The Kentucky Bourbon Trail has been a huge success. It has increased the interest in Kentucky Bourbon and brought a lot of tourism dollars to the local economies. It has been successful enough that many of Kentucky’s dry counties have voted to become at least “moist”, if not wet, to let small artisan distilleries to be built in their counties. This has brought a boost to many local economies. Tourism is booming, as much as it could in these past years of Covid 19.
At one time, there was an AirBnB next door to our house here in Louisville and most of the visitors were here to go on the Bourbon Trail. Groups of six or more people would stay in the house and tour distilleries in the day and go to bars and restaurants in the evening. I would often enter into conversations with these guests and one of the most frequently asked questions by these out of state visitors was “What can I purchase here in Kentucky that I cannot find at home?”
I propose an answer to this question that should be easy to implement. The distilleries often have single barrel selections in their gift shops. Why doesn’t every distillery do a single barrel, six year old, Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon or Rye whiskey that they sell only in their gift shop or those that have gone on their distillery tour? This would be a unique bottle that could only be found in Kentucky. It would give the Bourbon tourist that bottle or bottles that they want to remember their trip to the distillery. It would not cost the distilleries much in investment – a new label approval. The label could be a Kentucky Bourbon Trail label with the name of the distillery for each distillery.
In fact I could see tourists making a collection of all of the “official bonded whiskeys” on the trail. It would also be a reason to come back to their favorite distilleries every year. Bonded whiskey all comes from the same year and the same season, so every season may yield a slightly different result. This will be as close to having a “vintage” whiskey as possible with aged spirits. The distilleries should place an old fashioned “tax stamp” showing the year and season of the whiskey’s distillation and bottling. It is possible that distilleries will offer different seasons of production and bottling each year as they have spring and fall barrels being bottled. These bottles would not be expensive. The retail market price of a six year old whiskey is not necessarily a high priced bottle. The tourists will love to have that special bottle at a reasonable price.
Artisan distilleries must have barrels that are at least six years old to join this program, but the newer distilleries could still participate. They could have email lists to notify visitors as to when they start offering these bottles. Visitors could then come and purchase the bottles when it is available. These programs would be similar to what Maker’s Mark does with their Ambassador program where people can purchase bottles from “their barrel”.
I would like to see the Kentucky distillers on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail adopt this idea. It would make the out of state visitors happy to have a bottle of whiskey that could only be purchased in Kentucky. It would encourage return visits to the distilleries by these tourists. It would also encourage the friends of these tourists to come and get their own bottles. It would take very little effort by the distilleries to do this and the good will of the tourists who enjoy these bottles will make it worth doing.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller
March 21, 2022 at 10:38 am
This is a brilliant idea!
April 17, 2022 at 9:18 pm
March 21, 2022 at 12:29 pm
I’ve been told by at least two distillers that there are KY state laws about retail availability that would make this problematic. However…my experience with various state liquor laws makes me suspect that this may not be the case. Anything on that?
March 21, 2022 at 12:37 pm
The law is being changed now. Technically private barrel selections have been illegal until this new law passes.
March 21, 2022 at 1:32 pm
“The tourists will love to have that special bottle at a reasonable price.”
I see a small problem here. Tourists are already fighting with local ‘bottle flippers’ (networked via the likes of FB and Twitter) for anything limited. So whatever is offered needs to be available in sufficient quantities to prevent that. This would put smaller distilleries at a disadvantage.
April 17, 2022 at 9:22 pm
Not really. The small distillers will sell their bottles as they make it. They just don’t have as many bottles to sell so they may be more in demand.
March 21, 2022 at 1:48 pm
This is a brilliant idea for so many reasons – encouraging tourism to and in Kentucky, expanding the tax base, creating a new unifying marketing theme for the Bourbon Trail, exposing travelers to parts of the state they might not normally see (and benefiting other businesses like restaurants, hotels, etc. and other tourism destinations)…. the list goes on. How can we encourage this? MIke, who would be the logical driver? The KDA?
April 17, 2022 at 9:22 pm
It would have to be organized through the KDA.
March 22, 2022 at 1:54 am
Yes, what a great idea.
March 23, 2022 at 7:28 pm
The idea would make the tourists happy, but would it bring additional tourism? “It would encourage return visits to the distilleries by these tourists.” Perhaps, but I am skeptical. The tourists come for the experience, not a special bottle of bourbon. “It would also encourage the friends of these tourists to come and get their own bottles.” Again, I am skeptical. I think friends of tourists would travel to the Bourbon Trail because of the stories told about the visit, not because of an exclusive bottle. “It would take very little effort by the distilleries to do this and the good will of the tourists who enjoy these bottles will make it worth doing.” The effort involves not only a new label approval, but also the time to choose single barrels, getting those into the bottling pipeline (probably not as easy for a single barrel bottling than a tanked batched bottling), and the personnel required to do so (including updating “tax stamps,” tracking barrels’ seasons and ages, etc.). I’m skeptical that profit would outweigh the effort.