DANVILLE — With a few well-placed taps on a ceremonial bung, Kentucky's newest small distillery officially joined the Kentucky Bourbon Trail's Craft Tour on Friday.
Wilderness Trace, Danville's first distillery, began making vodka, bourbon and sorghum-based rum more than a month ago. It now has three barrels of rum and three of bourbon aging in its downtown distillery, which will be open to the public beginning Saturday.
Now a member of the Kentucky Distillers Association, Wilderness Trace became the eighth stop on the KDA's craft tour.
Distiller Shane Baker and business partner Pat Heist opened their distillery after years of working with ethanol makers through their company Ferm Solutions. That company focuses on the industrial; Wilderness Trace carves a more hands-on niche but retains the scientific precision.
"We wanted to do something meaningful and impactful for our community, and we started talking about craft distilling," Baker said Friday. "Who wouldn't want to be a part of distilling in Kentucky?"
They decided to source much of the ingredients locally, so they turned to nearby Caverndale Farms for corn and wheat, Highbridge Springs for water, and Townsend Sweet Sorghum for molasses.
"We weren't even going to make a rum until Danny Townsend showed up," Baker said. "He brought a jar of molasses, and we fell in love with Danny and with his product, which is also hand-grown and handmade here in Kentucky. We got that approved as a gold U.S. rum, one of only two products on the market made from molasses."
They toasted their grand opening Friday with sips of that rum and their Blue Heron vodka.
"On the day after the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, we would not be here today if not for that. Cheers," Baker said.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer hailed the company's use of locally grown goods and its efforts to promote agriculture, bourbon and tourism.
"Thank you for supporting Kentucky farmers," Comer said. "Thank you for going out of your way to make your product a Kentucky Proud product."
Comer also praised the $2 billion bourbon industry, which has created 9,000 jobs and exported whiskey to 126 countries.
"We're on a roll here," Comer said. "People all over the world know that Kentucky is where superior bourbon is made. ... The products that are going to be made here in Danville will be known worldwide, too, here shortly."
Adam Johnson, director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, said that Wilderness Trace will help draw more tourists to Danville. Collectively, the distillers on the trail had more than 500,000 visits in 2012, with more than 18,000 people going to all the major distillers, he said. That prompted the KDA to launch a craft tour so visitors could also see new smaller distillers.
"We saw quite a bump from that," he said.
To celebrate Friday, Comer and others helped the distillers officially "bung," or hammer the plug in, a new barrel, which will age for five to seven years, until Baker and Heist deem it ready to bottle.
Johnson said Kentucky distillers have 4.9 million barrels of bourbon aging in warehouses.
"Make that 4.9 million and three."