Gov. Signs HB100 Re-Defining Kentucky Whiskey and Allowing Vintage Spirit Sales

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Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin ceremoniously signed the states latest distilled spirits law – House Bill 100. The signing took place at Heaven Hill’s Heritage Center in the “Bourbon Capital of the World”, Bardstown, Kentucky.

Bill sponsor Representative Chad McCoy (R-HD 50), Kentucky Distillers’ Association officials, elected officials and Heaven Hill and industry leadership were on-site to celebrate the official legislation with a toast following the ceremony.

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The ceremony included Heaven Hill President Max Shapira gifting a vintage bottle of Old Heaven Hill 6 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey the state’s governor. The one of a kind vintage bottle of 6 year old whiskey was distilled in 1936 and bottled in the fall of 1942.

House Bill 100 does three main things for the states signature distilled spirits industry.

  1. It allows for the sale of vintage distilled spirits
  2. It allows distillers to sell by-the-drink at fairs and festivals
  3. And it tightens the definition of Kentucky Whiskey

Vintage Distilled Spirits Sales

I spoke with Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to clarify what is a “vintage spirit.” Eric said, “In the past, if you were cleaning out Grandma’s basement and found a vintage bottle of whiskey that had never been opened that you could not legally sell that bottle. With the new law, that bottle can be sold to a licensed bar, restaurant or package store.”

Here’s specific language from the bill as it pertains to vintage spirits.

“Vintage distilled spirit” means a package or packages of distilled spirits that: Are in their original manufacturer’s unopened container; Are not owned by a distillery; and Are not otherwise available for purchase from a licensed wholesaler within the Commonwealth (of Kentucky);

1. A person holding a license to sell distilled spirits by the drink or by the package at retail may sell vintage distilled spirits purchased from a non-licensed person upon written notice to the department in accordance with administrative regulations promulgated by the department.

2. Vintage distilled spirits may be resold only:

  • By the drink by a person holding a license to sell distilled spirits by the drink; and
  • By the package by a person holding a license to sell distilled spirits by the package.

The state’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) group is still working on the regulations that will include an official definition of “vintage spirit.”

Sale of Distilled Spirits at Fairs and Festivals

This one is pretty straight forward. A distiller (with an NQ3 retail drink license) may sell to consumers at fairs, festivals, and other similar types of events located in wet territory alcoholic beverages by the drink, containing spirits distilled or bottled on the premises of the distillery.

Protecting the “Kentucky Whiskey” Brand

Pinochio Circa 1940

Pinochio Circa 1940.

This one is kind of interesting. As more and more people get into the distillation business some of the stories of family history or a whiskies lineage may at times be stretched like Pinocchio’s nose. This fine tuning to the law is kind of a pre-emptive measure to make sure the Kentucky brand remains authentic to Kentucky.

“Kentucky Whiskey” from Grains, Cooked, Fermented and Distilled in Kentucky

The new language added to the law says that to be labeled as Kentucky Whiskey, the spirits must be made in Kentucky “from grains which are cooked, fermented, and distilled in Kentucky.” Here is the new law, word for word. The underlined and bold text is the new verbiage.

No whiskey produced from grains which are cooked, fermented, and distilled in Kentucky, except whiskey the barrel containing which is branded “Corn Whiskey” under the internal revenue laws, shall be bottled in Kentucky or removed from this state unless such whiskey has been aged in oak barrels for a period of not less than one (1) full year; provided, however, that whiskey aged less than one (1) year may be removed from the state and bottled, or bottled in Kentucky, if the word “Kentucky” or any word or phrase implying Kentucky origin does not appear on the front label or elsewhere on the retail container or package except in the name and address of the distiller as required by federal regulation. For violations of this section, the department shall revoke the permit of the licensee from whose warehouse or premises such whiskey shall have been removed or in which such whiskey shall have been bottled.

Eric Gregory said, “House Bill 100 is another important step forward in modernizing the Commonwealth’s alcohol laws and strengthening Kentucky’s rightful place as the one, true and authentic home of Bourbon and distilled spirits.

This much-needed bill continues our efforts to level the playing field with our partners in the beer and wine industry, while clarifying long-held standards that whiskey carrying the revered and respected Kentucky name is actually distilled and aged in our state.”

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