Bourbon tourism reached new heights last year in Kentucky, where visitors flocked to distilleries as the whiskey-making attractions shook off any pandemic-era hangover.
Attendance at distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail exceeded 2.1 million last year, easily beating the pre-pandemic record of 1.7 million in 2019, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association said.
In the past decade, the “amber adventure” has had a 370% surge in attendance — a boon to the state known around the world for its bourbon production, it said.
“The success of Kentucky’s bourbon industry isn’t slowing down any time soon,” Kentucky governor Andy Beshear said.
The distillers’ association created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 1999 to give visitors a look behind the scenes at the state’s most historic facilities.
Total attendance at its 18 participating distilleries reached nearly 1.4 million last year, the group said.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, launched in 2012 to showcase smaller distilleries, had its best year. Now featuring 24 distilleries, its total attendance last year was 738,287.
Spirit companies have invested huge sums into new or expanded visitor centres to spotlight the industry’s heritage and allow guests to soak in the sights and smells of bourbon-making.
During the height of the pandemic, distilleries in the region were closed to visitors.
“This is a home run demographic for local communities, generating valuable revenue and tax dollars while boosting a hospitality industry that’s still recovering from the Covid pandemic,” said Kentucky Distillers’ Association president Eric Gregory.
Most distilleries now require reservations, so booking stops in advance is crucial, said Mandy Ryan, director of the association’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences.
Kentucky now boasts more than 11.4 million barrels of bourbon ageing in warehouses across the state, the most in its history, the association said.
Distillers filled more than 2.6 million barrels last year, marking the fourth straight year production topped the 2 million mark.