Bourbon is a growing industry. There are 52 bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, almost triple the number from 2009. 27 of those distilleries are considered craft (or small) distilleries. It’s an $8.5 billion industry in the state.
And while you can find bourbon outside of Kentucky, as the historical, spiritual, and physical home to the corn-based aged whiskey, the Bluegrass State makes 95 percent of the world’s supply of the good stuff. Tourists visit Kentucky every year for the sole purpose of touring distilleries and trying bourbon in its native land. But until now, the only way visitors could take their new favorite bottle home with them was to hand carry it.
On June 1, Kentucky’s governor Matt Bevin participated in a ceremony marking a new “Bourbon Without Borders” law that allows for direct bourbon shipping to consumers, so that bourbon tourists can purchase a bottle at the distillery and have it shipped to their home. The law is part of the state’s ongoing effort in making Kentucky a premiere tourism destination by way of its most popular product.
“House Bill 400 is an important step in eliminating red tape and modernizing one of the Commonwealth’s signature industries,” Governor Bevin said during the ceremony. “This new law will promote economic development and increase tourism opportunities, ensuring that visitors can take a little piece of Kentucky home with them when they leave.”
Distillery visitors could always buy a bottle of bourbon and take it home with them. But for visitors that flew into the state, taking bourbon home meant packing bottles into their suitcase, which is possible, but not what anyone would call fun. Allowing the distillery to ship a purchased bottle for you is simply easier.
This new law is likely to increase distillery purchases. According to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, there were 888,733 visits made to distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 2016. Visitors to the Bourbon Trail spend between $400 and $1200 on average during their trip. And since more than 70 percent of visitors are from out of state, the ability to ship bottles to their homes means more money spent in state.
“This is landmark day in the history of our timeless craft,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, in a release about the event. “Ever since the KDA created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, visitors have demanded the right to ship bottles home and to friends around the world.”
There are some restrictions on the law. Visitors must purchase the bottles in person (you can’t call or order online) and they can only ship to 4.5 liters of spirits, which equals six standard bottles, per day. The locations to which distilleries can ship are also limited by state law on the receiving end. Right now, only eight states (Arizona, Hawaii, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Rhode Island) and the District of Columbia allow for spirits to be shipped into the state.
Another change is that visitors can sign up for bourbon “clubs of the month” and receive bourbon shipped to them throughout the year. It’s the exception to the “in-person purchase” rule.
Small batch and craft distillers are likely to benefit proportionately even more than the large distillers. Small distilleries are less likely to have wide distribution, and many of them aren’t connected to a distributor at all, meaning that their sales are mostly confined to a local area around their distillery or tasting room. The new law means it’s less important for them to work with a distributor since they can send more of their product home with visitors (which in turn may generate new fans outside the state as those visitors serve their souvenir bourbon to friends).
Changes such as this new law in Kentucky may also have a domino effect across the country. More states are at least discussing imposing lighter regulation on their liquor industries, as well as taking old Prohibition-era laws off the books. As the bourbon tourism industry continues to grow, consumers in other states may also demand the ability to have greater freedom in what they can send home.