In the last 5 years, bourbon whiskey has become much more than a get-wasted-quick scheme found in your grandpa’s basement liquor cabinet.
Today, bourbon is a $3.3B industry. Now, The New York Times reports that thirsty investors are helping storied Kentucky distillers like Kentucky Owl (which recently sold to the owner of Stolichnaya vodka) turn the state’s staple into a cornerstone of its economy.
Congress established Bourbon as “America’s Native Spirit” in ’64 — yet almost immediately, it experienced a decades-long downturn in demand (only 455k barrels were produced in 1999, down from 1.9m 30 years earlier).
But all of that changed in the early 2000s as a younger generation of drinkers rediscovered bourbon and its All-American origins.
Since 2014, nearly 2 dozen distilleries have opened in Kentucky — which produces 95% of all bourbon — to keep up with demand.
In 2017, 1.2m people visited bourbon distilleries (a 20% jump from 2016, and nearly double the number in 2014). Now, the race is on to see which Kentucky bourbon town becomes the Napa Valley of American whiskey.
Local businesses are smelling the prosperous notes of the same Napa wine craze that transformed the tiny Northern California farming town into a premiere vacation destination in the ’80s.
To the chagrin of many Kentucky traditionalists, dining hotspots with craft whiskey lists, high-end retailing, and bourbon-smashed bridal parties have become the norm.
6 months after selling to SPI Group, Kentucky Owl revealed plans to build a $150m distillery. Of course, it’s not just any distillery. The new facility will feature a convention center, 2 lakes, and a luxury hotel… drink it in, tourists. Drink it in.