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Issue 72 - Expansion demands

Whisky Magazine Issue 72
June 2008


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Expansion demands

Charles K.Cowdery looks at what the US distilling community is doing to meet the growing demand for their products

It's been 40 years. Right after the Second World War, American whiskey sales boomed. Existing distilleries expanded and many new distilleries were built, as the industry rushed to regain production capacity lost during Prohibition and postponed by the war.

The boom was a long one. It continued through the 1960s but rather than just slow down, it crashed; a collapse so colossal it cost the industry half its volume.

Because it happened so suddenly, the bust produced a glut of ageing whiskey which only recently has worked its way through the pipeline. The last 40 years have been a long period of stagnation, followed by a slow revival.

Exports started that revival. From a small base, American whiskey exports have grown steadily for the last two decades and exceeded $1 billion for the first time in 2007.

Today, several of America's whiskeymakers are operating at near-capacity. A building boom is underway.

But to understand the present mood in whiskey country you have to know some of that history. Everyone is glad American whiskey sales are up, at home and abroad, and producers are investing in increased production capacity again, but no one is breaking out the paper hats and noisemakers. There is enthusiasm, even hope, but it is muted by bad memories, cautionary tales our fathers told us, the spectre of good, aged whiskey being redistilled into fuel ethanol because there is no market for it.

So industry planners can be excused for taking the short side of the long view.


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