VERSAILLES — Brown-Forman, one of the pioneers of bourbon tourism, reinvented the way thousands of visitors will enjoy one of Kentucky's most popular distilleries.
"Today we're here to celebrate a new development in the life of the Woodford Reserve visit experience," said master distiller Chris Morris at the official grand opening of the brand's redesigned visitors center, which got a $1.9 million facelift over the winter.
Gov. Steve Beshear hailed the new tasting room, expanded gift shop and catering space as a great enhancement to the booming Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
"You know when I look out here and see a great bunch of Kentuckians, at 11 o'clock in the morning, with a glass of bourbon in their hands I know that all's right with the world," Beshear said. "Whether you're speaking in terms of jobs created, products manufactured, goods exported, tourists attracted, or facilities expanded, Kentucky's bourbon industry — one of our signature industries — is in the middle of unprecedented growth."
The industry has poured more than $350 million into new capital construction in recent years, Beshear said. Part of the investment was visible on the hill overlooking the historic Labrot & Graham Distillery that makes Woodford Reserve: Brown-Forman is building three new barrel warehouses to store bourbon as the brand gears up production to meet increasing global demand, part of a $35 million expansion.
"Woodford Reserve is an integral part of Kentucky's world-famous bourbon industry. And this expansion will both increase the popularity of a signature product while enhancing the Bourbon Trail experience," Beshear said. "There's no bounds to where we can go with this industry."
Distilleries today want to cater to the desire by fans to visit bourbon's birthplace. There were almost 750,000 visits last year to at least one Kentucky distillery; Woodford Reserve, which opened in 1996 and was one of the first to focus on tourism, alone had 130,000 visitors.
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approved up to $407,000 in incentives over a 10-year period for the visitor center expansion. The incentives are in the form of a rebate based on sales tax generated by the tourism attraction.
Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga said the idea behind Woodford Reserve was always to provide hospitality as well as great bourbon.
"It's a very exciting time for both our company and the industry, especially the category of bourbon," Varga said. "This is a milestone event for us today. Not only the visitors center but what's going on around here with the manufacturing investment ... Woodford Reserve is one of the fastest growing brands and we're one of the faster, if not the fastest, growing company in our industry. ... Increasingly, Woodford is becoming a contributor to Brown-Forman's growth. ... We think the future for Brown-Forman's more exciting than ever."
Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl.