Evan Williams (who looks pretty good for a 250+ year-old Welsh guy) shares a toast of his eponymous bourbon with Adam Johnson, Eric Gregory and Mayor Fischer.

A press conference called today at Heaven Hill Distilleries’ Main Street building brought us not new news, but really good news, anyway.

Good for the city, money-wise; good for the city, image wise.

We’re finally getting a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

In 1783, Evan Williams started distilling bourbon in downtown Louisville on what was once Water Street, just a little more than 100 yards from where the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience will open in mid-fall 2013.

The building at 501 W. Main St., which will become the eighth stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, will undergo a $9.5 million dollar renovation before it opens.

The Heaven Hill company has owned this building for 72 years, and now they’re bringing Evan Williams back to where it started.

In 1880, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association was founded during a meeting  of the distilling families at the Galt House Hotel. Its aim was to promote and protect distilleries.

There are few industries, said Adam Johnson, director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tour, where the competition comes together to promote and congratulate each other.

And that’s because there is more than one arm to the bourbon business in Kentucky.

Sure the primary arm is the spirits arm – and one gets the sense that that’s a pretty cutthroat business.

But then there’s the tourism arm to the bourbon biz–  where these distilleries and the people who run them depend on each other.

The Bourbon Trail, which was created in 1999, depends on hospitality and generosity that transcends the brands, said Rick Robinson, chairman of the KDA Board of Directors. “We have generations represented here [at the press conference] from nearly every distillery, just like we would have in downtown Louisville 100 years ago.”

Attendees included John Rhea from Four Roses, Bill Samuels from Makers’ Mark, Joe Fraser from Heaven Hill, Dee Ford from Woodford Reserve and reps from Beam, Wild Turkey and Brown-Forman.

Max Shapira, Heaven Hill

“Consumers are enamored with bourbon,” said Max Shapira, president of Heaven Hill Distilleries. And “bourbon has a bright and promising future.”

Just this year Heaven Hill has barreled its 6.5 millionth barrel of bourbon, and Evan Williams has become the second largest selling bourbon in the U.S. and around the world, said Shapira. (Jim Beam has the distinction of the No. 1 selling bourbon by volume.)

The bourbon boom is good for everyone, Shapira said. The bigger bourbon gets, he joked, “it means more taxes for us to pay to support the programs in our state.”

Having an official distillery stop in our city means a lot to tourism, explained Mayor Greg Fischer. Lots of folks come to Louisville expecting bourbon. And we give it to them. But when they ask about seeing a distillery, we need to send them out of town.

Not any more.

We’re now officially the western trailhead for the Bourbon Trail.

“Bourbon is a food group here,” said Fischer. “It’s part of our DNA.” He said that he’s the only mayor with a fully-stocked bourbon bar in his office. “I’ve asked to have my office officially recognized as a stop on the Urban Bourbon Trail.”

For the first time since 1973, in 2012 Kentucky barreled one million barrels of bourbon.

“Bourbon means jobs,” said Fischer.

Marcheta Sparrow, Secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, attended the event on behalf of Governor Beshear. Sparrow said that the bourbon industry is “the most innovative and best example of private-sector tourism development in Kentucky. Maybe in the U.S.”

She claimed the bourbon industry’s tourism efforts rival and are starting to exceed the work done by California’s Wine Country.

(Empty) souvenir barrel

She also shared some interesting statistics:

  • 85 percent of visitors to the Bourbon Trail are out of state.
  • 75 percent spend at least one night in area lodging.
  • 50 percent spend three or more nights in area lodging.
  • Last year a half million people completed the Bourbon Trail.
  • That’s an estimated $12.2 billion in tourism money last year. And an increase of 4.4 percent over 2011.

At the end of the event, Shapira presented Fischer with a small barrel of bourbon made from all eight distilleries on the trail.

An actor dressed as Evan Williams led the crowd in a toast to the newest stop on the Bourbon Trail. And attendees were reminded to pick up their own (empty) souvenir barrel to commemorate the event on their way out the door.

A tiny decorative barrel with the motto for this venture:

“The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Barrels into Louisville – 2013.”

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