Kentucky bourbon pouring billions into state’s economy, leaders call for policies to support continued growth

The governor, legislative leaders, and the business community joined Kentucky distillers at the Capitol Wednesday to release the results from the latest comprehensive study detailing the significant growth and impact of Kentucky’s signature Bourbon and distilled spirits industry.    

The “Economic Distilling in Kentucky Report” shows the state’s signature bourbon industry has expanded in recent years and is now pouring $9 billion into the Bluegrass economy every year and generating more than 22,500 jobs with $1.23 billion in payroll.

Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) President Eric Gregory said the study highlights how the industry has effectively transformed itself into a global and economic powerhouse over the past 12 years.

Gov. Beshear said Kentucky is known internationally for its bourbon production and the great jobs the industry creates. He noted that Kentucky has seen many new distilleries and the continued success and expansion of others which has seen unprecedented production levels even throughout a global pandemic.

The governor also noted that exports have struggled in recent years but that is being repaired as tariffs are being lifted.

Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts noted Kentucky bourbon is in high demand around the country and globally but there are distilleries popping up in other states as well. To maintain Kentucky’s competitive edge, she said the state must be proactive in order to maintain its place as the number one state for distilleries, distilling jobs, and bourbon tourism.

“The Chamber believes tax reform is key to keeping Kentucky competitive across all sectors – and making Kentucky the most attractive place to live, work, raise a family. Kentucky has everything a distillery needs to grow and thrive – except for a tax structure making it attractive to locate here. But there are some tax reforms specific to the distilling industry that could help make us more competitive with other states,” Watts said.

Gregory said there are now more than 2,200 distilleries in the U.S. due to the booming craft movement, which has slashed Kentucky’s share of distilleries nationwide from 24% to 6%, and jobs from 43% to 30%.

“Bourbon is a great investment for Kentucky, and this study proves that,” Gregory said. “But more than 2,000 distilleries have made the decision not to locate in Kentucky, despite our rich traditions and ready-made infrastructure. It is critical that distillers, partners and elected officials continue to work together to eliminate artificial and unnecessary barriers to growth. Doing so will attract more distillers and investment to the Commonwealth. Our economic future is in our hands.”

House Speaker David Osborne said the General Assembly has passed 17 bills in the last decade to help modernize the industry and said many of those policies have helped the bourbon producers grow.

As for what comes next, Osborne said the legislature is committed to passing comprehensive tax reform in the 2022 session to make meaningful changes to advance Kentucky and the state’s signature industries.

Senate President Robert Stivers applauded the industry and how it has grown in the last 12 years as regulations have been removed from producers and added “that’s what good economic policy looks like with support for signature industry impact throughout the state.”

Kevin Smith of Beam Suntory, Chairman of KDA Board of Directors and Chair-Elect of the Kentucky Chamber, spoke about the future of the bourbon industry. He also pointed to work with the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management program and other initiatives that will build a strong foundation for generations of Kentuckians to come.

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