The Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s official venues hosted more than 1 million visits last year, breaking that prestigious milestone mark for the first time since the tour was founded in 1999, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association announced last week.
The booming tourist attraction has grown 300 percent in the last 10 years and spawned the companion Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour in 2012, the first of its kind in the country that features the state’s thriving micro distilleries.
“This is a tremendous cause for celebration for the entire Commonwealth,” KDA President Eric Gregory said. “Think of what 1 million tours means to Kentucky in jobs, tax revenue and positive publicity. The success is staggering.”
Here are the numbers:
The historic Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, which showcases nine of the state’s legendary distilleries, set a new record with 888,733 visits in 2016, breaking the previous year’s record by 17 percent.
Participating distilleries include Bulleit’s Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville; Four Roses in Lawrenceburg and Cox’s Creek; Heaven Hill in Bardstown and its Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in Louisville; Jim Beam in Clermont and Louisville; Maker’s Mark, Loretto; Town Branch, Lexington; Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg; and Woodford Reserve, Versailles.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour saw 177,228 visits among its 11 participating distilleries, a 32 percent increase over the previous year and a whopping 187 percent increase over 2013, its first full year in existence.
The Craft Tour last year added Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood to its growing lineup, joining Barrel House in Lexington; Corsair, Bowling Green; Hartfield & Co., Paris; Kentucky Peerless, Louisville; Limestone Branch, Lebanon; MB Roland, Pembroke; New Riff, Newport; Old Pogue, Maysville; Wilderness Trail, Danville; and Willett, Bardstown.
The total for all 20 participating distilleries was a record 1,065,961.
Adam Johnson, who directs both tours for the KDA, said several distilleries will be joining in the coming weeks and months. “Experiences in Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky will be coming online soon, and we’re expecting a few more by the end of the year.”
Johnson said the KDA’s tourism committee is working to enhance the Passport program that rewards visitors once they complete tours of all participating distilleries. A new souvenir gift will be distributed in 2017, with bigger opportunities on the horizon.
“With so many distilleries, it’s increasingly harder to visit every one in a single trip,” he said. “But it’s a quest – a bucket list item for Bourbon lovers around the world. We want to make sure the journey is adequately rewarded and cherished.”
Bourbon is one of the Commonwealth’s most iconic and treasured industries, a booming $3 billion economic engine that generates more than 15,000 jobs with an annual payroll topping $700 million and pours $166 million of tax revenue into state and local coffers each year.
In addition, KDA member distilleries are in the middle of a $1.3 billion building boom, Gregory said, from innovative new tourism centers to expanded production facilities, all to meet the growing global demand for Kentucky’s signature spirit.
“People don’t just want what’s in the bottle,” Gregory said. “They have a thirst for Kentucky’s Bourbon culture, our legendary Southern hospitality and our unique, authentic and engaging distillery experiences.
“Our distillers are investing more to honor that demand and to strengthen Kentucky’s rightful place as the one, true home for Bourbon. With a million visits and counting, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventures are clearly the gold standard for Bourbon tourism.”