What is fueling the recent popularity and increase in the consumption of America’s Official Spirit?
Eric Gregory, president of the KDA–Kentucky Distillers Association, says the combination of four key factors have fueled “unparalleled growth” in the bourbon industry in recent decades.
- The introduction of small-batch and single-barrel expressions in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, which kicked off a premiumization trend and helped boost bourbon’s reputation as a high-quality spirit. “We can look at the rise of those and chart the progress of bourbon,” Gregory says.
- The emergence of a global export market followed shortly after in the mid-‘90s. “Once we signed the NAFTA agreement and the EU agreement, and finally got on a level playing field with Scotch whisky and other global whiskeys, we started sending more overseas,” Gregory says.
- The rise in cocktail culture at the turn of the century, and the rediscovery of classic bourbon cocktails like the Old Fashioned. Gregory calls it the “’Mad Men’ effect.” “Bartenders learned that not only are small-batch or single-barrel bourbons great on their own, they also make fantastic cocktails as well,” he says.
- Bourbon tourism. Inspired by the success of California wine country, the KDA founded the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 1999. While it launched with less than 10 distilleries, all located within an hour’s drive of each other, bourbon tourists can now visit 38 distilleries across the state as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. A record 1.4 million tourists made visits in 2018.
“People, especially younger drinkers, crave authenticity,” Gregory says. The ability to visit a distillery and put your finger in a mash tub, taste whiskey from the barrel, and see the spirit being bottled provides that experience. “We’ve grown a whole legion of bourbon ambassadors [because of] our Kentucky Bourbon Trail distillery visits,” he says.
It is good to see Bourbon back on the rising track again. We all will benefit from this especially oru taste buds!