Gov. Steve Beshear, along with Mayor Jim Gray and members of the Kentucky Distillers Association, announced the formation of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour from seven of the state’s craft distilleries. The Craft Tour will complement the Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience, which also links seven distilleries and encourages visitors to fill out a “passport” by touring each location to learn about its individual production practices.
The Craft Tour comprises distilleries all across the state, and like the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, is not designed to be toured in any particular order. It includes: Barrel House Distillery in Lexington; Corsair Artisan Distillery in Bowling Green; Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon; MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke; Old Pogue Distillery in Maysville; Silver Trail Distillery in Hardin; and Wilett Distillery in Bardstown.
“We’ve got a signature industry here in Kentucky that is not only so very old, but it is growing as rapidly as any industry across this country,” said Beshear. “I go all over the world, trying to attract jobs to Kentucky … and everywhere I go, they want to know about Kentucky bourbon. That’s how popular and how advertised our product is, and it helps me to bring business here.”
Gray echoed the sentiment that the state is known not just nationally but internationally for its bourbon, noting that associates in Japan ask him about two things upon learning where he works: Kentucky Fried Chicken and bourbon.
“There’s a lot of excitement over Kentucky’s new distilleries,” Gray said. “We’re improving our brand and increasing tourism. That’s a big deal for Lexington and the entire commonwealth.”
The Kentucky Distillers Association created the Bourbon Trail in 1999, and it has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. In 2007, 189 people completed the passport program, indicating they visited all stops on the tour. Thus far in 2012, more than 13,000 have filled out passports, and additional uncounted visitors have likely completed part of the tour, leaving great hopes for the Craft Tour, which will have its own passport program. It’s estimated that 25,000 have completed the Bourbon Trail since its foundation, bringing $18.5 million in revenue to communities surrounding the distilleries.
The history of bourbon distilleries dates back 230 years, almost as far back as the state’s first settlers. In 1810, there was one still for every 200 people in Kentucky, and all were craft distilleries. (Today, Beshear noted, there are 4.9 million barrels aging in the state, which has only 4.3 million residents.) The Kentucky Distillers Association considers the industry’s growth in recent years to be its most significant boom since the end of Prohibition.