Distillers Turn Kentucky Bourbon Trail Into Major Driver of Tourism

According to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tourism program drew nearly 900,000 visitors last year, a double-digit improvement from 2014. Now state legislators are working on a bill that could make it easier to sample and buy alcohol from distillers taking part.

Tennessee may have Jack Daniel’s, but the Kentucky bourbon industry has a pretty strong trump card of its own: lots of interest from tourists.

According to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail—a tour launched in 1999 and maintained by KDA—drew nearly 900,000 people last year, making Kentucky bourbon a sizable economic draw for more reasons than one.

“What a phenomenal success story,” the association’s president, Eric Gregory, said in a news release. “The growth and impact of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is advancing Kentucky tourism beyond our wildest dreams. The entire Commonwealth is seeing tremendous benefits from the increased investment and revenue.”

KDA now puts on two separate Kentucky Bourbon Trail tours. The first, a standard tour that includes nine major distilleries (including those of prominent brands like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Wild Turkey), drew 762,009 guests last year, a 22 percent increase from 2014. The second, a tour of 10 different craft facilities that first launched in 2012, drew 133,864 visitors last year, a 39 percent increase from 2014.

Seeing a positive trend, state legislators appear to be ready to take steps to help improve the industry’s offerings. Earlier this month, the Kentucky Senate passed a bill that would allow for significant increases in the state’s alcohol production, including at microbreweries and wineries. But most notably for bourbon makers, the law would allow for a wider range of samples for participants on factory tours around the state—including, for the first time, the ability to have mixed drinks at such facilities.

In comments to the Courier-Journal after the Senate bill passed, Gregory added that “the tools in this bill will allow us reach our full potential and become a major Napa Valley-like experience.”

The bill would also allow distillers to sell as many as 9 liters of alcohol per adult visitor.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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