Nelson County approves changes on bourbon project moratorium

Nelson County approves changes on bourbon project moratorium
Published: May. 9, 2023 at 5:15 PM EDT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A major rift between the bourbon industry and elected leaders in Nelson County appears to be healing.

Last month, county leaders approved a moratorium on new bourbon distilling projects.

That has now been distilled down into a compromise both sides can savor.

“There’s been a lot of discussions and disagreements when I first proposed this pause,” Nelson County Judge Executive Tim Hutchins said.

The bourbon industry was furious with Nelson County’s first attempt to pause bourbon-related development.

“We are disappointed and, quite frankly, shocked at the attempt to abruptly stop the many bourbon projects that are being planned,” Heaven Hill Brands Chairman Max Shapira said.

But since that initial outrage, a source with knowledge of the process told WAVE leaders of the bourbon industry and elected officials were able to hammer out a compromise.

Nelson County is now pausing the development of new bourbon rickhouses on agricultural land while it decides how to regulate their growth.

“They just let them build in the ag, anywhere they wanted to go, and I think that was a huge mistake,” Hutchins said. “I think our endgame here will probably be more like a planned unit development-like zone, because that’ll have to come through the public hearing process.”

Shapira sent WAVE a statement saying:

“Nelson County is our home. We have been here for more than 85 years and our roots run deep. We are committed and confident that going forward we can charter a path that encourages balanced growth and will continue to work collaboratively to find a win-win for the community as well as the bourbon industry. The bourbon industry has provided thousands of jobs in Nelson County and Bardstown, and that number continues to grow. We look forward to working together to continue this growth, building a strong future together.”

Some counties with big bourbon footprints have been taking a closer look at managing the industry’s growth after state lawmakers approved phasing out the property tax on aging bourbon.

Hutchins said he’s trying to balance the needs of the industry with the needs of the public.

“At the end of the day, the citizens are having the final input, that’s what I want,” Hutchins said.

Nelson County’s pause will last a month. It can be extended another month if county workers still need time to draw up the right language.