Study: Bourbon elevates Kentucky’s status as economic powerhouse

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Van Winkle Special Reserve straight bourbon whiskey bottles wait stacked at Leeland Little Auctions in Hillsborough onFeb. 29

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky bourbon has elevated its status as an economic powerhouse, with distillers pumping nearly $9 billion into the state’s economy each year, a new study showed Wednesday.

Distillers employ more than 22,500 people with $1.23 billion in annual payroll in Kentucky, according to the study commissioned by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. The industry’s employment and payroll have surged in the past two decades as distilleries open or expand.

Bourbon’s trickle down effect has spurred tourism and created more demand for Kentucky corn.

“It is exciting to see bourbon continuing to boom and to bring Kentucky along with it,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference.

House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers, both Republicans, joined the Democratic governor at the event, signaling the bourbon industry’s bipartisan support.

Distilling contributes more than $285 million in local and state tax revenue and the industry is in the midst of a $5.2 billion expansion boom, the study showed.

The economic snapshot shows that “bourbon is more than just a drink,” KDA President Eric Gregory said. “It is jobs, investment, tourism and so much more.”

Kentucky has 95 distilleries operated by 75 companies spread across 40 counties, Beshear said.

Bourbon production — the number of barrels filled each year — is up 435% since 1999, the study found. A record 10.3 million barrels of bourbon are aging in Kentucky.

Kentucky distilleries craft 95% of the world’s bourbon, according to KDA.