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Kentucky's Spirits Producers Pushing For Drink Sales at Distilleries

Aging bourbon at a distillery in Kentucky.
Aging bourbon at a distillery in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s distillers want to be able to sell drinks by the glass, just like wineries and breweries.

State law prohibits distilleries from selling full servings of spirits to visitors, which bourbon producers say costs them money. Distillers can offer guests a tasting as part of a tour, but each person is limited to a total of one ounce of liquor.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association has been in discussions with lawmakers and is prepared to help craft legislation ahead of the 2016 General Assembly session, said Kristin Meadors, director of governmental and regulatory affairs for the group.

Meadors said she believes allowing distilleries to sell to visitors the bourbon, rye, vodka, and other spirits they produce on site would help elevate the Kentucky distillery experience to what is found in other parts of the U.S.

“When you go to a winery in Napa, what do you do? They provide you with a flight, and you purchase a flight for sometimes 20, 30, or 50 bucks. And so you sit there and enjoy it, and you pair it with some wonderful foods,” Meadors told WKU Public Radio.

She said the distillers' association wants tour patrons to "linger a little bit more" and perhaps pair bourbon with other products made in the state.

The changes sought by the KDA would allow a distillery visitor to purchase a shot of a small batch spirit, a flight of spirits, or a cocktail.

“We want to turn ourselves into a place where you don’t just visit once a year when you have relatives in from Florida or Michigan. We want you to be able to come there regularly,” Meadors said.

The proposed changes to state regulations will be discussed in September during interim meetings held by the Licensing and Occupations Committee in Frankfort.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association has had recent success in convincing lawmakers to change regulations related to the spirits industry. Gov. Steve Beshear last year signed into law the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Reinvestment Credit, which ended an annual tax on spirits aging in barrels.

The Kentucky bourbon industry has enjoyed a boom in popularity in recent years. The nine distilleries that make up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail saw record-breaking attendance last year, getting more than 627,000 visitors. That was a 10 percent increase over 2013 attendance figures.

The nine smaller facilities that make up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour are also seeing growth in popularity.

According to the KDA, exports of all Kentucky spirits have grown by 99 percent since 2009, with Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and France making up the top five international markets.

The top emerging overseas markets, based on percentage growth from 2009-2013, are Spain, Israel, Latvia, Panama, and South Africa.