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Whiskey Business in Idaho

A handful of Boise distilleries are breaking into the booming bourbon industry

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Mark Twain famously said, "Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough." A large portion of present-day drinkers would probably raise a glass to that. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, more than 18 million cases of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey were sold in the United States in 2013, generating more than $2.4 billion in revenue for distillers.

Whiskey sales are also skyrocketing around the world. The DSC announced that American bourbon and whiskey exports topped $1 billion in 2013 for the first time ever. In early 2013, rising global demand led Maker's Mark to declare--and then quickly recant after widespread public outrage--that it would water down the bourbon in its red-wax-topped bottles in order to increase production.

Idaho is drinking the whiskey Kool-Aid, too. According to Howard Wasserstein at the Idaho State Liquor Division, sales of whiskey, bourbon and moonshine are all up in the Gem State. In fact, of the ISLD's top 10 best-selling products in fiscal year 2013, the top three were whiskey--Crown Royal, Black Velvet Canadian and Jack Daniel's Black Label Tennessee Whiskey--with combined sales for those three brands alone totaling more than $7 million dollars.

While whiskey is an astoundingly broad spirits category--the term includes a dizzying array of distilled alcoholic beverages from around the world that are generally barrel-aged--bourbon is much more specific. To be called bourbon, a spirit must be made in America from at least 51 percent corn; distilled to no more than 160 proof, or 80 percent alcohol by volume; and aged in new, charred oak barrels. Though there's no specific required aging time, to be labeled "straight bourbon" the spirit must be aged for a minimum of two years.

And this significant time investment has been a barrier to local distillers venturing into bourbon-making--until now. This year, three new craft distilleries are opening in Boise with one common goal: To make local bourbon and whiskey.