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Monday, February 06, 2006

Bringing Home the Effects of Global Warming - New Study Finds that Kentucky Bourbon May Be Global Warming's Latest Victim

That's right, you'd better drink up your Kentucky bourbon, 'cause it might not last. The National Resource Defense Council's OnEarth Magazine reports that if a recent study conducted for the Commonwealth of Kentucky is correct, global warming may soon make it impossible to produce good Kentucky bourbon - at least in Kentucky.

NRDC reports that according to the study's author, Mike Jones, a researcher at American University, a bourbon's distinctive Kentucky flavor comes from the seasonal warming and cooling of the whiskey during its aging. This is done in white oak barrels that have been "toasted" in order to caramelize the sugars in the wood and then charred on the inside to impart flavor to the whiskey during storage. "When the temperature rises in the summer, the bourbon expands," Jones says, "and with lower temperatures in the winter, it contracts. This movement gives the bourbon its amber color and oak flavor."

Producers consider these temperature variations so critical that during the course of their storage, barrels are shifted from the lower racks in the warehouse to the upper racks. The temperature sensitivity is also part of the reason that federal law states that unless your whiskey is made from a mash containing 51 percent to 79 percent corn and produced and stored for at least one of its two years of aging in Kentucky, you can't call it Kentucky bourbon (the other part being intense lobbying from Kentuckians who have a long history of fighting for their bourbon).

However, according to the study, the 3-degree Fahrenheit average temperature increase predicted for Kentucky over the next 100 years will mean less variation between winter and summer temperatures. The study's sorry conclusion: "In the future, global warming may affect the weather patterns which are essential in Kentucky for the aging process."

If that doesn't bring home global warming to the masses, I'm not sure what will! You'd better start cutting back your carbon emissions folks - your driving's starting to affect your drinking.

If we Pacific Northwesterners heard similar news about global warming threatening our local Cascade hops - the critical ingredient in many of our treasured local micro-brews - I can guarantee that we'd be up in arms in no time and mobalizing to fight global warming ... maybe this news will kick Kentuckians into gear too

[A hat tip to Treehugger]

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