When it opens later this year, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on West Main Street will become the eight stop on the popular tourist attraction. The facility will be a working distillery with additional features to draw more visitors.
The Bourbon Trail opened in 1999 and has seen steady attention since then. Last year, it drew over 500,000 visitors to seven distilleries across the state. The Jim Beam distillery will be the first tour stop in Louisville.
“It’s a unique way to get people to our city as well. And it’s a great way to get journalists writing about our city,” says Mayor Greg Fischer. “We’ve gotten so much international press around our bourbon scene, our food scene. Curious people come here.”
The rise in bourbon tourism corresponds with bourbon’s international resurgence. After postwar popularity, bourbon went into decline and was regarded in mass culture as southern swill. But in the last two decades, sales and production have increased, and the spirit holds a new, hip mantle. And everyone, from tourism officials to the whiskey gentry to politicians, say all of that helps Kentucky.
“It means thousands of jobs,” says Max Shapira, president of Evan Williams’ parent company Heaven Hill. “It means a great amount of additional taxes for us to pay to support various endeavors throughout the commonwealth.”
Another new distillery is also planned for downtown. Michter’s has plans for a new distillery and attraction down the street from Evan Williams. However, the company ran into construction delays with its aging building and is running about a year behind schedule.
WFPL intern Laura Valentine contributed to this story.