Kentucky’s bourbon distilling business grew this month with the opening of The Bulleit Distilling Co., a $115-million facility near Shelbyville.
Owned by spirits maker Diageo, the distillery can produce up to 1.8 million proof gallons of bourbon a year. It employs 30 people full-time.
What makes the distillery, which sits on 300 acres between Shelbyville and Hatton, stand out among Kentucky’s large distilling plants, is its use of solar energy.
The facility features a solar array used to power its forklifts. The array produces about 40 megawatt hours per year. The energy can go directly into the Shelby County power grid. The industrial solar panel is a first for the North American Diageo distilleries and a first for Shelby County.
“If there is excess power, it will be back on the grid. So far, there hasn’t been any excess.” said Candi Waford, manager of member services of Shelby Energy Cooperative.
Other environmentally friendly aspects of the distillery include 100 acres of land surrounding the distillery that still retains its natural landscape. The distillery also uses water from the nearby natural Guist Creek Lake, stored in a pond near the plant, and uses corn grown in Shelby County.
“Environmental conservation is a top priority at the Bulleit Distilling Co.,” said Pauline Rooney, vice president, distillation, maturation and engineering for Diageo North America in an email.
Though there are no current plans to expand the solar array, it can be increased if needed, officials said.
Since 2011, distilleries and breweries have been sharing ideas about environmental issues through the Sustainable Spirits Initiative, formed by the Kentucky Distillers Association and the Division of Compliance Assistance of the state department for Environmental Protection.
Other energy-saving measures include Maker’s Mark providing a natural habitat for wildlife near its distillery in Loretto and the Jim Beam facility in Boston, in Nelson County, using an electric demand system to cut their electric bill.
Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, said the Bulleit distillery innovations are the latest in a pattern of environmentally conscious decisions.
“Our distilleries have been entrenched in Kentucky for 200 years and they do a lot to give back to their communities,” he said. “A lot of them are doing more and more things to make sure that they continue to give back and this is just another good way to do that.”
Other Diaego brands include Johnnie Walker, Guinness and Smirnoff. Global sales for the Bulleit brand, which includes rye whiskey, reached 1.1 million cases in the fiscal year ending in June 2016, up 29 percent from the prior year.
Bourbon is an $8.5 billion signature industry in Kentucky, generating 17,500 jobs with an annual payroll of $800 million. Spirits production and consumption pours more than $825 million in federal, state and local tax coffers every year, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association.