Kentucky distilleries rapidly expand amid bourbon boom

on 21/06/11 at 11:52 am

Spirits

At the new Wild Turkey bourbon distillery in central Kentucky, the grainy smell of fermenting corn wafts from giant tubs as workers add a touch of grain or tweak the temperature, just as they had for decades at the now-mothballed plant nearby.

The difference? They can make more than twice as much bourbon at the new $50 million facility, with room to grow if sales keeps spiking. In a nod to the automation that took hold years ago, workers in a control room lined with computers can adjust their brew with a few keystrokes. It’s among the most ambitious of projects for this industry clustered in central Kentucky’s rolling hills, where distilleries have spent at least $150 million in one of the bourbon sector’s biggest expansions since Prohibition, said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

The producers are aiming to quench a thirst for bourbon – especially premium brands – that is steady in the U.S. and rapidly expanding overseas, thanks in part to the comeback of cocktails appealing to younger adults, lower tariffs, robust marketing and a larger middle class in emerging markets.

“It used to be if you went West and crossed the Mississippi, it was hard to even find a bourbon,” said Eddie Russell, Wild Turkey’s associate distiller and son of longtime master distiller Jimmy Russell. Wild Turkey is showing off the new distillery at a ceremony Tuesday – though the bourbon aging there won’t be ready for sipping until 2016.

 

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