Buffalo Trace, Maker's Mark upgrading visitors centers

jpatton1@herald-leader.comApril 7, 2014 

Buffalo Trace and Maker's Mark might be the next distilleries to expand their visitors centers.

Buffalo Trace, owned by Sazerac, is on the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority's agenda Wednesday for final approval of incentives to expand the meeting space, gift shop and tasting area at its Frankfort distillery, which makes a spectrum of popular bourbons, including Pappy Van Winkle, Elmer T. Lee, Blanton's and Buffalo Trace.

Total cost of the project is estimated to be more than $2.2 million.

Buffalo Trace spokes woman Amy Preske said the distillery had no comment.

Maker's Mark also is on the agenda for preliminary approval of a $2 million, 3,500-square-foot expansion of the Loretto distillery's visitors center. If the request for incentives gets initial approval Wednesday, the authority will conduct a study to determine whether the project meets legal requirements, then consider final approval in about six weeks.

Maker's Mark, owned by Beam (soon to be owned by Suntory), wants to expand and move its welcome center, add a special Maker's 46 experience and add parking. The distillery is working on rerouting truck traffic away from tourist parking.

Maker's Mark also recently unveiled a Dale Chihuly art glass installation on the visitors tour inside a bourbon warehouse.

Maker's Mark is planning a $67 million upgrade of the distillery, including adding a third set of stills to expand production capacity by 50 percent, and building new warehouses to help meet demand for the premium bourbon.

Also Wednesday, Woodford Reserve Distillery will open its expanded visitors center with a new tasting room. The $1.63 million renovation also remodeled the visitors center, expanded catering and updated the gift shop. Brown-Forman, Woodford's parent, invested $1.5 million, and the distillery was eligible for $407,000 in tax incentives from the tourism cabinet.

Woodford Reserve also is undergoing a $35 million expansion of its distillery, including adding more pot stills, three more warehouses and a bigger bottling line.

According to the tourism cabinet, a report on the distillery's application found that it met the requirements necessary to receive a rebate on sales tax generated by the tourism attraction, including an expenditure of more than $1 million, being open more than 100 days a year, attracting at least 25 percent of visitors from outside the state by its fourth year of operation and having a positive net economic impact on the Kentucky economy.

Woodford Reserve attracts more than 150,000 tourists annually.

And next week, Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg will celebrate its new $4 million visitors center overlooking the Kentucky River. This will cap a $100 million investment by parent company Campari, which opened a $43 million bottling plant last fall and is building barrel warehouses, in addition to a new $50 million distillery.

The 9,140-square-foot Wild Turkey visitors center is eligible to receive $1 million in tax incentives over 10 years from the tourism cabinet.

Kentucky's distilleries are eager to capitalize on and feed the enthusiasm for bourbon, which has lead to a tourism "arms race." Last fall, Heaven Hill opened the $10 million, five-story Evan Williams' Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville, with a craft distillery inside. Heaven Hill already had one visitors center in Bardstown but wanted a foothold in Louisville.

In 2012, Jim Beam debuted the $15 million American Stillhouse, which is eligible for more than $3.7 million in tourism cabinet incentives. Four Roses in Lawrenceburg completed a $2.4 million revamp of its visitors center at the Spanish mission style distillery.

Tourism cabinet officials said they hoped the expansions would keep the bourbon boom rolling along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Including the Sazerac distilleries, which are not on the Bourbon Trail, there were almost 750,000 visits to at least one Kentucky distillery in 2013.

By 2016, the Kentucky Distillers' Association predicts tourism could reach 800,000 visits, with 40,000 people going to all the distilleries on the trail.

Future expansions of visitors centers, warehouses, distilleries and a slew of related expenses also will be eligible for a new tax rebate of $14 million in ad valorem "barrel taxes" created by the General Assembly. Gov. Steve Beshear is reviewing the revenue bill.

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

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service