Buffalo Trace Provides Update On How It Is Addressing Bourbon Shortages - The Whiskey Wash

Buffalo Trace Provides Update On How It Is Addressing Bourbon Shortages

One topic that’s often been at the center of debate in the world of Kentucky bourbon in recent times is the so-called bourbon shortage. Whether you believe it is real or not, distilleries making this form of whiskey have taken various steps to address it in their own ways, such as limiting certain more popular releases and putting a lot more unaged whiskey into barrel. One of those on the forefront of this is Buffalo Trace, and folks there have just provided an update on how their progress is going.

Buffalo Trace, back in 2013, said it took a critical look at its bourbon inventory, current sales, and 20 year sales projections and determined it had a problem: fans were drinking more bourbon than the company had predicted. It thus put a majority of its bourbons on allocation so it didn’t supposedly run out. It also increased distillation and started added aging warehouse space, thinking these steps, among others, “were the appropriate reaction to the problem, rather than raising prices to slow sales or compromising taste or quality to bottle more by diluting proof, or bottling barrels before they fully matured.”

One of the older Buffalo Trace aging warehouses (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Fast forward to 2018, and bourbon growth in the United States continues at a furious pace. For Buffalo Trace, they feel this is a relatively good thing given their predictions and planning. It has resulted in the following statuses for its various bottlings:

  • Fans of Buffalo Trace Bourbon will enjoy finding more bottles available in 2018, but the company still suspects it will not be enough to meet demand.
  • There’s good news on other brands too, like Eagle Rare, W. L. Weller, E. H. Taylor Jr, and Blanton’s Single Barrel, as all of these brands will see more barrels come of age and bottles produced in 2018.
  • The Distillery will continue to bottle other fan favorites such as Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, Elmer T. Lee and Sazerac Rye as barrels mature, but unfortunately there will be little growth on these brands.

“When I started with the company in 1995,” said Buffalo Trace master distiller Harlen Wheatley in a prepared statement, “we filled 12,000 barrels a year. Today the growth seems moderate, but when you think about how far we’ve come, it’s actually phenomenal, considering when we’re on track to produce 200,000 barrels this year.”

Even with all of this pretty positive news, Buffalo Trace advised it expects the majority of its whiskeys will still be on allocation, and will continue bourbon allocations across the U.S. to ensure each state receives some. Aggressive expansion plans to the tune of nearly $1.2 billion continue at the distillery, meanwhile, and include the following to date:

  • Already, two new barrel warehouses are complete with new barrels are being loaded inside. The third is going up rapidly, and the foundation has been started for the fourth. When complete, each of these new warehouses will hold 58,800 barrels of whiskey. The plan is to build one new warehouse every four months for the next several years. Each warehouse cost $7.5 million to build and $21.0 million to fill with barrels.
  • All those barrels means whiskey production must be increased too, which is why Buffalo Trace is in the process of replacing its boilers (some of which have been in place since the 1950s) and is prepping its site to add a new cooling tower next summer.  The cooling tower cools down the water that is used for cooling down the grain after its cooked into mash.
  • Next summer, the Distillery plans to add four new cookers, twice the size of the existing cookers. Plus, four new fermenters will be installed. These 92,000 gallons fermenting tanks will be same size as the existing fermenters – the largest in the distilling industry.
  • The distllery expansion will displace the main bottling operation at Buffalo Trace. So a new bottling hall is being built at a cost of $50.0 million which will improve efficiency, flexibility and overall quality. The move is expected to be complete by the end of 2018.

How all of these changes will ultimately address this bourbon shortage remains to be seen. What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below.

About the author

    Nino Marchetti

    Nino Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and provided tasting input on many whiskeys at competitions. He also maintains a large private collection of whiskey from which he continually educates his palate on this brown spirit type.