LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Kentucky Derby has become an enormous stage where the city of Louisville is selling its bourbon image to the world.
In just a decade, the city has gone from zero bourbon attractions to eight and counting.
At the Stitzel Weller Distillery Wednesday night, the Derby party was already in full swing.
"It gets really busy, historically, around Thursday," manager Amy Dunn said. "But we're finding people are starting to come to Louisville a lot sooner. And they are incorporating a lot of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences in their time here."
The Bulleit Frontier Fair featured bands (and plenty of Bulleit Bourbon) outside at the distillery.
Public tours of the facilities are up 25 percent this week and that does not include tours being given to VIPs. Ten years ago there wasn't anywhere to go in the city if you wanted to tour a distillery. Now, they are the place to party.
And the days of being satisfied with the traditional bourbon experience of buying mint juleps at the track are over.
"The Derby is just an additional time to put the spotlight of the nation certainly, and sometimes the world, on Louisville," Stacey Yates, Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau Marketing and Communications Vice President, said. "It just raises the bar for everything literally and figuratively."
It was no coincidence Louisville's latest distillery opened its doors the week of Derby.
Rabbit Hole Distillery is planning a big post-Derby party. CEO and founder Kaveh Zamanian said the brand-promoting event charges $170 a head and is aimed at young, bourbon-curious professionals.
"Just from the standpoint of the press alone and the publicity that's around Derby, I think that's going to be a huge splash and a major significant kind of impact for us in terms of getting the word out," Zamanian said.
In a year, Louisville typically sees about 16.4 million visitors. Up to 20 percent of them come here already with an interest in bourbon.