New Study Could Mean Bad News For Bourbon Fans

Few spirits are as distinctly American as bourbon. But fans of the brown liquor might be disappointed in the future, as more and more bottles might become as elusive — and expensive — as Pappy Van Winkle. According to The Lane Report, there is a white oak crisis in the making, and if nothing changes in the near future, the key to making bourbon could be in short supply, if not lost.

The Lane Report explains that a host of influences are wreaking havoc on the tree variety used to make bourbon's signature barrels, and without white oak barrels (which are charred vessels used to age the liquor, reports The Bourbon Review), bourbon won't have the hallmark color and flavor you expect from the tipple. Environmental factors, harmful invasive insects, and even the practices used to manage forests have changed and all have impacted the rate at which white oaks are growing in eastern and central regions of the United States.

This is what scientists have found

After conducting a study to find just how quickly American white oaks could decline, scientists found that the change would begin within the next 10 years. 75% of the white oaks on the 100 million acres of U.S. forests are already mature. Furthermore, the study found that 60% of the land had no white oak seedlings, while 87% had no young white oak trees (via Lane Report).

Scientists have found that there are too many mature white oak trees, which is making it more difficult for new white oaks to flourish. Without new trees to make barrels for future batches of bourbon, the spirit cannot be aged into the drink you know and love. That's why some distilleries, like Sazerac, Beam Suntory, and Brown-Forman, are supporting the White Oak Initiative. These distilleries have set a goal to have at least 50% of the wood they use to make barrels sourced from "sustainably managed forests by 2035," according to Vinepair.

For the bourbon industry as we know it to survive in the long-term, more action will need to be taken.