BY HEATHER C. WATSON
“Micro” is certainly having a moment.
Everywhere you look, small batch products are all the rage, and Kentucky is no exception. All across the Commonwealth, businesses are finding that sometimes you do things a little better if you do them smaller. Over in Garrard County, the Small Batch Clothing Company produces a distinctive, sophisticated line of men’s shirts, hats and ties, a few at a time. Lexington is experiencing an exciting explosion of promising new microbreweries. Perhaps most dramatically, a new wave of boutique distillers across the state promises to change the face of Kentucky’s bourbon industry.
Bourbon is as quintessential to Kentucky’s heritage as horses, basketball or limestone. Most any Kentuckian can tell give you a quick rundown of bourbon facts: the charred oak barrel-aged spirit first named for Old Bourbon County is made from a mash that is at least 51% corn and distilled to no more than 160 proof. We know these details by rote, like the assassination of Governor William Goebel or the years in which UK basketball’s eight National Championship titles were earned. These days, however, a host of new distilleries are broadening bourbon’s horizons. Louisville’s Whiskey Row and Lexington’s Distillery District are bringing bourbon to the forefront of Kentucky’s nightlife. From Maysville to Marshall County, small batch distilleries are creating both exciting new whiskey flavors and new opportunities for Kentucky’s bourbon tourism industry.
The state’s new micro-distilleries are now on display in the recently created Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail. Announced earlier this month by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail showcases the state’s artisan distilleries. Like its big brother, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the new Bourbon Craft Trail provides a hands-on expedition for bourbon lovers to explore participating distilleries’ production facilities and gift shops. Following the original Trail’s pattern, the Bourbon Craft Trail will feature seven distilleries and will offer participants a Passport program to reward visitors who earn stamps from each distillery.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, created by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association in 1999, has provided unique tourism opportunities for the state. The KDA estimates that, in the past five years, the participating distilleries have welcomed 2 million visitors. With visitors hailing from all fifty states and more than fifty countries, the Trail has provided a unique economic influx for counties along the trail. The creation of the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail offers new tourism opportunities across the Commonwealth, with stops ranging from the northeast corner of the state (Maysville’s Old Pogue Distillery) to the far west (Hardin’s Silver Trail Distillery). Upon the Tour’s announcement, Governor Steve Beshear noted that “bourbon tourism is one of the state’s biggest draws right now and our craft distilleries are a big part of this signature industry. This innovative tour will bring even more visitors to the Bluegrass and sample our spirit.”
Craft distilleries offer the bourbon connoisseur with both a new destination and a new taste, but they remain firmly rooted in the spirit’s heritage. Says Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillers Association, “For 200 years, one of the distinctive hallmarks of our industry has been the fellowship between distilleries, no matter how big or small.”
With new places to see and new bourbons to try, it seems that thinking small has a big future for Kentucky distilleries.
If you go:
The seven founding Craft Distilleries in the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Tour are:
Barrel House Distillery, 903 Manchester Street Suite 150, Lexington
Corsair Artisan Distillery, 400 East Main Ave Suite 110, Bowling Green
Limestone Branch Distillery, 1280 Veterans Memorial Highway, Lebanon
MB Roland Distillery, 137 Barkers Mill Road, Pembroke
Old Pogue Distillery, 716 W. 2nd Street, Maysville
Silver Trail Distillery,136 Palestine Road, Hardin
Willett Distillery, 1869 Loretto Road, Bardstown