It’s hard to believe today but bourbon tourism or what Louisville Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer likes to call Bourbonism wasn’t always a thing. Back in the day, hard core bourbon lovers, mostly men, would visit a bourbon distillery for what was more or less a factory tour. Fast forward to 2016 and oh my how things have changed. Today, bourbon tourism is not only a thing, it’s an experience. An experience enjoyed by both men and women that is often led by bourbon pioneer brand builders Mint Julep Tours.
Mint Julep Tours a leader in Bourbon and Kentucky adventures as well as the only dedicated tour company focused on The Kentucky Bourbon Trail recently celebrated the grand opening of their new location with a celebration and ribbon cutting that included many friends including Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer, Don Parkinson, Secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and Stacy Yates, VP of Marketing Communications at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ribbon Cutting for Grand Opening of New Location
(L to R) Sean Higgins – Mint Julep Tours, Greg Fischer – Mayor of Louisville, Don Parkinson – Secretary of Kentucky Tourism, Lisa Higgins – Mint Julep Tours, Stacey Yates – Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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The companies’ humble beginnings started on a ping pong table in the basement of co-founders, owners and husband-wife team, Sean and Lisa Higgins home. Sean says they had three things in mind when starting their company. “In 2007, we had a dream. We wanted to build a company that showed off what we loved about Louisville and Kentucky, that allowed us to work together as a couple, and possibly create a company that our kids would be proud of an possibly wish to work with. We have accomplished all three.” In 2008, the company was launched.
“We had three true friends when we started this business. One was Stacey, one was the city and one was Bill Samuels (of Maker’s Mark.) And, we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without all three partners.”
Sean Higgins, Co-Founder Mint Julep Tours
“The expansion of Mint Julep Tours is further proof that Bourbonism is booming in Louisville. Sean and Lisa Higgins are the type of entrepreneurs that thrive in our city. They are creating jobs, bringing investments and helping share Louisville’s authentic spirit,” said Mayor Greg Fischer. “I applaud Mint Julep Tours for enticing our guests off of the roadways and empowering them to enjoy Kentucky Bourbon responsibly.”
(L to R) Mint Julep Tours Co-Founders Sean and Lisa Higgins and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
Tourism, Arts & Heritage Impact
According to Don Parkinson, Secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet “Tourism is growing very, very rapidly in Kentucky, we’re up 11% over last year and it’s a very profitable business for everyone involved in it. It’s growing very rapidly. It’s the third biggest industry in the state behind automobiles and healthcare and it’s going to continue to grow. And when we see what they have done, we would not be able grow like this in tourism in Kentucky, if it were not (for companies) like Mint Julep Tours to help bring people around to see some of these bourbon operations which is growing so fast. We have 39 distilleries in Kentucky and two more are under construction. We have friends in San Francisco that have been in the liquor business for years and years and they’ve come to Bardstown (KY) to make a big bet to build a distillery because they have a very strong passion and belief that bourbon in Kentucky is going to be the next Napa Valley. Which is pretty good news for all of us.”
Defining the Bourbon Tourism Experience Before it was a Thing
“I am incredibly proud to be here tonight” said Stacey Yates, VP of Marketing Communications at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I am especially honored to be here not just because Lisa and Sean have become very good friends but because I feel it’s more than a celebration of a business relocation. I feel like it’s truly, especially in Bourbon Heritage Month, a chance to salute two of the people and a company that have truly helped redefine Louisville’s tourism experience, not just Louisville’s tourism experience but Louisville’s culture in a way.”
“I remember…in talking about his vision back in 2007. We have to go back in time with me a little bit, remember this was before bourbon was a thing here and I don’t mean that we didn’t know we created it, 95% of the world’s supply of it and I don’t mean that we didn’t know that we drank a lot of it, but it really wasn’t a thing, at least in Louisville, it certainly wasn’t an experience. Other than going to get a cocktail or drinking a mint julep on Derby Day, it wasn’t a thing at all. Sean had heard that our little tourism office had launched a little marketing campaign trying to position Louisville as the Gateway to Bourbon Country. And we were doing that like the mayor said, we were just looking for some different ways, differentiation for our city, trying to find this authentic thing that would make us stand out from our competition, from all the cities around the world that we compete with for tourism dollars, hoping they were going to come here for a leisure visit or convention visit. So what were those authentic things? We were kind of scratching our heads and said, ‘Why aren’t we using this bourbon thing?’ Well, Sean heard about it and came to us, hence the meeting (in 2007) at the Gault House and he truly was a visionary because without him and Lisa and what they’ve done, we couldn’t have done with our tourism what we have done. They truly did help build this Bourbonism…Experience that we have now.”
Mint Julep Tours Expands to New Location
According to Sean Higgins, the move to this new location was necessary due to the significant growth the company has seen since its inception. “As the bourbon and tourism industries in Kentucky have grown, so have we.”
Mint Julep Stats
- The company has grown 60% year over year since inception.
- They employ 11 full-time employees and 27 part-timers.
- Chosen as the featured business in Kentucky by Google in their 2014 Economic Impact Study
- Received Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisors for five consecutive years
- Recognized as the best guided drinking tour in America by Conde Nast Traveler
- Will take more than 20,000 people around Louisville, Kentucky and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 2016
“We’re extremely excited about this new space and can’t wait for the opportunities that will come along with it.”
Mint Julep Tours offers custom and public bourbon distillery tours as well as unique exclusive experiences, horse farm tours, culinary tours, and Louisville city tours. Tours will continue to depart from the Mint Julep Tours Gift Shop, which is located in the Galt House Hotel (Third Floor Rivue Tower), 140 N. Fourth St., Louisville, Ky 40202.