Let’s face it, every month is Bourbon Heritage Month in Kentucky but when September rolls around it elevates it to the next level.
In 1964 the U.S. Congress declared via a concurrent resolution that bourbon whiskey is a “distinctive product of the United States”. In 2007 the lore of bourbon grew again when the late Senator Jim Bunning lead the charge in the U.S. Senate to declare September ‘National Bourbon Heritage Month’. Back in 2007, there were only a handful of states that even had a distillery. Today, there is at least one distillery in every U.S. state, so it truly is a national event now.
“Bourbon Whiskey is a Distinctive Product of the United States and is unlike other types of alcoholic beverages, whether foreign or domestic.” May 4, 1964
Recognizing the Bluegrass state’s centuries-old distilling industry, its deep agricultural roots and its growing economic and tourism impact, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has proclaimed September as Bourbon Heritage Month in Kentucky.
As a $9 billion industry, bourbon helps fuel Kentucky’s economy. Generating more than 22,500 jobs with an annual payroll topping $1.23 billion, the production and consumption of Kentucky bourbon provides over $268 million in annual tax revenue for state and local governments. In 2022, Kentucky recorded its best year for growth in the bourbon and spirits industry and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail saw record-breaking attendance.
“Kentucky continues to set itself apart with our signature bourbon and spirits industry,” said Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. “The momentum we’ve experienced over the last two years has been incredible, and the demand around the world for Kentucky bourbon keeps growing. With milestones like Heaven Hill filling its 10 millionth barrel and announcements from globally recognized brands and growth-minded startups, our bourbon industry is continuing to grow and thrive. I want to thank everyone, from the companies themselves to the communities they’re calling home, who have made this growth possible. Let’s build on the celebration that is National Bourbon Heritage Month and continue to build our signature industry.
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“We are grateful to these industry leaders for their commitment to growing right here in Kentucky – because when Bourbon succeeds, so do we. During my administration alone, we’ve announced a record $2.2 billion plus in investment across 56 projects, which are expected to create over 1,200 jobs in this signature industry.”
Kentucky Bourbon is a chief part of the state’s agricultural, agritech, and agritourism industries, with distillers purchasing more than 13.5 million bushels of corn – 75% of which came from Kentucky farmers in 2020 – and other grains, a number that continues to grow.
All that mashed, fermented, and distilled corn now adds up to nearly 12 million barrels of aging spirits, which represents two-and-a-half barrels of bourbon for every person living in the commonwealth, the most ever in the modern era of American whiskey. Distillers filled more than 2.6 million barrels in 2021 alone, up from 2.4 million the prior year and the fourth consecutive year that production topped 2 million.
The state now boasts 100 licensed distilleries across 40 of it’s 120 counties, with that footprint expected to increase in the years ahead.
Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory welcomed the Governor’s proclamation and the spotlight it brings to the industry’s growth and impact.
“With worldwide interest continuing to escalate for our historic and signature distilling industry, Bourbon is building Kentucky in new and exciting ways,” Gregory said.
“We proudly carry forward the historic distilling traditions that have been a defining agricultural and manufacturing endeavor since before Kentucky was a state, while expanding the impact of tourism every year to our local communities through our Kentucky Bourbon Trail® experiences.
“We’re grateful for the Governor’s ardent support of the Kentucky Bourbon industry that impacts every community in Kentucky and the fervent interest from enthusiasts and tourists around the world.”
Bourbon Tourism Continues to Break Records
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour experiences are busier than ever, with total attendance exceeding 2.1 million in 2022 – a new record. There are now 42 Kentucky Bourbon Trail distillery destinations across the state and over 70% of KBT visitors travel from out of state. In the last 10 years, the amber adventure has skyrocketed by a phenomenal 370% in attendance.
“From legendary industry icons to newer entrepreneurial establishments, Kentucky bourbon distillers are driving jobs, economic development, tourism and local agriculture to new levels in every part of the commonwealth,” said Gregory. “This Bourbon Heritage Month, we raise a glass to the thousands of bourbon employees who keep our signature industry going, the communities and leaders that partner with us to make their hometowns stronger, and the only place in the world that is the true authentic home of bourbon: Kentucky.”
Gregory said Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences are an integral part of local and state tourism efforts. 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.
More than 70% of visitors are from outside Kentucky and nearly half have household incomes over $100,000, all of whom bring new revenue and additional economic momentum to Kentucky counties and cities.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour welcomed four new members this year, for a total of 46 distilleries across the two trails. These additions create new and engaging tourism opportunities and experiences for the state’s spirits-producing communities.
Kentucky Saw $2.1 Billion in Distilled Spirits Investments in 2022
Last year alone saw over $2.1 billion in new investments and approximately 700 new jobs created for Kentucky residents, solidifying 2022 as the best year for growth in state history for our bourbon and spirits industry.
Last year saw the sector’s largest investment in state history, welcoming Sazerac’s expansion in Laurel County with a $600 million commitment creating 50 full-time jobs.
Of last year’s announcements, a large portion resides in rural Kentucky, where projects total $1.98 billion in announced investments and 550 new jobs. The commonwealth also saw five new foreign-owned projects contributing to over $730 million in investments and 125 new jobs.
Since 2019, more than 90 spirits-related announcements have generated roughly $3.5 billion in new investment, creating over 1,600 full-time jobs for Kentuckians. Gov. Beshear also worked with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to remove harmful bourbon tariffs on trade with the United Kingdom and European Union, ensuring continuing strength in the export market, with $430.9 million in all spirits and $339.3 million in whiskey exports in 2021 alone. And Kentucky isn’t slowing down in 2023.
So far this year, the state’s signature industry has seen approximately $545 million in new investments, with exciting projects happening all over the state.
In June 2022, Heaven Hill broke ground on a $135 million distillery project that will return the company’s distilling operations to Nelson County for the first time since the 1996 fire that resulted in a total loss of the previous distillery, creating 38 full-time jobs for Bardstown residents. That project investment has now grown to nearly $200 million. And just last month Heaven Hill celebrated the filling of the company’s 10 millionth barrel.
Campari Group is another top investor in the Kentucky bourbon industry this year, with an investment of $161 million at the distillery’s Wild Turkey campus in Lawrenceburg, creating more than 30 new full-time positions.
Just last week, Bespoken Spirits relocated its headquarters and manufacturing operations to Greyline Station in Lexington. The $3.2 million relocation will create 16 new high-wage jobs paying an average hourly wage of $70.77 including benefits.
The commonwealth has seen investments in communities looking to grow their footprint in the industry as well.
Henderson Distilling Co. is also among the bourbon industry’s investors this year and is locating in Henderson County with a commitment of $5 million toward a startup distillery project that will create 12 new full-time jobs for Kentuckians.
But Kentucky’s bourbon and spirits industry extends beyond distilling and warehousing. The state sees significant and diverse investment in the ecosystem around bourbon production in the commonwealth, which includes cooperages, bottle makers, packaging and distribution, as well as agriculture and tourism.
Bluegrass Bottling, a Kentucky-based, woman-owned business, in August 2022 announced a $6.25 million investment, creating 27 full-time jobs in the Lancaster area. The company is constructing a new bottling facility and will operate under the name Poor Ridge Distillery. Bluegrass Bottling’s services include blending, proofing, brand development, labeling, private labeling, specialized packaging and designing of spirits brands.
Another company building on the ecosystem surrounding bourbon production is Pegasus Industries & Packaging in Shelbyville. In March 2022, the company announced the expansion of its headquarters, investing $738,000 and creating 26 new full-time jobs. The project is including new technology, machinery, shipping docks, equipment, and systems to help process more orders and assist with specialized packaging and promotional items.
Kentucky Cooperage, a subsidiary of Independent Stave Co., announced an expansion in February 2022 with a $4.1 million investment at its used barrel operation in Marion County. The project will create up to 20 full-time positions and contribute to the wide range of barrel and oak products available to distilleries in Kentucky.
Kentucky’s investment and planned job creation in the bourbon and spirits industry furthers recent economic momentum in the commonwealth.
Founded in 1880, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association is the legendary voice for Kentucky’s signature Bourbon and distilled spirits industry. Its diverse and growing membership produces the overwhelming majority of the world’s Bourbon, from historic, global brands to emerging micro distilleries that are fostering the next generation of the Commonwealth’s landmark economic engine and its thriving, timeless craft. Member benefits include media relations, international trade development, private sampling events, technical assistance, economic development support, networking, legal defense, marketing strategies, governmental and regulatory advocacy and innovative tourism experiences through the KDA’s world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour adventures. A 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization, the KDA maintains an open membership policy, champions a strong commitment to the responsible and moderate consumption of spirits, and fights to curb underage drinking and drunk driving.
As always, please enjoy Bourbon like a true Kentuckian – Responsibly.
– What is Bourbon Heritage Month?
– When Did Bourbon Whiskey Become a Distinctive Product of the United States?
– Bourbon Heritage Month Framer & Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning Passes
– 12 Classic Bourbon Cocktails for Bourbon Heritage Month [Infographic]