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Bourbon Barrels Easily Outnumber Kentucky Humans, Horses

Kentucky, at last count, had somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.41 million people living there, while the number of horses (that’s important if you are from this state, trust me) clocked in at over 240,000 according to one relatively recent study. Put together, the number of humans and horses are small in comparison, however, to that other great Bluegrass State resource, aging bourbon barrels, which has just been pegged at over 5.66 million, and still growing.

New figures released today from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) suggest there were, as of 2014, 5,669,682 aging bourbon barrels in the state’s various distillery warehouses. This is said to be the highest number since 1975, when there were 5.8 million barrels reported.

Wild Turkey whiskey warehouse
Wild Turkey whiskey aging in its oldest warehouse. (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

The boom bourbon is currently going through with drinkers obviously is the chief factor in this huge growth. Distilleries, in order to keep up with this increasing demand, also crafted new 1,306,375 barrels last year – the highest production mark since 1970 and the third straight year with a million barrels born.

“This truly is the Golden Age of Bourbon,” said Eric Gregory, president of the distillers’ association, in a statement. “And it’s an honor to once again proclaim that Kentucky has a million more barrels of Bourbon than people living in our beloved Commonwealth.”

To call it a “golden age,” as Gregory puts it, may be a bit of an understatement at the moment. When you look at corresponding economic figures also put out by the bourbon industry, you see just how strong of a force distilleries and their whiskies are in Kentucky. Consider these data points:

  • a thriving $3 billion economic engine
  • more than 15,400 jobs with an annual payroll topping $700 million
  • pours $166 million into state and local coffers each year
  •  tax-assessed value of aging barrels this year is $2.1 billion, an increase of $223 million from 2014 and more than double the value since 2006
  • Distilleries paid $14 million in ad valorem barrel taxes last year to the state and local communities
  • over $1.3 billion in capital projects have been completed or are planned in the next five years by KDA members, from new distilleries to aging warehouses, bottling facilities, tourism centers and more.

Staggering, just staggering. One has to wonder what Kentucky would be like if the bourbon industry didn’t exist there. As for being the whiskey of choice among American drinkers, you can raise a glass comfortably knowing there will be plenty more bourbon to come as the years go along.

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