|Jim Beam after an earlier snowfall this winter. (Photo by Josh Dugan)|
Tennessee's two big distilleries, Jack Daniel's and George Dickel, got mostly rain this time, but they've had plenty of snow this winter.
Happily for all of us, the extremely cold temperatures we've suffered this winter will give way over the next few days. Forecasters are predicting a string of high temperatures well above freezing. That brings another problem, flooding. Distilleries need a lot of water and are typically located in valleys, close to springs, often alongside rivers. Buffalo Trace in Frankfort is practically surrounded by the Kentucky River and has experienced serious flooding in the past.
The biggest impact severe weather events have on Kentucky's distilleries is when they disrupt transportation. Shipments of corn and empty barrels arrive constantly. Most distilleries will run out of corn in about two days, and barrels probably sooner. Spent mash (AKA 'slop') has to be hauled away every day. Filled barrels have to be taken to warehouses, which are often 'off campus.' Workers have to be able to get to work.
All of this is true for any manufacturer that experiences a severe weather event. The whiskey business is unusual because so much of the industry's production is so concentrated geographically, and because so many of the facilities are located outside of what can fairly be called 'urban areas.' Most are in small towns or out in the countryside. Some are close to the interstates, others not. A few are on roads that are borderline for truck travel under the best circumstances. Also, Kentucky and Tennessee can go years without getting enough snow to bother with, so most communities have only minimal snow removal resources, public or private. In some places, the roads won't really become passable until the thaw.
This should be the last of the severe winter weather. (Knock on wood.) Flooding will continue to be a threat throughout the spring. Since most of the distilleries are running full bore as it is, it won't be easy for them to make up even a few days of lost production. Kentucky will dig out and things will return to normal, but folks there will long remember the winter of 2014-15, perhaps with a commemorative bourbon release.