FRANKFORT — Just back from a trade mission to Taiwan, Gov. Steve Beshear said Thursday he sees a potentially "big market" for Kentucky-made bourbon whiskey.
Scotch now dominates in Taiwan, accounting for about 90 percent of the whiskey sold, leaving little room for popular Kentucky brands including Maker's Mark, Jim Beam and Old Grand-Dad.
"We're going to work to change that," Beshear said.
The weeklong trip included stops in Japan. Beshear said he finalized a deal there for a new manufacturing plant in Central Kentucky. He declined to provide details out of courtesy to the company, which will make the announcement before the end of the month.
In Taiwan, Beshear said, he treated government and business leaders to a bourbon tasting.
"It was a big hit, so we're making progress there," he said.
Over the past two years, despite a slow economy overall, the bourbon industry has undergone its largest expansion since prohibition. Kentucky, which produces 95 percent of the world's supply of bourbon, exported about 29 million gallons to 126 countries in 2010, up from about 25 million gallons in 2008. To accommodate that growth, distilleries in Kentucky have invested $170 million in expansions now under way or recently completed, including larger warehouses, new equipment, and visitor centers to accommodate a growing tourist interest in the bourbon-making process.
Those findings were part of an economic analysis released earlier this year showing that the distilling industry now employs about 3,100 people in Kentucky, with an annual payroll of about $246 million.
University of Louisville economist Paul Coomes, who conducted the analysis, also reported that Kentucky's bourbon industry now contributes nearly $2 billion in gross state product annually.
While in Taiwan, Beshear said, he received commitments from several of the major hotels that they would stock major brands of Kentucky bourbon.
"I think they're very excited about it," Beshear said. "It's a big market."