. Coupled with a little stress from these insects and diseases and we could end up with a problem on our hands long term."

The demand for White Oak has skyrocketed in the last three years, thanks to a growing thirst for bourbon.

"All three of our company owned mills are on two shifts, as of last year, so we've tried to double the output of that just to keep up," Brown-Forman's Vice President of Cooperages Greg Roshkowski said.

But in order for oak orders to get fulfilled, the entire timber market has to be strong.

"There aren't just White Oak forests, its in a hard wood forest, so the logger going in needs a market for hickory, etc," Roshkowski said. "If there isn't a strong demand for that, there's no reason for the logger to go in."

Brown-Forman says the company's raw log cost is up 70 percent from a year and a half ago. Forestry experts warn that insects and disease could drive that number even higher.

"What we have to worry about is not something individually, but the accumulation of all of that -- including our demand," Stringer noted.

But for now, Brown-Forman considers a whiskey demand a good problem to have.

More: Images from the Brown-Forman's cooperage

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