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Food / January 12, 2022

White oak shortage puts Irish whiskey production at risk

Food / January 12, 2022

White oak shortage puts Irish whiskey production at risk

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Irish whiskey could face substantial shortages and price hikes if the American white oak shortage is not addressed.

New research released yesterday shows American white oak, commonly used as Irish whiskey casks, will run short. The study published by the White Oak Initiative says the main reasons for this are land management practices and shifts in the forest environment, not allowing for baby trees (seedlings and saplings) to take root and reach maturation.

Recently retired president and CEO of the American Forest Foundation, Tom Martin, anticipated this issue. He attempted to explain the situation in a 2019 op-ed for The Hill; “Due to the popularity of bourbon, combined with ecological challenges and more, the demand for white oak logs is outpacing the regeneration of new young white oak trees for the future,” he wrote. “Moreover, our existing forests are struggling. Insects and diseases are both widespread. Climate-induced events are happening more often. And a lack of management is leaving too many small trees that are competing with young white oak seedlings.”

Outside of the devastating environmental implications, this news isn’t great for the €890 million whiskey industry that has defined itself by using this wood in its casks. By American federal law, all bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. Irish whiskey has been most often aged in American ex-bourbon barrels because they have been an affordable and reliable resource.

Some of the most iconic Irish whiskeys have been aged in these barrels including Midleton, Bushmills, Jameson and beyond.

If significant changes are not made, this will substantially impact Ireland’s fermenting whiskey culture and potentially cause substantial price increases. Not that there aren’t enough of them coming for our booze at the moment.

Elsewhere on Char: The Ultimate Guide to Irish Whiskey