Last year, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and its companion Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour drew 1.7 million visitors from around the world, the Kentucky Distillers Association said this week.

That includes 5,308 who toured Owensboro’s O.Z. Tyler Distillery, Nicole Ebelhar, the distillery’s manager of Visitors Experience, said Friday.

That was up from 4,817 in 2018.

Ebelhar expects the numbers to grow when Duke Spirits opens its John Wayne Experience, featuring memorabilia once owned by the western movie icon, this spring.

“It’s going to be an exciting year for the distillery,” she said.

Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, agrees.

“Bourbon tourism, or ‘Bourbonism,’ continues to thrive statewide in Kentucky and is growing in Daviess County,” he said. “The numbers continue to grow and we are looking for a big year as we launch the John Wayne Experience in April.”

Chris Radomski, founder of Duke Spirits, which markets bourbon and rye made from the late actor’s handwritten 1962 recipe, said in November that it’s hard to know how many people will tour the John Wayne Experience.

But he said he expects 20,000 to visit the distillery in the near future.

John Wayne

The John Wayne Experience will rotate exhibits throughout the year, he said.

Duke Spirits will also have a tasting room for its bourbon and rye, which are made at O.Z. Tyler, at the distillery.

“John Wayne is an international icon,” Calitri said. “You just can’t buy this type of national and international exposure with a legend like John Wayne and we are going to capitalize on it.”

And he said O.Z. Tyler also makes football icon’s Terry Bradshaw’s new Terry Bradshaw Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

“That brings a lot of name recognition and we’re looking to uncover future opportunities with this brand,” Calitri said.

He said, “Dave Kirk has done an amazing job building partnerships with the team at the Bourbon Review. They are the No. 1 resource for bourbon information and have a worldwide reach covering the people, the culture, and art of the world of bourbon and American whiskey. Together, with Jacob Call (master distiller at O.Z. Tyler) and his team, they’ve created a year-long marketing campaign that will build more momentum as the John Wayne Experience is launched.”

Calitri said, “We understand that the distillery has a lot of additional exciting news that is going to be announced soon.”

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail has a Passport program for people who want to visit all 18 distilleries on the Trail.

A few years ago, about 10,000 people a year completed the tour.

But these days, Adam Johnson, the Trail’s senior director, said it’s probably closer to 2,000.

“We don’t track that as closely now that we have so many stops,” he said.

Five years ago, there were nine distilleries on the Trail.

Today, there are 18.

It takes real dedication to visit all of them.

The prize for doing so: An Official Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tasting Glass and the right to buy a Kentucky Bourbon Trail T-shirt at a discounted rate of $15.95 plus shipping.

Trail turns 21

This year is the Trail’s 21st anniversary.

And distillers are celebrating with a year’s worth of parties.

In May, every distillery on the Trail will host a 21st birthday cocktail celebration and a traveling surprise party pop-up will land at each of the distilleries this summer, the KDA said.

Distilleries on the Trail are Angel’s Envy Distillery, Louisville; Bardstown Bourbon Company, Bardstown; Bulleit Distilling Co., Shelbyville; Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Louisville; Four Roses Distillery, Lawrenceburg; Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Bardstown; Jim Beam American Stillhouse, Clermont; Lux Row Distillers, Bardstown; Maker’s Mark Distillery, Loretto; Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, Louisville; Old Forester Distilling Co., Louisville.

O.Z. Tyler Distillery, Owensboro; Rabbit Hole Distillery, Louisville; Stitzel-Weller Distillery, Louisville; Town Branch Distillery, Lexington; Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg; Wilderness Trail Distillery, Danville; and Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles.

The KDA said bourbon contributes $8.6 billion to the state’s economy and generates more than 20,100 jobs.

There are 9.1 million barrels of bourbon and other spirits aging in Kentucky warehouses, it says.

The KDA says visitors — more than 70% of whom are from outside Kentucky — spend between $400 and $1,200 on average during their trip.

Ebelhar said 31% of O.Z. Tyler’s visitors last year were from Kentucky.

The rest of the Top 10 states were Indiana, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, California and Virginia, she said.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301

klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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