LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Leaders from nine of the world's top whiskey associations met at the Frazier History Museum on Thursday. The global summit of industry leaders discussed the trade war's threat to the bourbon boom in Louisville this week.
The group named its gathering the 'W9 Spirit of Collaboration Summit'.
The nine participants were from the American Craft Spirits Association, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., Irish Whiskey & Spirits Associations, Japan Spirits & Liquers Makers Association, Kentucky Distillers' Association, Scotch Whiskey Association, Spirits Canada, spiritsEUROPE and The Presidents' Forum.
The W9 made a declaration for open and fair trade, calling for the removal of tariffs. They maintain the trade war is a serious threat, as Kentucky bourbon has a major impact on employment in the Commonwealth; with 17,500 jobs on the line, the industry is a huge part of the state's economic growth.
In signing a resolution and planting a white oak tree together, the W9, made up of nine international whiskey and distilled spirits organizations around the world, are hoping their unified voice is heard.
They called on global leaders to de-escalate the recent conflict, which includes a recommended 25 percent European Union tariff on Kentucky Bourbon in retaliation for the Trump Administration's steel and aluminum tariffs. Summit participants were optimistic, hoping Wednesday's talks at the White House were the real deal.
"We too were very encouraged by yesterday's meeting between the President of the United States and the President of the European Commission," Karen Betts of the Scotch Whiskey Association said.
The only problem: No details or solid deals have happened yet. With 39 companies operating 52 distilleries in Kentucky--an 8.5 billion dollar industry with an annual payroll topping $800 million--the threat has had Kentucky lawmakers sounding off in recent days.
Kentucky Distillers Association President Eric Gregory said Kentucky exported about $450 million of bourbon last year.
Large distillers have been able to stockpile products overseas, but that is not the case when it comes to smaller craft distilleries, Gregory said.
"Now they've got nowhere to sell their product and really expand their bottles," the KDA President said.
Gregory said the uncertain future makes it difficult to make decisions on production.
"The blessing and the curse of Kentucky bourbon is you can't make it overnight, so the bourbon on the shelves right now was produced six, eight, 10 or 12 years ago," he explained. "Each company will be looking to see how much inventory they have in Kentucky and how much was designated for the overseas market."
At that point, Gregory said, the Kentucky Distillers Association will make a determination in the next six months on whether or not they're going to have to cut back.
Gregory says if companies do have to cut back on production, the trickle-down effect will hit everyone from farm families to the hospitality industry. He says the unexpected trade war twist is a cold blanket on all the recent momentum the Kentucky bourbon industry has been experiencing.