It's been rumored for a few years now; Nautilus' take on the looming "bourbon shortage" is that it already has hit. Though we're awash with Knob Creek and Maker's Mark, high-end and small-batch bourbons are in short supply, spurring well-heeled drinkers to clear the next tier of bourbon from the shelves. As io9 explains, the reason we've arrived at this point can be distilled down to some poor predictions made as many as 20 years ago when the golden liquid filling today's premium bottles started being made. Basically, distillers didn't predict just how much demand would swell in this decade, and the Wall Street Journal reported in September that they've been burned before: They jacked up production in the 1970s, but demand plunged and prices followed.
But Nautilus places us in a "Mad Men-inspired mixology epoch," stacking up the 19 million cases of bourbon sold last year to the 13 million sold in 2002. And while actual data detailing the shortage is hard to come by, one independent survey by writer Fred Minnick finds that 82% of 149 "high-end" bourbon drinkers report not being able to get their hands on certain bourbons right now. More on why: The aging process is what takes the edge off bourbon, so much so that anything aged less than 4 years must be labeled as such; many fine bourbons are aged 18 or more years. Nautilus takes a look at how some makers are attempting to hack down that timeline: by using oak barrels much smaller than the standard size or adding oak chips to regular-size ones in order to balloon the "alcohol-to-barrel-surface ratio," for instance. But for those who want the real, decade-aged deal, "there simply isn’t enough of the good stuff to go around," observes Nautilus. (As for whiskey, the world's best is no longer from Scotland.)