Louisville distillery joins Kentucky Bourbon Trail

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMay 9, 2013 

LOUISVILLE — The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, a $10 million tourism center for bourbon maker Heaven Hill, will become the eighth distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

The five-story Evan Williams center, on Main Street in downtown Louisville, is scheduled to open in October.

On Thursday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer toasted the news, alongside bourbon industry representatives.

"Bourbon means jobs," Fischer said, summing up what having the "western trailhead to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail" will mean for the city.

Heaven Hill spokesman Larry Kass said the distillery — which makes the second-best-selling bourbon in the United States and worldwide — anticipates at least 100,000 visitors annually. The storefront will feature a five-story bottle of Evan Williams pouring into a lowball glass to attract visitors, similar in scale to the huge bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum just down the street.

For $10, visitors will get an interactive experience on the history of Evan Williams and Louisville's Whiskey Row, and a visit to one of two tasting rooms for the legal limit of two half-ounce sips of Evan Williams products.

"I think this is the missing link that we've been looking for the past few years, especially with Town Branch Distillery coming into Lexington," said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers' Association. "Now you get two major cities where people start and finish the trail. ... I think it will be a tremendous boost in tourism to our distilleries and a big impact on the city."

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which brought more than a half-million tourists to Kentucky last year, could become bigger than California's Napa Valley wine region, said Marcheta Sparrow, Kentucky secretary for Tourism, Arts and Heritage.

The Shapira family, which owns Heaven Hill, clearly agrees and is investing $25 million in new warehouses and other facilities. Heaven Hill recently celebrated its 6.5 millionth barrel of bourbon.

Shapira said it wasn't long ago that bourbon had been virtually written off, but times have changed.

"Almost an unbelievable renaissance in the bourbon category," Shapira said. "Now we're the darling distilled spirit not just of the state or the U.S., but of the world. People are enamoured of this industry."

And they want to visit, smell and taste it in person.

The Louisville visitors center is Heaven Hill's second. The company already has the Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, which receives about 80,000 visitors a year.

The downtown Louisville one will be a working artisanal distillery, with pot stills that will produce a barrel or two every day. Some will be special expressions of the Evan Williams recipe, but Kass said they also plan to produce some experimental "mash bills," or recipes.

"We will definitely be selling it," Shapira said.

The center also will offer a full line of branded merchandise, including bourbon.

"Really, for us, it's a huge brand-marketing tool as well," Kass said. "The Evan Williams Experience will put our product in front of 100,000 people every year, with a great big bottle right on Main Street."

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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