The number of Kentucky distilleries has more than tripled in the last decade as the demand for bourbon has exploded, according to a new study commissioned by the Kentucky Distillers Association.
Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA), applauded state and legislative leaders for their work to modernize alcohol laws, reform tourism restrictions and tackle the discriminatory tax that only Kentucky levies on aging whiskey barrels.
Dave Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, noted how Bourbon’s explosive growth helps all Kentuckians.
“It’s not just an industry sector that is succeeding, it’s additional jobs for Kentucky families, additional income for tens of thousands, and additional tax revenue that will benefit schools and other services that serve all Kentuckians,” he said in a press release. “This is a win for all of us.”
Vince Carida, founder of the Owensboro Bourbon Society, said he thinks the bourbon industry has taken off for a number of reasons.
“There was a time bourbon was viewed as a very low-end drink,” he said. “With the introduction of Blanton’s single barrel and the Jim Beam small batch collection in the 1980s the perception of bourbon began to change. Instead of a low-end drink to mix with your soda, bourbon became a fine sipping whiskey.”
Carida also said there is a huge cocktail craze happening now. Bourbon mixed drinks are popular and making the drink more mainstream.
“You also had the cyclical patterns of society,” he said. “What was old is now new. In the 60s and 70s, people drank brown liquor. That changed in the 80s and 90s when it shifted to vodka. It is now becoming clear that bourbon and other brown liquid, like scotch, are the spirits of choice.”
Other notes from the study:
- Bourbon producers filled more than 1.7 million barrels in 2018, up from 794,091 a decade ago.
- There are now 7.5 million barrels of aging bourbon in the state, up 62 percent in a decade and approaching the industry’s 1970s peak of about 8.5 million.
- Kentucky has 68 distilleries, up from 19 in 2009, “with most of the growth due to the emergence of craft distilleries.”
- Distillers reported capital spending – such new and expanded plants and barrel warehouses — of $1.1 billion during last five years. They have another $1.2 billion planned over the next five years.
- About 5,000 people work in Kentucky’s distilling industry, up 55 percent over the decade. With economic multiplier effects – such as the farmers who grow the grain for the whiskey mash and the restaurants where bourbon employees take their families — the industry accounts for a little more than 20,000 jobs, or double since 2009.
In a press release from the KDA, bourbon tourists made a record 1.4 million distillery stops in 2018 – a 370 percent increase over the last 10 years. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail logged 1 million visits for the first time since its creation in 1999.
“We are grateful that lawmakers recognize the vital role that our industry plays in jobs, revenue and tourism,” Gregory said. “We look forward to working with them to continue our record momentum and to strengthen Kentucky’s rightful place as the one, true and authentic home of bourbon.”