The Pride of Kentucky
In 1783, Evan Williams rolled the first commercial distiller's barrel of pure economic powerhouse out of his distillery in Louisville, KY. Like a proud father, Kentucky dotes on bourbon as one of its greatest accomplishments and contributions to society. They unabashedly account for producing roughly 95% of the world's bourbon. Although, a true Kentuckian will tell you that the number is more like 100% because bourbon made outside of Kentucky is an imposter spirit. The economic impact of America's native spirit is undeniable. Lets explore the major facets of bourbon and its economic impact on the wonderful state of Kentucky.
Growth & Production
According to recent studies, bourbon production has more than doubled since 1999. With bourbon at its highest inventory level in the last 40 years, the assessed value of the barrels aging in Kentucky topped out at around $1.8 billion dollars. Current production levels are nothing to scoff at either. Since 2000, bourbon production is up 150 percent. Tripling in two years, the industry has grown from 10 to 31 licensed distillers within the state of Kentucky. Out of those 31 distillers, 5 of them produces less than 50,000 gallons a year. As of 2013, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey accounted for $1 Billion of the $1.5 billion distilled spirits exports.
Licensed Distillers In Kentucky
Early Times Distillers Co (Brown-Forman)
The Woodford Reserve Distillery (Brown Forman)
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience (Heaven Hill)
Alltech's Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. (Town Branch)
Maker's Mark Distillery Inc (Beam Suntory)
Maker's Mark Distillery Inc (Beam Suntory)
Wild Turkey Distillery (Gruppo Campari)
List Sources: kybourbon.com, Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet; Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control; Kentucky Distillers' Association.
Every time a glass of bourbon is poured the scent of cash is right behind it. Producing 95%+ of the world's bourbon has its perks and "new money" is at the top of the list. Of the 95% of it's bourbon production, Kentucky is privy to selling and shipping almost all of its spirits to customers exclusively outside the state. Therefore, the pounds of cash coming in are new to Kentucky. This cash flow sets off a notable chain reaction in the state. It begins with the transaction that brings money to the distilleries which then flows to distillery employees and local suppliers. Then the distillery owners, managers, and employees are free to dispense their income in their regional economies which would potentially assist in job creation and income in variety of areas (banks, grocers, bars etc.). The bourbon industry is also a huge contributor to the success of other industries such as plastic and glass bottles, industrial mixers and tanks, still makers, farmers, barrel makers and more.
Distilleries are job creators on a whole other level in Kentucky. One of the most visual proofs that bourbon is quantifiably effecting Kentucky economically is the size of its work force. Since 2012 the bourbon industry ranks second in employment out of 254 different industries in Kentucky. According to the QCEW (Quarterly Census of Employment Wages), "Kentucky accounts for 40 percent of all distilling industry employment in the United States and 50 percent of industry wages for 2013" Roughly 15,000+ Kentuckians can credit the distilling industry for their paycheck and a decent one at that. Total annual payroll is believed to amount to about $707 million. You do the math.
The relationship of Kentucky farm families and distilleries has reached great heights since the repeal of prohibition. Although prohibition severed these historical ties in the public eye around 1909, the relationship survived to see another day. Research paints a vivid picture of how the distilling industry creates jobs with a high demand for grain, corn, wheat, rye, and barley. Kentucky farmers account for roughly 40% of the grain production. If that perk wasn't enough to grab your attention, research has also shown that Kentucky distilleries buy upwards of $56 million worth of grain which in turn solidifies employment for around 1,360 people. The Kentucky distillers association believes, "there is potential for up to $89 million more in sales by Kentucky farms". This would increase Kentucky employment greatly. The grain farming benefits do not stop here. One source claims that Kentucky distillers gift nearly $3 million worth of “spent grains” to Kentucky farms as a helping hand in feeding their live stock. Now that is a lot of happy cows. Some sources claim that a good portion of these distillers are apt to purchase an increasing percentage of wheat and corn from Kentucky farmers in the future. A major determining factor would include the high demand for farms dedicated to non-genetically modified products. The gist is, there is a bright future for farmers and potential employment thanks to the distillery industry in Kentucky.
Many states live and die by tourism. Thanks to the bourbon culture craze, Kentucky is playing the role of the cool kid for the foreseeable future. Move over Oregon Trail, its the Kentucky Bourbon Trail's time to shine. No more dysentery, cholera, hunting your own meat, or fording the river. Kentucky has the top food scene, bridges to cross the river, and top notch healthcare. Let's just say it plain and simple, bourbon is a tourist magnet and these are not your run of the mill tourists. These are out of state affluent travelers who spend new money. Tourists who spend new money" benefit a myriad of industries. It is believed that an average amount spent by these tourists is upwards of $1000 and are drawn to the state because of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®. In 2013, 630,000+ people made their way to top Kentucky bourbon destinations.
The Governor's Take
Last but not least, take it from the Governor himself.