State leaders release economic impact study on Kentucky’s bourbon industry

Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 5:59 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The bluegrass is known as the bourbon capitol of the world. It’s a billion-dollar industry that employs thousands of people across Kentucky.

“As we all know, bourbon’s heart and its soul lives right here in Kentucky. It lives in our history, and in our heritage,” Governor Andy Beshear said.

A statewide study by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association shows the bourbon industry is riding a 20-year growth wave.

“The numbers frankly are outstanding,” Gov. Beshear said.

In 2009, a first report identified 19 distilling establishments in eight counties, supporting 3,000 jobs. This newest report shows 95 establishments in 40 counties, employing 6,000 people.

It’s estimated the industry’s economic impact equals more than 22,000 jobs and nearly $9 billion of economic output.

“It’s been a long haul,” said Bill Samuels Jr. with Maker’s Mark. “I’ve been at this for 55 years when bourbon wasn’t so cool. It didn’t really look like there would be much of a way that we could help the commonwealth, and then it all broke about 25 years ago.”

There have been setbacks. The study finds heavy retaliatory tariffs imposed on whiskey by the European Union and China cut Kentucky whiskey exports by $170 million. Those tariffs have since been lifted.

In Kentucky, the KDA credits tax incentives and bills addressing the commonwealth’s antiquated alcohol laws as key to the growth.

“It was so good, it worked too well. It’s actually spurred production and everything so much we’re paying more taxes now than ever before and not able to get all of the incentive,” said Eric Gregory with the KDA.

The KDA said it’s a good problem to have, but plan to work with lawmakers to address it, to keep pouring momentum.

House Speaker David Osborne said that in the last 10 years, the General Assembly has passed 17 bills loosening Kentucky alcohol laws. He said lawmakers are committed to passing comprehensive tax reforms this session to advance growth and business.

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