They may not be household names like Jim Beam or Wild Turkey, but Kentucky’s craft bourbon distilleries now have their own tourist trail.
Seven artisan distilleries stretching from Marshall County in the far west to Mason County in the north will join to form the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.
The new tour spanning a large swath of the Bluegrass state was announced recenlty. It’s an outgrowth of the popular Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which attracted 2 million visitors in the last five years and a half-million in 2011 as the world’s best-known bourbon makers offer inside looks at how their products are distilled, aged and bottled.
Volumes at the microdistilleries amount to drops in the bucket compared to their famous bourbon-making brethren. But state officials hope the craft tour will spread the allure of bourbon making beyond central Kentucky, where the famous distilleries are clustered.
“The more people that learn about it, the more people that taste it, the more economic growth is going to happen,” Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said during the announcement at Barrel House Distillery, part of the new craft tour.
Beshear joined in a toast to celebrate the new tourism venture. Participants downed a small sample of a “white dog” whiskey made for the event. Each craft distillery contributed water and grains from their secret recipes to create the clear concoction.
The seven distilleries on the tour are Barrel House Distillery in Lexington, Corsair Artisan Distillery in Bowling Green, Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke, Old Pogue Distillery in Maysville, Silver Trail Distillery in Hardin and Willett Distillery in Bardstown.
They are modest operations with big aspirations to find niches in the spirits segment.
MB Roland Distillery is on track to produce two barrels of bourbon per month, amounting to some 100 gallons, said head distiller Paul Tomaszewski.
Maybe within a decade or so, production might ramp up to a couple of barrels a week, he said.
“We’re never going to be a huge powerhouse,” he said. “But we hope to just continue to build respect for our brand as we grow.”
At Barrel House Distillery, bourbon was aging in nearly a dozen barrels in the same room that contained the still and mash tubs.
Its products also include vodka, rum and a spirit named “Devil John Moonshine” in honor of a Civil War soldier and moonshiner from Kentucky.
The small distillery has put its own twist to bourbon making. It’s aging its bourbon in 15-gallon barrels, much smaller than the barrels typically filled by Kentucky’s famous distillers.
The intent is for the bourbon to mature more quickly in the smaller containers, said Jeff Wiseman, co-owner of Barrel House Distilling Co.
He said the potential for craft distillers is “unbelievably huge.”
“We’ve got a signature industry here in Kentucky that’s not only so very old, it is growing as rapidly as any industry ... across this country,” Beshear said.