At Barrel House Distillery, bourbon was aging in nearly a dozen barrels in the same room that contained the still and mash tubs.
Its products also include vodka, rum and a spirit named "Devil John Moonshine" in honor of a Civil War soldier and moonshiner from Kentucky.
The small distillery has put its own twist to bourbon making. It's aging its bourbon in 15-gallon barrels, much smaller than the barrels typically filled by Kentucky's famous distillers. The intent is for the bourbon to mature more quickly in the smaller containers, said Jeff Wiseman, co-owner of Barrel House Distilling Co.
He said the potential for craft distillers is "unbelievably huge." His distillery's goal is to tap bourbon markets in large U.S. cities, he said.
The comeback of craft distilling is a return to an early Kentucky tradition, said Chris Morris, master distiller of Woodford Reserve, a super-premium bourbon that's part of Brown-Forman Corp.'s spirits lineup. In 1810, there was one distillery for every 200 people in the commonwealth, he said.
"They were all craft distillers," Morris said. "That's our heritage, crafting distilling."
Now, making bourbon has become a huge international business.
Bourbon production has risen more than 115 percent since 1999, with the popularity of pricier small-batch and single-barrel brands leading the way along with growing global demand. Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world's bourbon, and the state has more barrels of bourbon aging in warehouses than it does people.
Kentucky distilleries have invested about $225 million in equipment, aging warehouses, visitors' centers and other facilities in the last year or so.
"We've got a signature industry here in Kentucky that's not only so very old, it is growing as rapidly as any industry ... across this country," Beshear said.
Jimmy Russell, the longtime master distiller at Wild Turkey, said there's ample space in the market for an array of bourbon makers.
"Everybody does it a little different," he said. "If we all made it the same, to taste the same, we'd just need one."
Kentucky Bourbon Trail: http://kybourbontrail.com/
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