I was in Bardstown for the weekend to see many of my bourbon friends and there were ugly rumors floating around about Barton. That’s the new/old name for Bardstown’s Tom Moore Distillery. (More on the name change when it becomes official in about a week.)
Here is the real story.
Barton is not shutting down. In fact, they just today had the soft opening of their new visitors center and debuted an expanded tour. The distillery was not, however, running today. They have not distilled since December and won’t resume again until November 1. Then they are scheduled to run until sometime in April or May, 2012.
They distilled for just four weeks in December, 2010. Before that they had distilled for about five months, ending about this time last year. That is a long break but not unusual. Every distillery predicts how much whiskey it needs to put away each season and schedules distilling accordingly.
Because of the long whiskey aging cycle, production scheduling is a moving target, based on actual sales as well as long term sales projections. Fluctuating prices of commodities such as grain and energy can also be considerations.
One difference between Barton and some other distilleries is that when they run, they run 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week. (The fermenters run seven days, the stills run five.) When they are running they produce about 180,000 gallons of white dog per week.
This is just the distillery part of their operation. There is activity in the warehouses and bottling house all year, and visitors get to tour the distillery even if it’s silent.
A few years ago, many of Kentucky’s distilleries were operating at or near capacity and so embarked on major expansions. Now most of those expansion projects have been completed and, assuming they did it right, those distilleries should all have excess capacity to permit future growth. Excess capacity throughout the industry is probably one reason Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) is struggling, since they don't have any brands of their own and only get busy if everyone else is full.
Another limitation on production is warehouse capacity. There is no point in distilling white dog if you have nowhere to put it. New warehouse construction is one aspect of industry expansion that is ongoing.
Barton is now part of Buffalo Trace/Sazerac, which is giving Barton’s brands more support. Its flagship bourbon, Ridgemont Reserve 1792, has had a nice growth spurt since Sazerac took over. The company also has increased distribution of its esteemed Very Old Barton Bourbon (VOB), which was once the private stock of Kentuckians. Down there, VOB sells the way Jack and Jim do in the rest of the country. (VOB BIB is one of my personal favorites.)
Assuming American whiskey continues to boom, Barton has a bright future.