Essential bourbon-making tools impacted by supply shortages
Distillers talk COVID impacts at bourbon conference
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Master distillers from around the country met at the university of Kentucky for the James B Beam Institute Bourbon Industry Conference. The annual conference gives distillers a chance to talk shop with other bourbon producers, and hash-out some of the industry’s problems.
Bourbon distillers say over the past decade, there’s been a huge increase in demand for bourbon. But the spike in sales has coincided with supply chain shortages for essential bourbon-making tools, like glass, grain and barrels. The bourbon industry is also, not immune from labor shortages. Some distillers say this affects cooperages, businesses that make the barrels bourbon age in.
“I think as we turn to how do we make our people better and how do we retain good people and attract new talent,” says Aaron Harris, head distiller and director of operations at Watershed Distillery. “I think that’s a huge focus for everyone here.”
According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, the bourbon industry employs nearly 23,000 Kentuckians with an annual payroll of more than a billion dollars.
“A lot of people don’t know that there’s a lot of opportunities outside of, you know they probably think it’s just [master distillers] doing everything,” says Freddie Noe, eighth-generation distiller for Jim Beam. “From the cooperage all the way to the distillery all the way to sales, right?”
With COVID restrictions relaxing and warmer weather on the way, distillers say they’re excited to welcome back tourists.
“January, February, March is usually the slow period of every year but we are seeing people coming back so it’s really great news,” says Joyce Nethery, master distiller at Jeptha Creed Distillery.
“If anything, it’s us getting used to having them back in the operation, especially at these significant numbers,” says Denny Potter, master distiller and general manager of Makers Mark.
“Virtual tastings are not quite the same as doing it in person and actually seeing those reactions and not having to have everybody on mute during the talks,” says Nick Smith, head distiller and director of distillation at the Bardstown Bourbon Company.
The bourbon conference continues at U.K. through March 16th.