New bill could bring big changes to bourbon tourism

New bill could bring big changes to bourbon tourism
(Source: WAVE 3 News)
(Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - In 2015, nearly one million people came to Kentucky for its bourbon tourism industry, according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association. It says each tourists spends an average of $1,000 during their visit.

"The Kentucky bourbon trail has a significant impact," Kentucky Distillers' Association President Eric Gregory said.

Senate Bill 11 could send those numbers even higher.

"We're very proud of what bourbon tourism has done for the Commonwealth and this is another tool to grow it," Gregory said. "Kentucky's alcohol laws, especially their alcohol tourism laws, are outdated and most of them are stuck in prohibition."

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It's a longer bill that includes changes to wine and microbreweries - and not every distillery is on board. The two most debated changes would allow distillery visitors to buy nine liters of alcohol instead of three and sample 1.75 ounces per distillery instead of 1.00.

Sazerac, which owns Buffalo Trace, Pappy Van Winkle and many others is against the bill.

"We appreciate what they're trying to do for tourism," Jason Underwood, a lobbyist for Sazerac, said. "We just think there's been a bit of overreach."

He said allowing more sales at distilleries could upset retailers.

"We need retail partners to sell our products," Underwood said. "We like the customer, whether they buy our product or not, we think they should experiment."

Gregory said distillers don't take business from retail stores.

"We have a completely different customer base than our retailers," Gregory said. "In fact, most of our distilleries price their bottles 10 to 20 percent higher so they don't compete with them."

Gregory also said the change from 1.00 to 1.75 ounces is small, but Underwood argued it could add up if people visit multiple distilleries.

"We're concerned about misuse of product, drunk driving," Underwood said. "Even though it's a distillery, we try to keep a family atmosphere and people don't need to be drinking that much."

After easily passing the Senate, its fate is now in the Democrat-controlled House.

"We think it's got a good chance at passage this year," Gregory said. "People understand that bourbon means jobs."

"Any bill in Kentucky with the word alcohol attached is difficult to pass in both chambers," Underwood said.

The bill also bans powdered alcohol even though it's not in Kentucky yet. Both Underwood and Gregory support that part of the bill, saying that
it could lead to underage consumption or over-intoxication.

For other alcohols in the state, Micro-breweries could double the amount of barrels they're allowed to produce, up to 50,000. Wineries could also double what they produce, up to 100,000 gallons.

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