American Distillers Are Finally Focusing On Sustaining Bourbon’s Biggest Asset: Oak
When making bourbon, it’s important to always look to the future, sometimes up to 50 years. Heaven Hill is dedicated to making a sustainable impact.
They plan to do that by partnering with ISC to sponsor logger certifications. “Working with the future in mind will come up again and again during training. That’s because logging has always been a business that requires looking ahead. Loggers’ livelihoods depend on trees that were seeded decades ago, and the decisions they make today will impact generations to come.” Says Greg Helton, field rep and chainsaw trainer with Forestry Mutual Insurance Company.
The same goes for the Bourbon business. By law, Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. What many people do not realize, however, is that the barrels we use today started as acorns that were planted when Heaven Hill was distilling their first batches. “Over those past 85 years, we have always strived to be a good steward of the natural resources used to create our products.” Says Heaven Hill of their bourbon.
Alex Richman’s family has been growing white oak for whiskey barrels since 1813. Today, her livelihood still depends on these trees.
“The stakes are huge for white oak,” she says. “We have to start managing it now in order to have a sustainable source for future generations” pic.twitter.com/hacZ41MRTB
— Heaven Hill Distillery (@HeavenHill1935) July 14, 2021
Starting at the Source: The White Oak
“Heaven Hill wanted a program that was really going to have an impact on the industry, something that was real,” says Jason Stout, vice president of business development and marketing for ISC. “I said, ‘Why don’t we go to the frontline?’ You know, right there where it’s happening—and that’s with the loggers. They really manage the relationship with the landowners.”
According to the prepared statement, this long-term management project will take a lot of little actions and teamwork over time in order to get the final product. Since forest management is imperative to helping these trees thrive, cooperages rely on loggers to remove non-merchantable trees that impede the growth of promising oaks.
“You want to get that tree when it’s at its peak maturity,” says Stout, “and harvesting mature trees is a good thing, it’s the responsible thing to do. It opens up the canopy, allows sunlight to come down, and allows the next generation to grow. That creates a healthy forest when it’s growing and regenerating.”
Hopefully more and more bourbon brands will follow suit, as all of Heaven Hill’s small actions add up to one lasting beautiful forest. Which similar to great bourbon is one thing the world needs way more of.
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