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Like visiting Kentucky distilleries? You have lots of company.

The Jim Beam American Stillhouse, in Clermont could be growing. The state approved tax incentives for potential expansion projects worth almost $165 million.
The Jim Beam American Stillhouse, in Clermont could be growing. The state approved tax incentives for potential expansion projects worth almost $165 million. cbertram@herald-leader.com

For the second year in a row, visits to the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail topped 1 million. The number in 2017 hit almost 1.2 million, a 12 percent increase over 2016’s visits to the major distilleries and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour of smaller distillers.

Altogether, the 23 distilleries on the two tourism attractions drew 1,194,233 visits last year. That includes 940,780 visits to the 10 distilleries on the historic Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, and 253,453 stops at the 13 distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

“We’re thrilled with the sensational success of our Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences and their impact on the Bluegrass economy,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “Bourbon has spawned a renaissance in state tourism, from restaurants and bars to hotels, specialty shops, tour companies and more.”

Not all of the state’s 52 distilleries are members of the association or on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Last week, Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, which is not on the trademarked trail, also reported a record 201,491 guests in 2017.

The growth in bourbon tourism has helped fuel an ongoing $1.2 billion building boom as distilleries race to keep up with demand for bourbon and for bourbon experiences that fans can enjoy.

Major announcements and openings last year included a $115 million distillery opening and a $10 million visitors’ center planned for Bulleit near Shelbyville by spirits company Diageo, and vodka maker Stoli announcing a $150 million lakeside complex that will include a distillery, a visitors center, a cooperage, rickhouses, a bottling center, a restaurant and a convention center in Bardstown.

The Castle and Key Distillery outside of Frankfort is scheduled to open this year after numerous delays. And Lux Row, a new distillery in Bardstown, is scheduled to open in April.

To help people navigate between distilleries, the association soon will launch a new Kentucky Bourbon Trail website.

Adam Johnson, senior director of Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences, said several new distilleries will be joining this year. The distillers’ trade group also is partnering with the Frazier History Museum in downtown Louisville to develop a welcome center for bourbon tourists, which will open in August.

“Our guests are always thirsty for new things to see and do,” Johnson said. “We’re going to make it easier for visitors to plan and book their trips and enhance their experience with our world-class sponsors and accommodations.”

Kentucky Bourbon Trail members are Angel’s Envy, Louisville; Bulleit’s Stitzel-Weller Distillery, Louisville; Four Roses, Lawrenceburg and Cox’s Creek; Heaven Hill in Bardstown and its Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Louisville; Jim Beam in Clermont and Louisville; Maker’s Mark, Loretto; Town Branch, Lexington; Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg; and Woodford Reserve, Versailles.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour members are Barrel House and Bluegrass Distillers in Lexington; Boone County Distilling, Richwood; Corsair, Bowling Green; Hartfield & Co., Paris; Kentucky Artisan, Crestwood; Kentucky Peerless, Louisville; Limestone Branch, Lebanon; MB Roland, Pembroke; New Riff, Newport; Old Pogue, Maysville; Wilderness Trail, Danville; and Willett, Bardstown.

According to the association, Kentucky bourbon has an annual economic impact of $8.5 billion, creating up to 17,500 jobs and $825 million in tax revenue.

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