You’ve heard us say before that procuring white oak has been challenging this year. The inventory is low, the demand is at an all-time high and so are the prices. Many are surprised to learn that the availability of white oak is not the issue— as many as 5.2 billion white oak trees cover 235,000 square miles in the United States. So what’s causing these significant shortages and an uptick in prices? It’s a combination of factors.
In 2008, our country faced a housing crisis. The tough economy and low demand for lumber had a significant impact on foresters, with many going out of business. We saw a slowdown in the logging industry and a decrease in sawmill production. Though the economy is recovering, the lumber industry has yet to return to regular production levels and is still struggling to keep up with the ever-surging demand. Combine this with the rising popularity of bourbon and a demanding housing market and you’ve got a recipe for a shortage.
As mentioned before, oak is ideal for barrel making. It’s tough but easy to bend with heat; porous yet watertight; and it imparts unique flavors and aroma to the whiskey. The sides of most barrels made in the U.S. are constructed of long pieces of white oak called staves. They are heated, shaped, and then charred. In America, oak barrels are a fundamental part of bourbon production.
These days, the demand for bourbon far outweighs the production of white oak and oak barrels. Craft distilleries are popping up all over the U.S, with more than 600 in operation today. In turn, the stave companies are buying up white oak to satisfy the whiskey industry, often paying three times the price offered by sawmills. As a result, the cost of a barrel has climbed up significantly in the last few years. Today’s oak barrel sells for about $250, up from $150 just years ago. Whereas larger distilleries have the money and resources (in some cases, their own oaks) to satisfy the demand, craft distilleries are feeling the crunch. The federal law also mandates that whiskey distillers in the U.S. use new oak barrels for every new batch of bourbon, further putting a strain on this resource.
We’re starting to see sawmills getting ahead of the demand for white oak. At Macon Hardwood, we have excellent and long-standing relationships in our industry and are still able to get white oak and offer it to you at a great price. Subscribe to our newsletter below to get updates on our inventory and pricing!