Across our supply chain management community, we are often keenly aware of how the dynamics of product demand and component supply interrelate. While teams always strive to balance and align product demand and supply needs, forces in a market or across an industry have a way of adding different or unforeseen challenges. They drive home the importance of nurturing strong supplier relationships and creativity along with the notions that the supply chain and suppliers, do matter.

A timely reminder was brought forward last week within The Wall Street Journal’s published article, Bourbon Feels the Burn of a Barrel Shortage (paid subscription required or free metered view) Amidst souring consumer demand for bourbon and craft-distilling beverages, this industry is facing the blunt reality of a three year long shortage of the barrels required for storing and aging bourbon. More specifically is a shortage of required supplies of white oak which the barrels are constructed.

Various cooperages (barrel makers) are actually turning down orders, along with offers to pay upwards of twice standard barrel pricing from those distillers seeking availability of prepared white oak barrels. Existing barrel suppliers apparently have only the capacity and wood to supply existing loyal customers and are either wait listing or turning down new industry entrants. According to the article, the white oak supply problem was compounded by a massive contraction impacting the lumber industry during the 2007-2008 housing crash across the United States. Sawmills shut down and loggers abandoned the market. While the lumber industry is now rebounding, the article points out that white oak supply still lags the current demand among barrel makers, while a shortage of lumber mills and experienced people continues to limit supplies.

In response to the demand crisis, barrel makers themselves reportedly have become more creative. Examples brought forward included Independent Stave Company, a large private barrel maker and supplier to Evan Williams and Jim Beam, which is now buying logs sourced from five different U.S. states in addition to its traditional supplies within the state of Missouri. To avoid high transportation costs for logs, this supplier invested in a new lumber mill in Kentucky.

Brown Forman, producer of its iconic Jack Daniels branded whiskey invested in a new barrel making facility near Huntsville Alabama because it opened “a whole new territory of logs”. It reportedly halved the time required to ship new barrels to Jack Daniel’s production site.

Craft distillers have reportedly turned to seasoned consultants for help in finding and/or brokering any and all supply of new barrels while some fear that they will not be able lay away whiskey.

Here is the takeaway message. As you, I and thousands of other new consumers partake and enjoy their very favorite branded bourbon, standard or craft whiskey, consider the fact that active supplier loyalty, strong relationships and joint creativity helped to insure that said bourbon and whiskey was aged and nurtured in the proper white oak barrels.

Supply Chain Matters offers a timely new toast:

Here’s to good times, good people, and great bourbon, along with creative and resourceful suppliers.”

Bob Ferrari