LOUISVILLE — The Kentucky Bourbon Trail officially poured into downtown Louisville on Thursday, with the grand opening of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience dedicated to the second-biggest-selling bourbon.
After a ceremony Thursday evening headlined by Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Heaven Hill will open the $10.5 million visitor center to the public Friday.
The new attraction will cater to the 2.8 million visitors that the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau says annually come downtown.
Heaven Hill spokesman Josh Hafer said the company estimates 110,000 tourists a year will want to see what's behind the six-story bottle of Evan Williams bourbon pouring into a gigantic rocks glass, the world's biggest bourbon fountain.
With the boom in bourbon, the state has seen a surge in tourism. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail last year counted more than half a million visitors to at least one of the state's distillery.
"Heaven Hill Distilleries is proud to be bringing the bourbon industry back to Louisville's Whiskey Row, and to be bringing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to Louisville," Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira said in a news release.
The Evan Williams center becomes the eighth stop on the trail, and Heaven Hill will be the only distiller with two attractions; its Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown is also on the trail.
A University of Louisville economic impact study for the Kentucky Distillers Association projects that Jefferson County could realize more than $2.5 million a year in spending from bourbon tourism. At least four more craft distilleries are planning to come downtown.
"Bourbon is a big business, but more than industry, bourbon is a culture, a history and a heritage built by generations of Kentuckians," Beshear said. "I'm very excited to see this tradition grow."
Heaven Hill, owned by the Shapira family, already gets 80,000 visitors a year to its Bourbon Heritage Center, which focuses on the making of bourbon.. Its Louisville visitor center will tell the story of America's native spirit through the prism of its namesake: Wales-born Williams was a distiller and wharf master in 1790s Louisville.
The tour starts with history, but also shows Heaven Hill's new copper still, which will daily produce about a barrel of bourbon or other spirits, Hafer said.
The first barrel from the new still was to be filled Thursday night.
The Main Street building that houses the visitor center has been owned by the Shapiras since the 1950s; it was used to house goods for the family's chain of department stores, The Louisville Store.
Tasting rooms upstairs are a nod to both eras — one with a 1800s theme and the other with mid-20th-century decor.
The visitor center also has a re-creation of a Prohibition-era "speakeasy" in its basement. It has a full kitchen and bar, accessed by walking through an ersatz safe, and whispering the pass phrase, "Joe sent me."
If you go
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
Address: 528 W. Main St., Louisville
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 1-5 p.m. Sun. Last daily tour at 4 p.m.
Admission: $12 adults 21 and older, $9 children 15-20 and active military, free for children 14 and younger.
Learn more: Evanwilliams.com
Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl