Bourbon Has Its Biggest Year Since Prohibition


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Ring the bells and wake the town: Bourbon is back!

OK, it’s technically been back for a while now. But it’s now officially back up at pre-Prohibition popularity levels, so dig out your fringed flapper dress and top hat. It’s celebration time.

"We’re in the largest expansion mode since the end of Prohibition," Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, told ABC News. To keep up with demand, the group’s members have spent about $500 million on additional bottling lines, warehouse storage, and staff.

We’ve seen spikes in demand for the spirit before: The industry revved up between the 1950s and the 1970s, when the “whiskey-soda” became America’s unofficial post-war drink. But distillers ended up with a surplus on their hands when demand dwindled and consumers turned to vodka, Scotch, and hard-partying disco drinks.

Kentucky distilleries, which produce roughly 95 percent of American bourbon, have reason to be excited by the recent turn of boozy events. In 2013, they produced more amber-hued hooch than they had in the last 40 years—about 1.2 million barrels of it. Despite any murmurings about bourbon shortage this or bourbon shortage that, last year bourbon inventory clocked in above five million barrels for the first time since 1977.

And unlike the bourbon bump of the 1970s, this modern upswing has contributed to the rising star that is small-batch bourbon, which arguably may lend the trend more staying power. More proof: Despite the fact that the brown stuff gives you a worse hangover than pretty much anything else, there’s been a striking resurgence of bourbon-based libations, like the bourbon and ginger cocktail. It’s even elbowed its way past cold-weather drink purgatory and into summer cocktail menus.

That’s worthy of a cheer. Long live bourbon!