Whiskey drinkers have grown accustomed to having their favorites assigned when there isn’t enough for everyone, thanks to the continued popularity of the drink we know and love. The drinks we used to grab at the corner liquor store for $ 25 are now elusive bottles that cost double as everyone is on the bourbon bandwagon.
But it turns out there’s another factor in the mix these days that can make it harder to get our hands on the whiskeys we love: the pandemic. Thank you, COVID-19.
During a Zoom tasting with a few people from Castle & Key Distillery – meant to give some reporters a taste of his new Slow Hands Single Barrel rye – distillery co-founder Wes Murry said he had to buy plane tickets to France. to transport the glass used for the magnificent bottles containing the rye.
So I sat back down via Zoom with Murry a few days later to get the full story.
“Was it a real thing?” I asked.
“Oh no, no, it was very real,” Murry said. Normally the glass would have come from Europe by boat, he said, but “with social distancing and all the rest of it, productivity is down a lot.”
They therefore airlifted the first 20,000 bottles for their new whiskey.
Producing the spirit inside the bottle itself is just one part of getting bourbon from the barrel to the shelf, Murry said. “You have all these parts that go into your brand, and they’re not made in the country, especially if you want to get cheap prices.”
The materials that feed the whiskey supply chain, like glass and metal, face the same delayed delivery issues, which is also leading to soaring wood prices and long delays for consumers buying home appliances. .
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And a delay in these products can have a strong ripple effect.
According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, bourbon is an $ 8.6 billion industry in Kentucky, generating 20,100 jobs with an annual payroll of $ 1 billion. And the production and consumption of spirits annually pays more than $ 235 million into state and municipal tax coffers.
In fact, with 4.3 million people in the state, there are now nearly two barrels of bourbon for every person living in Kentucky, according to the KDA.
So this is a big deal. And any disruption to the distilleries’ supply chain could add up.
“It’s not fast at the moment,” Murry said. “There are problems in the system. And you have to plan for the extra time, and you absolutely have to create an extra cost to deal with these issues. “
Distillers, especially smaller ones like Castle & Key, are feeling the pinch, according to David Ozgo, chief economist of the Distilled Spirits Council.
Speaking of the need for airline tickets for the glass bottles, Murry told me, “There is a shortage of glass in the world right now,” Ozgo said. “Many factories have closed following the COVID-19 quarantine. Now that the economies are reopening, manufacturers have a backlog of orders. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to flip a switch and turn a factory back on. modern glass. It takes time. “
Between these capacity issues, high demand, high shipping costs, and difficulty securing containers for shipping, small stills without long-term supplier contracts are hit the hardest, he said.
In an effort to minimize delays and cost increases, they buy for at least half the year or more, Murry said. And it is hard.
“You know, at the end of the day, we only get paid once the product hits the shelves, and a distributor pays us,” he said, “so we have to float everything. that capital, all that cost, even that. much longer than the four years that the product remains in a barrel. “
They also had to switch to sourcing wine corks from Portugal, he said.
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All told, supply chain pain costs, as Murry calls it, can add $ 2-3 to the price of a bottle. They have two choices: increase the price that consumers pay or absorb it. They chose to absorb it.
“It was important for us to market our product,” he said, “and so you eat the cost of it and just hope it’s impermanent.”
Combine all of these logistical challenges with a single barrel outlet that’s pretty limited to be with, and we’re looking at some pretty exclusive (not to mention unique to this time in history) bottles.
If you want one, you’ll take a trip to the Kentucky Distillery. You will need a reservation and you are limited to one bottle per person per day.
Slow Hand Rye costs $ 59.99 per bottle, and after tasting all four versions, I can tell you that you’ll want to try them all.