Louisville’s Bourbon Experience
The maker of Evan Williams bourbon has uncorked a new attraction, opening a craft distillery just steps from where the whiskey pioneer who inspired the brand fired up his own commercial stills two centuries ago.
The distillery and "bourbon experience" - complete with tours and tasting rooms - is the first of several ventures to bolster tourism and bring small-batch bourbon production to the heart of downtown Louisville, once the hub of commerce for Kentucky whiskey makers.
Today’s powerhouse bourbon brands such as Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Maker’s Mark are crafted in rural Kentucky settings, an hour or less away, but the trade is showing signs of a comeback in the city. An urban bourbon trail features 27 bars and restaurants, each stocked with at least 50 labels, and a planned bourbon district would tie together the city’s bourbon heritage with historical markers and landmarks in the Whiskey Row area, where clusters of whiskey merchants, wholesalers and blenders set up shop decades ago.
"It’s the place to be," said Joe Magliocco, president of Michter’s Distillery LLC, which is converting a downtown building into a craft distillery. "If you want to be one of the best, you’ve got to play among the best."
Heaven Hill, which makes Evan Williams, is at the forefront with its new $10.5 million attraction - The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.
It’s located in a renovated building and offers tours that trace bourbon production from frontier days when whiskey was currency to its contemporary revival in bars and restaurants across the globe. It features a five-story Evan Williams bottle replica and of course, it has a gift shop, too. It opened to the public Nov. 15.
Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon, and the 4.9 million barrels of aging bourbon in this state outnumber the population here, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.
As demand worldwide has spiked, the state’s bourbon production has risen more than 120 percent since 1999 to more than 1 million barrels in 2012, the industry group said.
More than 2.5 million visitors have toured the major distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in the past five years, the group said. Heaven Hill’s attraction, located on Whiskey Row, will be the northern gateway to the trail.
Despite its bourbon prowess, the Bluegrass state hasn’t kept pace with other parts of the country in attracting upstart craft distillers.
Kentucky ranks eighth nationally in distilled spirits permits, said Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory, citing federal statistics. California ranks first, followed by Washington state, New York and Oregon.