In focus: Kentucky Bourbon’s tourism boom

23rd October, 2018 by admin

Taking a leaf out of the wine industry’s book, American distilleries have become popular tourist destinations. But while there is plenty of room to grow, there are also considerable limitations, writes Roger Morris.

Bourbon is leading Kentucky’s tourism boom

Only a few years ago, a small shuttle bus would pull up in front of Woodford Reserve’s distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, discharging a small number of tourists who were attending conventions in nearby Lexington. Because the distillery was located in a ‘dry’ county, one that had never repealed Prohibition, at the end of their tour the visitors were rewarded with a taste of – nothing.

But the burgeoning industry has plenty of room to grow

By contrast, last year 142,000 people visited the historic Brown-Forman distillery, which now has an expensive visitors’ centre that includes a large gift shop and small café. On completion of the US$15, hour-long tour, each visitor is treated to generous pours of two Bourbons as part of a lesson in how to taste whiskey. When they finish, they can buy cocktails next door or walk around the large campus. If a group of friends feels particularly inspired by the spirits of the moment, they can arrange future purchase of a whole barrel of Woodford, deciding the final blend themselves and designing labels for the 180 one-litre bottles that the barrel would produce. The total tab for the bottles and the used barrel? About US$11,000.

Of course, Woodford Reserve is not alone in the courtship of Kentucky Bourbon tourism. Last year, Sazerac’s Buffalo Trace distillery hosted more than 214,000 visitors, almost double the number of five years earlier. Its gift shop collected almost US$5.3 million in sales, a 28% jump in revenue compared to the year before.  At Maker’s Mark, owned by Beam Suntory, the gifts and tour business has done so well it’s been made a separate profit centre.

According to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which represents most of the major distilleries in the state – now totalling 73 and growing almost monthly – a record 941,000 people visited its sites last year, spending an average of US$400-US$1,200 per person per trip on tours, food and accommodation. Seventy per cent of them came from out of state.

While it’s not yet Napa Valley, Kentucky’s Bourbon Country – and distillery tourism in general across the US – is booming and still has plenty of room to go, according to most observers. This is partly because younger Americans are increasingly looking for a tourism experience or an adventure, rather than just looking at the sights, as their parents were content to do.  And they have flocked to brown spirits and whiskey cocktails after a generation of both being neglected. Kentucky’s Bourbon Country has particularly profited, as it is the sole identifiable spirits region in the US, making it a prime food-and-drink destination.

One Response to “In focus: Kentucky Bourbon’s tourism boom”

  1. Rupa bhatia says:

    Really want to try this!!!

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