From 19 to 68 distilleries: How Kentucky bourbon has grown since 2009

By Bailey Loosemore, Louisville Courier Journal

In the past decade, Kentucky’s distilling industry has added more than 10,000 new jobs, opened more than 40 new distilleries and increased its annual economic output by more than $3 billion — making it the nation’s top player in alcohol production and employment, according to a new economic report.

The 64-page report, released Wednesday, was funded by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and spells out the industry’s place in America’s distilling landscape, along with its staggering statewide growth.

The distillers’ association has produced an economic report bi-annually since 2009 and discussed its most recent findings Wednesday morning alongside state and industry leaders at a press conference in Frankfort.

Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said the explosive growth of the spirits industry has helped all Kentuckians.

“It’s not just an industry sector that is succeeding, it’s additional jobs for Kentucky families, additional income for tens of thousands, and additional tax revenue that will benefit schools and other services that serve all Kentuckians,” Adkisson said in a press release. “This is a win for all of us.”

Here are some of the report’s key statistics:

► Kentucky’s distilling industry directly and indirectly employs more than 20,000 people, and it pumped more than $8.6 billion into the state’s economy in 2017.

► As of May 2018, nearly 70 distilleries were licensed to operate across 32 counties — a 258-percent increase over the 19 distilleries that were licensed to operate in eight counties in 2009.

► Kentucky distillers shipped over $452 million worth of product abroad in 2017, with whiskey accounting for about 84 percent of the total shipments. The report was unable to factor in the effects of retaliatory tariffs imposed in mid-2018 by the European Union, China, Canada, Mexico and Turkey, which together account for 58 percent of Kentucky’s whiskey exports. 

The latest: How Michter’s Fort Nelson helped start Louisville’s distillery boom

► Though Kentucky remains the dominant state for distilling employment, its share of distilling establishments fell from 24 percent to 6 percent between 2001 and 2017, as states countrywide witnessed a boom in micro-distilleries. As of December 2018, Kentucky ranked 11th nationwide for its number off licensed distilled spirits producers and bottlers.

► Kentucky’s share of distilling payroll, however, increased to 47 percent of the U.S. total in 2017, due largely to the presence of high-paying jobs at companies’ headquarters. That year, approximately 5,000 people worked directly in Kentucky’s distilling industry, with annual wages and salaries of $470 million.

► Economists who compiled the report estimate that Kentucky’s distilling industry could support 24,000 jobs by 2020, with a payroll of $1.2 billion and tax payments to state and local governments of $270 million.

View the Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s economic reports at

Grab a drink: A new cocktail bar opens next week at the Old Forester in Louisville

Bailey Loosemore: 502-582-4646;; Twitter: @bloosemore. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: