Kentucky Bourbon Trail tourism increased by 12 percent in 2013

jpatton1@herald-leader.comJanuary 23, 2014 

People shopped in the gift shop at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Ky., Friday, September 20, 2013. Distillery tours are a popular activity at the nearby Bourbon Festival in Bardstown. Jim Beam has launched their new I m Beam program where people who join can have their photo taken and printed on a Jim Beam bourbon label. Photo by Charles Bertram oe Staff

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More people are beating a path to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

In 2013, the Trail's mainstream distilleries welcomed a record 571,701 visitors — with an additional 61,698 visits to at least one "craft" or small distillery — according to an annual tally released Thursday by the Kentucky Distillers' Association.

The figures are self-reported by the KDA's eight "heritage" or major distilleries and eight craft distilleries.

Two major distilleries, Sazerac-owned Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792, are not KDA members and no longer on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. But they also welcome tourists: The two distilleries had 113,536 visits, which would mean 746,935 visits to at least one Kentucky distillery in 2013.

Amy Preske of Buffalo Trace said the Frankfort distillery saw 34 percent more visitors, and Barton 1792 in Bardstown saw 31 percent more.

Town Branch Distillery in Lexington saw visitors nearly double in its first year of operation, said Hal Gervis of Alltech's Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co.

The number of visits to the KDA heritage distillers rose 12 percent over 2012, boosted by the addition of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in Louisville, which Heaven Hill Distillery opened last fall.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, which also added a new stop, Wilderness Trace Distillery in Danville, likewise saw an influx of bourbon tourists in its first full year of existence.

"We've seen our tourism grow by leaps and bounds," said Steve Beam, co-owner of Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon. "Of course, the craft tour is just a little over a year old, started a year ago October, and it's taken a little while for people on the Bourbon Trail to realize there is another trail. But as that has become more widely known, the numbers of people continue to grow. As the Bourbon Trail continues to mature and grow, the whole experience becomes wider."

The Craft Tour also includes Barrel House in Lexington, Corsair in Bowling Green, M.B. Roland in Pembroke, Old Pogue in Maysville, Silver Trail in Hardin and Willett in Bardstown.

Created by the KDA in 1999, the Bourbon Trail includes Four Roses and Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, Heaven Hill in Bardstown and Louisville, Jim Beam in Clermont, Maker's Mark in Loretto, Town Branch in Lexington, and Woodford Reserve in Versailles. Wild Turkey recently built a new visitor center and Woodford Reserve is expanding its space to accommodate the increase.

"Wild Turkey saw an increase of about 16 percent at its old visitor center in 2013 over 2012. We expect a much larger audience this year, as we unveil our new facility," said Dave Karraker, spokesman for Campari, Wild Turkey's parent. "The new Wild Turkey visitor center is expected to welcome upwards of 70,000 visitors annually — up significantly from the 50,000 visitors per year of the previous facility."

Fueled by the boom in bourbon, distillery tourism has grown every year and has become a major economic driver, according to studies by University of Louisville economists.

The distilleries are working to capture and further fire that growth.

Kim Bennett, director of the Jim Beam American Stillhouse, said the first full year of that site saw a 20 percent increase in attendance.

"We broke 100,000 visitors in 2012, and we saw 120,000 in 2013," Bennett said. Timed tastings were implemented to manage peak-capacity days. But things are only going to get busier: Its new calendar of special events will be released in coming weeks.

"Could be bluegrass music on Fridays, mixology on weekends, holiday special events," Bennett said.

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

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