Kentucky Made A Hell Of A Lot Of Bourbon Last Year

Bourbon shortage? Hardly. At least not in the near future, as the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) announced today a staggering 1,886,821 barrels of bourbon were filled last year, breaking production records all the way back to 1967.

When you look at the rise and fall and rise again of bourbon production, you see a long history trail of the changing patterns of an industry. Back in 1967 1,922,009 barrels were filled, marking a high point in bourbon drinking interest. This dropped significantly thereafter, with numbers reported from 1999 indicating only 455,078 barrels produced. It then jumped significantly again, with a more than 315 percent production increase up through last year.

Bourbon barrels

There be bourbon in those barrels (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

All total, the state known for bourbon and race horses now has 6,657,063 barrels of America’s most favorite whiskey aging across it. Put another way, that’s around 1.5 barrels per person living in Kentucky. All of these barrels also translate into a good tax revenue for local coffers to support those people, with $17,814,134 in ad valorem barrel taxes being paid this year to go towards the support of education, public safety, public health and other needs in local communities.

“This is astounding, phenomenal, mammoth,” said KDA President Eric Gregory in a statement. “We’re running out of adjectives to describe the growth and success of Kentucky Bourbon. Plus, filling nearly 2 million barrels in one year should remove any doubts about the future of our signature industry.”

As we’ve already reported on multiple times, the growth Gregory mentions in large part has created a boom in distillery expansions. KDA members (not all distilleries in Kentucky, most notably Buffalo Trace, belong to this industry group) are in the midst of a $1.3 billion building boom, from new production facilities to aging warehouses, expanded bottling lines, state-of-the-art tourism centers and more.

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All of these new build out projects, in turn, are getting ready to house more and more bourbon tourists. The KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail and related Craft Tour have already set attendance records from last year, with nearly 900,000 guests touring an all-time high of 19 participating distilleries.

As you do a Kentucky chew on all of this, here are a few more factoids to take note of as well:

  • Bourbon isn’t the only spirit aging in barrels. When you include brandy and other whiskies, the state’s total barrel inventory was 7.2 million in 2015, the highest total since 1973.
  • Production in 2014 was 1,306,375 barrels. That means distilleries filled more than 580,000 barrels in 2015 over the previous year (44 percent increase). That’s the biggest difference in year-to-year production since 1967 and triples the previous record.
  • The tax-assessed value of aging barrels this year is $2.4 billion, an increase of $299 million from 2015 and a 135 percent increase over the last 10 years.
  • Kentucky Bourbon is said to be a $3 billion economic engine that generates more than 15,400 jobs with an annual payroll topping $700 million and pours $166 million into state and local coffers each year.


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