Kentucky’s inventory of aging Bourbon barrels set a 40-year high in 2014 with 5,669,682 million charred oak casks gently sleeping in Bluegrass warehouses. That’s the highest number since 1975 when the state’s distilleries reported 5.8 million barrels.

“The last time Kentucky had this much Bourbon, Jimmy Hoffa was still alive,” said Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, a non-profit trade group founded in 1880 that promotes, protects and unites Kentucky’s signature Bourbon and distilled spirits industry.

“The global resurgence of Kentucky Bourbon is phenomenal, but there’s much work to be done,” Gregory said. “The Commonwealth still produces about 95 percent of the world’s Bourbon, yet we rank eighth in the country in the number of permitted distilleries.

“Other states are changing laws and working to lure the next generation of distillers from locating in Kentucky. We can’t let that happen. We must modernize our archaic alcohol laws, especially in the tourism sector, and better compete before our historic monopoly slips away.”

The state of Kentucky may produce 95% of the world’s bourbon today but there are many other states nipping at its heels. The state that claims the largest number of licensed distilleries is Washington with approximately 110 accounting for 10% of distilleries across the country. I say approximately because the number changes daily. In 2008, Washington had zero distilleries, that’s right, 0, goose egg, nada, zip. No distilleries since prohibition. Now they lead the nation thanks to a friendly legislature that already embraces microbreweries and wineries. Add in a growing trend to buy local from farm to table and you have a recipe for spirits success.

Kentucky Bourbon is one of the Commonwealth’s most historic and treasured industries, a thriving $3 billion economic engine that generates more than 15,400 jobs with an annual payroll topping $700 million and pours $166 million into state and local coffers each year.

Production has soared more than 170 percent since the turn of the century, with only 485,020 barrels filled in 1999. Distilleries crafted 1,306,375 barrels last year – the highest production mark since 1970 and the third straight year with a million barrels born.

Amounts include all distilleries in Kentucky compiled from state Department of Revenue data. The KDA represents 28 of the state’s distilleries, from legendary, global brands to emerging micro distillers that are building upon centuries of craftsmanship and tradition.

Other key facts released today:

  • Bourbon isn’t the only spirit aging in barrels. When you include brandy and other whiskies, the state’s total barrel inventory was 6.2 million in 2014, the highest total since 1975.
  • The tax-assessed value of aging barrels this year is $2.1 billion, an increase of $223 million from 2014 and more than double the value since 2006.
  • Distilleries paid $14 million in ad valorem barrel taxes last year to the state and local communities, the majority of which goes to fund education, public safety and other worthy causes.

In order to meet the growing global thirst for Bourbon, more than $1.3 billion in capital projects has been completed or is planned in the next five years by KDA members, from new distilleries to aging warehouses, bottling facilities, tourism centers and more.

“This truly is the Golden Age of Bourbon,” Gregory said. “And it’s an honor to once again proclaim that Kentucky has a million more barrels of Bourbon than people living in our beloved Commonwealth.

“We look forward to working with our elected officials to keep the barrel rolling and to strengthen Kentucky’s rightful place as the one, true and authentic home for America’s only native spirit.”

And yes, I know, Roll Out the Barrel is technically a Beer song. Cheers!

Cover image courtesy of Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

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