Kentucky Bourbon Trail Rallying From Covid


January 28, 2022

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour experiences continued their rapid rally from COVID and closures, with total visits up 160% from 2020 and just below the pre-pandemic record set in 2019.

Visitors accounted for more than 1.5 million tours at KBT and KBT Craft Tour distilleries last year, compared to a total of only 587,000 stops during the pandemic in 2020, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association announced today.  That’s off only 13% from the attendance record of 1.7 million set in 2019. 

In a news release, KDA President Eric Gregory hailed the news as testament to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s bucket list destination status and said 2021 would have been another record-setting year if not for reduced tour sizes, limited hours and closures due to COVID and staffing issues. 

Plus, he noted several KBT destinations were closed or at limited capacity because of major expansion projects. Most notably, James B. Beam Distilling Co. was closed for 10 months while constructing its new $60 million tourism experience in Clermont, which is now open.

“The numbers tell the story: the global demand for the authentic Kentucky Bourbon experience is as high as it’s ever been,” he said. “Our distilleries have moved mountains to provide safe, engaging tourism experiences during a pandemic for guests from all over the world. With more Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries than ever before, we are looking forward to welcoming a record number of visitors in 2022.”

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour charted its best year ever in 2021 with more than 615,000 in total attendance, an increase of 170% from 2020 and 40% higher than its previous record in 2019.

The KBT Craft Tour also added four new stops for an all-time high of 23 distilleries in the nation’s first-ever adventure to showcase the micro distilling movement: The Bard Distillery in Muhlenberg County; Castle & Key in Woodford County; Copper & Kings in Louisville and Log Still in Nelson County.

In addition, Gregory said the KDA and its 50 members are advocating legislation in the General Assembly to further modernize Bourbon tourism laws, help distillers continue to rebound from COVID and attract repeat visitors to the Commonwealth. 

This includes giving distilleries the opportunity to offer satellite tasting experiences, sell bottles at fairs, festivals and farmer’s markets, and offer bottles that are only available at distillery gift shops – privileges already enjoyed by Kentucky wineries and breweries. 

“The industry’s partnership with the General Assembly is paying huge dividends across the state as the legislature modernizes our archaic alcohol laws and paves the way for distilleries to achieve their Napa Valley potential,” Gregory said, noting that there are now distilleries in 40 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

The KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour experiences are an integral part of local and state tourism efforts with 41 participating distilleries across the Commonwealth. The KDA, a non-profit trade group, founded the attractions in 1999 and 2012, respectively.

KBT attendance grew a phenomenal 315% from 2009 through 2019, with more than 70% of visitors coming from outside Kentucky. Research shows Bourbon tourists trend younger, spend between $400 and $1,200 on their trip, travel in large groups and stay longer than the average visitor to Kentucky. 

Nearly half have household incomes over $100,000, compared to approximately $60,000 for the average Kentucky tourist. 

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