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How can you make bourbon without oak barrels? Maker’s Mark teams with U Kentucky to make sure that day never comes

By David Schwartz
Published: May 4th, 2021

In partnership with whiskey brand Maker’s Mark, the University of Kentucky recently announced the establishment of the world’s largest repository of American white oak as part of an effort to conserve the tree for future generations.

The trees are located at Star Hill Farm, home to the Maker’s Mark Distillery, representing the most comprehensive natural range of white oak anywhere in the world. The effort is part of a larger mission to conserve a species that is critical to many American industries, including Kentucky bourbon.

Laura DeWald, a tree improvement specialist in the UK Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, is heading up a project collecting more than 300 unique families of white oak from across the U.S. to plant at Star Hill Farm.

The repository will provide the foundation for research to address threats to white oak trees and the millions of acres of forests they dominate. It will also support white oak-dependent industries that contribute billions of dollars to rural and urban economies across the region, most notably the spirits industry.

UK and Maker’s Mark are also collaborating in the world’s first comprehensive effort to map the white oak genome. They are studying the genetics of the mother tree, called “MM1” at Star Hill Farm, which is one of the oldest white oaks in Kentucky — estimated to be 300 to 500 years old. Data from this study will provide information about the longevity, disease resistance and vitality that American white oak can offer to the bourbon industry and beyond.

“We have lost or are fast losing some of our most valuable tree species in the U.S. such as ash, chestnut and elm due to disease and pests,” said Seth DeBolt, director of the university’s Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits. “This collaboration, the combination of the white oak genetic fingerprint and the germplasm planted solely at Star Hill Farm, will allow us to prepare for any future risk to this organism.

Source: The Whiskey Wash

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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