The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is becoming a whiskey superhighway.
The Kentucky Distillers' Association reported on Thursday that in 2014 there were 723,503 visits to at least one of the 18 distilleries on the trail or the affiliated craft tour.
This is a 14 percent increase over the 633,000 visits reported by the KDA last year.
Combined with numbers reported earlier this month by Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792, which are not part of the Bourbon Trail, there were about 867,000 visits to Kentucky's bourbon and moonshine makers.
"The monumental growth of our Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences is proof that they're the hottest tourism attractions around," said Eric Gregory, KDA president.
"Some of our distilleries are up 200 percent in attendance over the last five years, which is great news for local communities that are reaping the tourism benefits."
Bourbon tourism has become a significant economic driver, according to an economic impact study of the industry released in August.
According to data collected by the distilleries in 2013, 84 percent of the people who visit all the distilleries come from out of state, spend several nights in hotels, and spend millions every year during their visits.
The popularity of the trail, which has an estimated economic impact of more than $7.5 million, has led to growth of related businesses, including hotels, restaurants, bars, tour buses, and souvenirs across the state.
The historic Kentucky Bourbon Trail, created in 1999, showcases nine of the state's legendary distilleries; the newer craft tour includes nine distilleries.
While all the distilleries have seen increased tourism, Wild Turkey and Four Roses, both in Lawrenceburg, have jumped 200 percent in five years, Gregory said.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour — in just its second full year of existence — saw 96,471 visits, a 56 percent increase over its first year, said Adam Johnson, KDA Bourbon Trail director.
All craft distilleries averaged high double-digit growth with three — Corsair in Bowling Green, Silver Trail in Hardin and Wilderness Trail in Danville — increasing between 125 and 225 percent over 2013, Johnson said. And more craft distillers are waiting to join, he said.
Visitors who complete "passports" with stamps from every distillery are eligible for a free T-shirt. The record number of distilleries caused passport numbers to dip slightly in 2014 to 14,312 completions from 14,915 in 2013, Johnson said. "That's completely expected and understandable since the quest to finish all tours is longer," he said.
The KDA is exploring ideas to enhance the passport program with an upscale reward and additional incentives now that it's tougher to achieve, Johnson said. Since the passport program's inception in 2007, more than 75,000 people have finished the tour.