Food & Drink | July 7, 2016 9:00 am

Could an Oak Epidemic Kill the Whiskey Industry?

Sudden Oak Death has already killed off 40,000 acres of trees

If whiskey is the water of life, then the oak barrels that birth it are the holy grails before which we prostrate ourselves.

Unfortunately, the outbreak of an aggressive disease that’s killed millions of oaks and left 40,000 acres of dead or dying trees in California and the Northwest may be threatening the supply of our favorite drink drums.

The spike in Sudden Oak Death — essentially leprosy for trees — is happening at a time when the lumber industry is already struggling to meet orders for new barrels due to an increased demand for bourbon, whiskey and Scotch.

Luckily, in this instance at least, the science department has some good news to share.

Whiskey barrels in the U.S. are generally built from staves of white oak and, for reasons scientists have yet to figure out completely, white oaks seem to be immune to Sudden Oak Death.

“We have never found any white oak species to be susceptible,” Dr. Richard Cobb of University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources told Popular Science. “We have not observed the pathogen to evolve the ability to attack hosts that otherwise appear immune.

While Cobb cautioned the pathogen could mutate, it sounds as if white oaks, and the whiskey enthusiasts that treasure them, are out of the woods for now.

Image via Flickr