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'It is exciting to see': Kentucky's bourbon industry is booming, Gov. Beshear says

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Posted at 5:44 PM, Jan 19, 2022

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Barrel by barrel, Kentucky's bourbon industry has grown.

Governor Andy Beshear, the Kentucky Distillers' Association, and legislative leaders unveiled the 2021 bourbon economic impact study. According to the report, Kentucky distillers had nearly $9 billion in impact on the Commonwealth in 2020. That's despite the pandemic.

“It is exciting to see bourbon continuing to boom and to bring Kentucky along with it,” said Beshear.

The report also shows that since 2009, bourbon jobs and payroll have more than doubled. The distilling industry now employs 22,500 people with $1.23 billion in annual payroll.

According to the report, the average salary in the bourbon industry has topped $100,000 for the first time.

The governor also highlighted the building boom happening in bourbon. Kentucky distillers are in the middle of a $5.2 billion building boom. Some of the focus will be on expanding the tourism part of the industry.

"Somebody once called us the Sonoma of the South and we thought that was pretty cool," said Eric Gregory, Kentucky Distillers’ Association president. "You go to Napa Valley and it's not just about the wineries. It's about the experience, and the culture, and the hospitality, and the food, and things like that. That's what the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is growing into."

On Wednesday, Gregory thanked legislative leaders for their past help with tax incentives and other bills that have helped the industry grow. For example, in 2014, the Bourbon Barrel Reinvestment Tax Credit offset the tax that distillers pay on aging barrels.

But Gregory says additional help is needed. Distillers are lobbying for tax reform efforts to better compete with distilleries in other states.

"Kentucky makes 95% of the world's bourbon. 100% of everything that's fit to drink," said House Speaker David Osborne. "Yet over 2,200 distilleries have chosen to not locate in Kentucky. That's unconscionable. That's unacceptable."

"The world is still just discovering the great flavor of Kentucky Bourbon and that means we have a bright future, as long as, of course, we get things done here at home to make sure the industry stays competitive," said Chris Morris, the master distiller for Woodford Reserve.