Kentucky Distillers' Association - Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour

While distilled spirits sales soared during lockdowns in 2021, visitors to the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® combined dropped.

On the bright side, despite the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (think large heritage distilleries) overall numbers seeing a slight decline the Craft Tour Trail (think small businesses, craft spirits makers) saw a record year. And to be fair, the visitor center for the No. 1 selling bourbon in the world, Jim Beam, had it’s James B. Beam Distilling Co. visitor center shut down for renovation for 10 months. No doubt if Beam had been open you would have seen steady year over year growth in visitors. Good news is, it’s now open and it’s fabulous along with its new full-service restaurant.

Related Story
A Day on the Trail: James B. Beam Distilling Co. Officially Reopens and Welcomes Fans to ‘The Kitchen Table’

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Visitors Down 13% Overall in 2021

Visitors accounted for more than 1.5 million tours last year, compared to a total of only 587,000 stops during the pandemic in 2020. That’s off only 13% from the attendance record of 1.7 million set in 2019.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour
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All combined Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Craft Tour experiences reported total visits up 160% from 2020 and just below the pre-pandemic record set in 2019.

“The numbers tell the story: the global demand for the authentic Kentucky Bourbon experience is as high as it’s ever been,” said Kentucky Distillers’ Association – KDA President Eric Gregory.

“Our distilleries have moved mountains to provide safe, engaging tourism experiences during a pandemic for guests from all over the world. With more Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries than ever before, we are looking forward to welcoming a record number of visitors in 2022.”

Craft Tour Visitors Set Record Numbers in 2020 & 2021

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour charted its best year ever in 2021 with more than 615,000 in total attendance, an increase of 170% from 2020 and 40% higher than its previous record in 2019.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour also added four new stops for an all-time high of 23 distilleries. The four new distilleries are spread out around the state.

Distillers Look to Grow Tourism with Updated State Laws

Gregory said the KDA and its 50 members are advocating legislation in the General Assembly to further modernize Bourbon tourism laws, help distillers continue to rebound from COVID and attract repeat visitors to the state. 

This includes giving distilleries the following initiatives.

  1. The opportunity to offer satellite tasting experiences.
  2. The opportunity to sell bottles at fairs, festivals, and farmer’s markets.
  3. And offer bottles that are only available at distillery gift shops – privileges already enjoyed by Kentucky wineries and breweries. 

“The industry’s partnership with the General Assembly is paying huge dividends across the state as the legislature modernizes our archaic alcohol laws and paves the way for distilleries to achieve their Napa Valley potential,” Gregory said, noting that there are now distilleries in 40 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

Related Story
What is the Napa-fication of Kentucky?

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tourism Continues to Grow Since its Founding in 1999

Kentucky Bourbon Trail attendance grew a phenomenal 315% from 2009 through 2019, with more than 70% of visitors coming from outside Kentucky. Research shows Bourbon tourists trend younger, spend between $400 and $1,200 on their trip, travel in large groups and stay longer than the average visitor to Kentucky. 

Nearly half have household incomes over $100,000, compared to approximately $60,000 for the average Kentucky tourist. 

Bourbon is one of Kentucky’s most treasured industries, a thriving $9 billion economic and tourism engine that generates more than 22,500 jobs with an annual payroll topping $1.2 billion each year, over $285 million in local and state taxes and $1.8 billion in federal alcohol taxes.

A key export, the iconic industry is currently in the middle of a $5.2 billion building boom, from innovative new tourism experiences to expanded production facilities, bottling centers and aging warehouses, all to meet the growing global thirst for Kentucky Bourbon. 

Bourbon production has skyrocketed more than 435% since the turn of the century. 

Kentucky now boasts more than 10.3 million barrels of Bourbon aging in warehouses across the Bluegrass, the most in its revered distilling history. Distillers filled more than 2.4 million barrels in 2020 alone, the third year in a row that production topped the two million mark.

You can find additional coverage and the full report here — Despite Covid, Lockdowns & Tariffs New 74 Page Report Shows Bourbon Pours $9 Billion into Kentucky Economy.

2022 Kentucky Bourbon Trail &
Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour Map

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