Jim Beam fills 15 millionth barrel as bourbon industry looks toward the future

CLERMONT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jim Beam has reached a huge milestone. 

Fred and Freddie Noe filled the bourbon company's 15 millionth barrel Monday afternoon, a count that began at the end of prohibition.

"We're the first distillery to hit that milestone," Master Distiller Fred Noe said. "It just shows that the demand for bourbon is still strong."

The industry as a whole now brings $8.5 billion year to the Bluegrass. However, bourbon has boomed before, only to see consumer preferences shift.

"We do refer to that time, when clear spirits were on the rise and brown spirits were down, we refer to that as the dark ages," said Colleen Thomas with the Kentucky Distillers Association.

So could the dark ages ever return?

"Could it come? We can't say that it won't," Thomas said. "We talk about it in terms of maybe less of a bubble bursting and more of just a leveling off. Of course, everyone prepares for that in their own way with their own business."

Thomas added there are a lot of reasons to believe that is well down the road, if at all. She cited the craft movement, expansion and all-time production highs for feeling the way she does.

If a downturn were to come, Thomas said experts in the business would see it well in advance. Plus, she said there are still places in the world that haven't experienced the drink like its old Kentucky home.

"There are some untapped markets internationally that are just begging for more and more bourbon," Thomas said.

It's proof she and Noe suggested that bourbon will be strong for years to come. 

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