Bourbon, now caught in the crosshairsof a potential trade battle between Washington and Beijing, once relied on foreign markets for survival.
During the 1970s and 1980s, international markets, namely Asia and Europe, threw a lifeline out to whiskey and bourbon distillers as Americans shifted their taste to clear spirits.
"There were bourbons being produced in Kentucky that were only going to Asia," said whiskey expert Bill Thomas, proprietor of Washington, D.C.'s Jack Rose Saloon, which is famous for its collection of nearly 2,700 bottles.
"Foreign markets have always been a big part of keeping up the revenue in distilleries during the downturn here in the United States and they continue to be a big market in the business cycle," Thomas said, noting the budding trade war between the U.S. and China. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday night that the Trump administration plans to ratchet up trade pressure on China.
Last week, the Asian nation threatened to slap a 25 percent levy on 106 U.S. products, including types of whiskey such as bourbon, which is known for being uniquely American. Similarly, a few months prior, the European Union hinted at retaliating with trade taxes on Kentucky bourbon.
The moves were viewed as strategic political punches since the entirety of bourbon production must occur within the U.S., per a 1964 congressional resolution.
"Right now, the U.S. exports about $1.5 billion worth of spirits abroad, and many producers in America are pinning their future growth to exports," said Reid Mitenbuler, author of "The Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey."
"Without a market to sell to, they might have problems recovering these investments," Mitenbuler told CNBC.
However, despite a possible trade battle between the world's largest economies, Mitenbuler and Thomas remind that the American whiskey industry has proven its resilience before.