For the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing my experiences travelling along the American Whiskey Trail in Kentucky and Tennessee. An initiative of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the Trail is an effort to preserve and promote distilleries and taverns that form part of America’s cultural heritage. It begins in Mount Vernon with the George Washington Distillery Museum, encompasses a number of working distilleries around the country, and includes historic sites such as Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan. A parallel route, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, links six distilleries located between Lexington and Louisville.
While it’s not yet ready to displace the Napa Valley, the Trail is exploding in popularity as a tourist destination. The most visited property in Kentucky is Woodford Reserve, with over 100,000 tourists annually, while Jack Daniel’s in neighboring Tennessee attracts well over 200,000. Most of the visitors come from outside the area, and the money spent by these folks has become a major boon to the local economy. According to a study done by the Kentucky Distillers Association in 2009, the average expenditure per party ranges from $478 to $1393 during a visit, with all the money being spent on food, lodging, shopping and souvenirs.
Unlike Napa, most distillery tours along the Trail are free. They last about an hour, and usually end with a sampling of several whiskies. The tours conclude, not accidently, in the gift shop, where visitors can purchase a dizzying array of apparel, accessories, whiskey-infused foods and whiskey itself. At Jack Daniel’s, their best-selling item is the Black Label. The second most popular is the Black Label T-Shirt.
When travelling on the Trail, you’ll primarily see older couples and extended families (despite the fact that the legal drinking age around the country is 21). If you have teenaged children who are tired of Disney and can still tolerate your presence, a trip along the American Whiskey Trail can be an enlightening experience. They’ll learn about historical episodes such as the Whiskey Rebellion, and realize that issues of taxation and individual liberty are conflicts that need to be renegotiated for every generation.