Bourbon County

Visitors are setting record numbers at this bourbon distillery

The Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort in 2013. The distillery has been named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. It had a record-breaking year for visitors in 2017.
The Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort in 2013. The distillery has been named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. It had a record-breaking year for visitors in 2017. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Bourbon is booming statewide, and for Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky’s capital so are the numbers of visitors coming to learn about it.

Buffalo Trace Distillery experienced tourism growth last year, hosting 201,491 guests. The number, up from last year’s visitor total of 170,587, is a sharp increase from the approximate 52,000 visitors in 2010, according to a news release from the distillery.

“It took us 15 years to get to 100,000 visitors, but only three years to get to 200,000, so the momentum just keeps going,” marketing services director Meredith Moody said in the news release.

To accommodate the increase, the distillery is looking for ways to expand its visitor center, which had been expanded in 2015, with a second floor and a bigger gift shop.

The distillery is building new barrel warehouses on the farm it owns next to the distillery, at a rate of one new warehouse every four months for the next decade. The new warehouses will hold 58,000 barrels. Buffalo Trace also plans to expand its distilling operation, including new mash cookers, a boiler and fermenters.

“We are bursting at the seams, so to speak, in all areas —distillation, bottling and tourism — so we’re looking forward to our new expansion,” Moody said.

The growth is widespread in the bourbon industry. . The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which includes major distilleries Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve and Jim Beam, surpassed 1 million visitors in 2016.

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association, said he is waiting on the attendance numbers of one or two more distilleries, but 2017’s attendance numbers already have surpassed 2016.

“The growth, over the past 10 years especially, has been phenomenal,” he said.

Major announcements and openings last year included a $115 million distillery opening 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 highly anticipated Castle and Key Distillery outside of Frankfort is scheduled to open this year after numerous delays.

Bourbon has become a huge economic player for Kentucky. In 2016, a study revealed that the industry was responsible for $8.5 billion in total economic output and between 15,000 and 17,500 jobs.

“This is not ending any time soon,” Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said last year . “There were people who didn’t even know what bourbon was five years ago that are making it now in this state.”

Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort has opened a new 'Bourbon Pompeii' tour where tour visitors can walk catwalks installed above tanks and vats used to make bourbon over 100 years ago.

Trey Crumbie: 859-231-3261, @CrumbieHLeader

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