Last week I was invited to the ceremonial barreling of the 10 millionth barrel at Heaven Hill Distillery. It was an impressive affair with the heads of the family, Master Distillers and Kentucky Governor Beshear. It is a feat of some importance to reach 10 million barrels. It all started with the Shapira Brothers opening the Heaven Hill Springs Distillery in 1935 and filling their first barrel on December 13. It took twenty years for the Distillery to reach the 500,000 barrel mark, as there was a Great Depression, a World War and a conflict in Korea that kept production lower than demand. Six years after that milestone was reached, they passed the one millionth barrel in 1961. The decline in whiskey sales of the late 1960s, 70s and 80s meant it took until 1976 to reach two million barrels and until 1988 to reach three million barrels. However, the growth accelerated in the 1990s, getting larger as Bourbon regained its popularity and Bourbon tourism created more demand for whiskey. It took fifty-three years to reach three million barrels but only thirty-five years to barrel another seven million barrels. It has only taken three years to barrel the last million barrels and I suspect it will be less than two years before we are called back to mark the eleven millionth barrel of whiskey at Heaven Hill Distillery.
This growth is important to Heaven Hill, but also important to the industry as a whole. Bourbon’s popularity is fueling a large sector of Kentucky’s economy. There are thousands of jobs at the distilleries in Kentucky, and they are not all manufacturing jobs. There is the growing tourism side of the industry. Tourism is expanding the distillery industry in ways unimaginable fifty years ago when whiskey was in decline. Now distilleries are employing tour guides, bartenders, chefs and other service employees. This spills over into the local economy as hotel rooms are needed to support these tourists and restaurants are needed to feed these tourists after the distilleries are closed. Bourbon tourism has become an important part of Kentucky tourism.
The number of barrels of whiskey is growing throughout Kentucky. It also feeds the tax dollars into State and Local governments. Tax dollars needed to support services that support the tourism side of the industry. Just about every distillery is building new warehouses to hold these barrels, creating construction jobs. There is a growth in cooperages as the demand for new barrels has increased creating even more jobs for Kentuckians. The Bourbon industry is growing and Kentucky’s economy is growing with it. The future is bright for Heaven Hill and all of Kentucky’s distilleries and that is good for Kentucky.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller