Brown-Forman will build a $30 million new distillery on Main Street in Louisville to produce Old Forester, its oldest brand, and create a new visitors center.
The company announced Thursday that is has acquired two historic properties in Louisville's Whiskey Row — 117 and 119 West Main Street — that it will renovate for the Old Forester Distillery and visitors center, an investment of more than $30 million.
"George Garvin Brown introduced Old Forester, America's first bottled bourbon, more than 140 years ago, which changed our industry and the Louisville community forever," said Paul Varga, CEO of Brown-Forman, in a news release. "As demand for high quality bourbon continues to increase, the Old Forester Distillery will enable us to expand capacity so that we can further showcase one of the greatest tasting and most historic bourbons. We believe this will enrich Kentucky, the home of bourbon, and Louisville, the historic home of Brown-Forman and the Brown family."
On Thursday, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority board approved $1.31 million in tax incentives for both the $26.5 million distillery and the $4.5 million visitors center, which together would create an estimated 15-20 jobs.
"We're proud of Brown-Forman's rich heritage, which is an integral part of Kentucky's world famous bourbon industry," said Gov. Steve Beshear, in a news release. "This expansion, including 20 new jobs and more than $30 million in investment, will help grow sales and exports for a Kentucky product that is increasingly in demand across the globe."
In 2014, for the first time, more than $1 billion in bourbon and Tennessee whiskey was exported, with 21 percent coming from Kentucky; Brown-Forman also makes Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, the biggest-selling American whiskey brand globally.
The Main Street project, which will include fermentation, distilling, barrel making, filling and dumping, and bottling, will take about two years to complete. Once finished in the fall of 2016, the distillery will allow Brown-Forman to double its current production of Old Forester.
Old Forester is produced at an existing Brown-Forman distillery in Shively, which will continue to make Early Times and other products.
The new facility will give a "brand home" for Old Forester, which has seen tremendous resurgence in the past year — adjusted sales jumped 16 percent, according to figures the company released in its year-end earnings report earlier this year.
The company's premium bourbon, Woodford Reserve, is on track to sell 1 million cases annually in five or six years, and company officials have said they hope that Old Forester could mimic Woodford Reserve's growth.
The new distillery would include a $1.2 million investment in land; $17 million in building and improvements; $8 million in equipment; and $260,000 in other startup costs.
The visitors center would include $3.9 million in construction and $590,000 in other startup costs, according to the KEDFA documents.
The two buildings will have a combined 55,000 square feet, with 52 linear feet facing Main Street and will give Brown-Forman a major Louisville tourism attraction to rival Heaven Hill's Evan Williams Bourbon Experience up the street and Diageo's Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller nearby, among others.
"Bourbonism is real and just keeps growing in our city and our state," said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. "Not only is Brown-Forman growing one of its strongest brands, it also is redeveloping two key structures in a historic block of our downtown, which will encourage more investment, more stability and more growth."
The project also may be eligible for two new incentives approved by the General Assembly earlier this year: up to $6 million, spread over four years, for historical rehabilitation and a corporate tax credit of taxes paid on aging whiskey stocks.
Renovation of the historic Whiskey Row facades, which are cast iron and date to the late 1800s, has long been a goal of many in Louisville. Brown-Forman was among the investors in Main Street Revitalization, which bought several of the buildings. The company bought out other investors in two of them and now owns five buildings on Main Street. The area was once home to at least 19 distillers, wholesalers, rectifiers and other whiskey-related businesses.
"Between 1900 and 1919, Brown-Forman occupied 117 West Main Street on Louisville's Whiskey Row. We're returning to our roots with this distillery, just another wonderful example of Brown-Forman's commitment to historic preservation and downtown development in Louisville," said Geo. Garvin Brown IV, fifth-generation descendant of the founder and current board chairman.
Old Forester was the company's original brand. Originally "Old Forrester" with two Rs, allegedly named for a Louisville doctor, it was the first bourbon sold exclusively in a bottle to ensure purity, rather than out of a barrel, according to Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage, by Michael Veach.
It became such a significant brand that the water tower over Brown-Forman headquarters is a giant Old Forester bottle.
The Louisville expansion comes on top of Brown-Forman's expansion of the Woodford Reserve distillery and warehouses in Woodford County. In June 2013, Brown-Forman announced a $36.25 million plan to double capacity in Versailles and build three barrel warehouses to hold 55,000 barrels each.