The Great Lumberjack Shortage

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Here’s a fun fact: It takes eight years of full time apprenticeship to become a cooper, those artisans who build whiskey barrels out of American white oak. It only takes seven years to become a doctor. I think that’s pretty telling. At least, that’s what my tour guide told me at the Tennessee Stillhouse, a whiskey distillery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She seemed smart, so I’m gonna go with it.

Here’s another fun fact: There’s a shortage of barrels right now because of the boom in whiskey producers. We have too much whiskey, and not enough barrels to put it in. There’s even a shortage of lumberjacks to chop down the American white oak trees to make those barrels. These are the things that keep me up at night—the lumberjack shortage. What if the whiskey stops because there are no more barrels? I know climate change is a top concern, but could we please address this issue pronto? Let’s get the lumberjack business booming again. Maybe develop some sort of standardized test to identify promising lumberjacks and coopers out of high school. Marvel Comics, please create a lumberjack superhero so our children will dream of wearing flannel and swinging an axe one day. The children are our future. Whiskey drinkers everywhere implore you.

As for the whiskey that I tasted on that tour of Tennessee Stillhouse, it’s top notch. It’s a young distillery, so they’re sourcing from the old Seagrams warehouse until they can get their own hooch up to age. They’re completely honest about it, and the barrels that they chose from the Seagrams stock are tasty, especially their 1816 Cask, a high proof bourbon that smells like a candy factory. It has some heat for sure (it’s 113 proof), but there’s so much intense flavor in this barrel proof whiskey, that the burn gets lost in a world of oak, vanilla and toffee.

I’m excited to see what Tennessee Stillhouse can do with their own whiskey in a few years, but this 1816 Cask will hold me over until then. Assuming there are enough barrels for aging at that time. And enough lumberjacks to provide the American white oak. Readers, please buy your children flannel shirts and tiny axes. Let’s produce a generation of lumberjacks. My whiskey supply just might depend on it.

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