Bourbon tourism shaking off pandemic slump in Kentucky


By BRUCE SCHREINER - Associated Press



Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, left, joins Heaven Hill Brands President Max L. Shapira on June 14 to toast the new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience in Bardstown, Ky. Heaven Hill Distillery recently opened the $19 million tourist center in Kentucky bourbon country.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, left, joins Heaven Hill Brands President Max L. Shapira on June 14 to toast the new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience in Bardstown, Ky. Heaven Hill Distillery recently opened the $19 million tourist center in Kentucky bourbon country.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With tourists flocking to distilleries, concerns about a pandemic hangover for Kentucky’s world-famous bourbon industry are quickly evaporating.

A $19 million tourist center that Heaven Hill Distillery opened just days ago in the heart of the state’s bourbon country is already overflowing — with reservations filling up quickly to learn about whiskey-making and sample its spirits, including its flagship Evan Williams whiskey.

It’s a similar story for the numerous other distilleries in the region that last spring were temporarily closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than a year later, the businesses are facing such overwhelming demand for tours that one industry official has started encouraging people to call ahead or check tour availability online before pulling off the highway.

Starting last summer, some distilleries began allowing limited numbers of visitors in accordance with virus restrictions. With capacity limits now lifted, the attractions are gearing up for a full resurgence of guests, many from outside Kentucky.

“We saw it coming, but I don’t think we saw it coming this quick,” said Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory.

“We were a hot destination before COVID cooled us off considerably,” he added. “But now we’re getting back to the point where people want to get out, they want to have fun.”

Gregory predicted that bourbon tourism will quickly rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

“I think next year will be more of a normal year and if this trend continues, I think it will be another record-setting year,” he said.

Bourbon is an $8.6 billion industry in Kentucky, where 95% of the world’s supply is crafted, according to the association. About 9.3 million barrels of bourbon were aging in the state last year, or more than two barrels for every person living in Kentucky. And bourbon tourism has become a big business, driven in part by a surge in enthusiasm overseas.

Spirits companies invested huge sums into new or expanded visitors’ centers to play up the industry’s heritage and allow guests to soak in the sights and smells of bourbon making. Kentucky Bourbon Trail visitors spend, on average, between $400 to $1,200 per trip, Gregory said. More than 70% of visitors come from outside Kentucky.

To help visitors plan trips, the organization is promoting a new Bourbon Trail Passport and Field Guide, a 150-page guide to participating distilleries, with cocktail recipes and suggested itineraries.

In Bardstown, where Heaven Hill opened its tourist center, the return of travelers will spin off considerably more spending at restaurants, stores and motels, said Dixie Hibbs, a former mayor.

The picturesque town, about 40 miles southeast of Louisville, is so entwined with the industry that the smell of locally crafted bourbon wafts into downtown.

“Most people will tell you that’s the smell of money,” Hibbs said.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, left, joins Heaven Hill Brands President Max L. Shapira on June 14 to toast the new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience in Bardstown, Ky. Heaven Hill Distillery recently opened the $19 million tourist center in Kentucky bourbon country.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/06/web1_AP21169601875468.jpgKentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, left, joins Heaven Hill Brands President Max L. Shapira on June 14 to toast the new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience in Bardstown, Ky. Heaven Hill Distillery recently opened the $19 million tourist center in Kentucky bourbon country.

By BRUCE SCHREINER

Associated Press

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