Beam Suntory suspends tours across all its distilleries

13th March, 2020 by Nicola Carruthers

Jim Beam owner Beam Suntory has temporarily suspended public tours at all of its distilleries due to coronavirus, while eight Kentucky Bourbon producers have also made similar moves.

The Jim Beam stillhouse in Clermont, Kentucky

While distillery tours have been temporarily halted, Maker’s Mark owner Beam Suntory said its distilleries and other facilities “remain fully operational” and production has not been disrupted.

In a statement, Beam Suntory said it is “actively managing its response to the rapidly evolving Covid-19 pandemic”.

“We’re determined to do our part to support our communities and help contain the spread of the virus,” the statement continued.

“Consistent with guidance from public health authorities to limit large gatherings, and given that our public tours include elements that bring groups together in relatively restricted spaces, we have temporarily suspended public tours at all of our visitor experiences.

“We understand that this may be disappointing to our visitors and we apologise for any inconvenience. Please be assured that we are taking this action out of an abundance of caution because the health and well-being of our employees and loyal brand fans is paramount. We look forward to resuming tours in the future.”

Beam Suntory-owned Jim Beam Bourbon has suspended tours of its distillery up until the end of March 2020. Maker’s Mark will follow suit from Monday (16 March).

The coronavirus outbreak has caused a large number of Kentucky distilleries to close sites and suspend tours.

At least 1,665 cases of Covid-19 have been reported across 47 US states, with 41 deaths.

In Kentucky, home to 68 distilleries as of 2018, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA), the number of coronavirus cases has hit 11.

‘Necessary precautions’

Trade association the KDA, which represents 40 member distilleries in the state, held a special meeting yesterday (12 March).

The KDA has “strongly” recommended that its members “take all necessary precautions to protect the safety of guests and staff on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour from the coronavirus outbreak”.

The trade body confirmed there were no cases of coronavirus at any KDA member company and said the virus “has not impacted production”.

“Some members are temporarily suspending all tours, while others are scaling back tours of sensitive areas like production and bottling facilities,” said KDA board chairwoman Jessica Pendergrass.

The member distilleries that have announced they will suspend tours include Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Angel’s Envy, Four Roses Distillery, Rabbit Hole, Michter’s, Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company, and Duelling Barrels.

Pernod Ricard-backed Rabbit Hole Distillery has suspended all tours and events throughout the month of March. Refunds will be issued for all tours booked in advance for 13-31 March.

Angel’s Envy has stopped tours and experiences from today (13 March). Four Roses Distillery will prohibit tours from 14 March until 29 March, while Michter‘s has suspended tours from 13 March until 31 March.

However, KDA member Lux Row Distillers said it will remain open to the public for tours and will continue to “monitor the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], WHO [World Health Organization], state and local government updates on all developments regarding coronavirus”.

The site has implemented a number of measures including the banning of tasting from the still and the use of disposable glassware in the tasting room. Tours will also be limited to no more than 14 people.

The KDA said its members are sharing best practices and implementing strict measures to safeguard visitors, including enhanced sanitation procedures and reduced tour and tasting group sizes, while following guidance from the CDC and the state’s health department.

Update

Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman also confirmed it will stop tours at its Old Forester and Woodford Reserve distilleries from 15 March “until the health emergency subsides”. Production at the sites will continue.

In a statement, the company also said it will suspend tours and close its retail store at its Jack Daniel’s site in Tennessee from 16 March, but “will continue to produce whiskey”.

“Our goal is to minimise the risk to employees and guests and help lower the probability of the spread of the virus to our employees, their families, and the communities where we operate,” Brown-Forman said in the statement.

“Existing reservations that occur before these suspension dates will be honoured. No walk-in tours. Additional information on locations outside of Kentucky and Tennessee are forthcoming.”

Glenfiddich owner William Grant & Sons has closed all of its visitor centres indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak.

A number of Irish whiskey distilleries, including Jameson and Teeling, have also closed their sites to visitors temporarily to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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