Lexington gets to take a step back into its own history and onto the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, thanks to Alltech and its founder Pearse Lyons.
Lyons will soon be making America's only native whiskey in a $6 million glass-and-limestone structure, the first new distillery in Lexington in 100 years.
The home of Town Branch bourbon is going up behind Alltech's Kentucky Ale brewery at Maxwell and Pine streets, close by Mayor Jim Gray's proposed arts and entertainment district, as well as traditional attractions, such as Rupp Arena and the Mary Todd Lincoln House, and near the newer eating and drinking venues that are giving downtown a mini-renaissance.
Lyons' entry into the bourbon-making craft is a logical next step in a lifelong fascination with fermentation. Yeast is the basis for the international animal-nutrition company that the transplanted Irishman has built in Central Kentucky.
Lyons' beer- and whiskey-making are perhaps more labors of love. But they're also pretty good business. Alltech is working on selling its Lexington-made ale, which also has debuted in China, nationwide.
Over the last decade, bourbon making in Kentucky has more than doubled — 455,078 barrels in 1999 compared to 988,407 in 2010 — with premium small-batch and single-barrel brands driving the bourbon bandwagon.
That's according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association, which created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 1999 to encourage and take advantage of the renewed interest in sipping corn squeezin's, slowly aged in charred oak barrels, through many a Kentucky heat wave and snowstorm.
Bourbon, which originated in Kentucky, has become so popular that it's now being made in unlikely locales, including Texas. (Imposters!)
We're guessing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is better known outside the state than in. It's been the subject of flattering national press. Turns out that driving the winding back roads of Anderson, Bullitt, Marion, Nelson and Woodford counties, past picture-perfect farms and babbling creeks, through small towns like Bardstown and Versailles, appeals to the same kind of travelers who go to California wine country.
In 2011, 11,757 people visited all six distilleries on the tour, and the numbers are up this year.
It's great that the Town Branch distillery will be the seventh on the tour, and that these travelers will have a new excuse to visit Lexington, along with a map showing them how to get here.
Last week's announcement of the new distillery has already sparked enough national interest to crash the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Web site. All in all, a good problem to have.