"John Wayne Country'

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer.com | geans@messenger-inquirer.com Chris Radomski, founder of Duke Spirits, right, speaks Wednesday at O.Z. Tyler Distillery as the distillery celebrated the John Wayne Experience which opens in April.

When the John Wayne Experience opens in April at O.Z. Tyler Distillery, it will give fans of the western movie icon a reason to visit Owensboro.

Simon Burch, chief executive officer of Terressentia Corp., which owns the distillery, said, "We had 5,000 visitors last year (on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail), I expect to double or triple that."

Chris Radomski, founder of Duke Spirits, which markets bourbon and rye made from the late actor's handwritten 1962 recipe, said 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.

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

"We'll have photographs, copies of letters from presidents, some of his movie costumes and parts of sets from movies like 'The Green Berets,' " Radomski said.

He said he discovered Owensboro and O.Z. Tyler about five years ago when he was looking for a Kentucky distillery to make Duke Spirits' bourbon and rye.

"I met a woman who worked here," Radomski said. "She was telling me about the place. I was looking at three other distilleries at the time. But I came up to visit when they were first starting to make bourbon here."

He said he liked the people, their plans and the fact that the site has been making whiskey since 1885.

Radomski said he bought old bourbon from small distilleries to start the company.

But all of it will now be produced at O.Z. Tyler, he said.

Owensboro, Radomski said, "is John Wayne country."

Jennifer Wayne, John Wayne's granddaughter, said, "My grandfather loved to drink, and he made notes of his favorite bourbons."

She said the actor would have enjoyed the bourbon that carries his name.

Wayne is a member of Runaway June -- a country band that includes Naomi Cooke and Hannah Mulholland.

They performed "(I Can) Buy My Own Drinks," their recent Top 10 country hit, for the crowd.

The band opened for Carrie Underwood this year and traveled in a bus wrapped with the Duke Spirits logo.

Radomski said Duke bourbon had to be made in Kentucky because the state is "the birthplace of bourbon."

Wayne made more than 170 movies between 1926 and 1977.

He won the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in 1969's "True Grit."

Duke Spirits' cocktails are named for various Wayne movies -- "Red River," True Grit" and "El Dorado" among them.

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

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