Build Wise

Kentucky’s Bourbon-Based Construction Boom

Top Shelf: Could Kentucky’s Bourbon-Based Construction Boom Make It a Leader in Building?

The bourbon market has been growing steadily for decades now, but the last handful of years have been particularly transformative. The New York Times reports that between 2012 and 2017, bourbon sales grew by more than 50 percent.

Bourbon’s rapid market growth has led to a second boom as well. Ninety five percent of all bourbon is made in Kentucky and the industry is estimated to bring 8.6 billion into the state economy each year. Kentucky-based distilleries have been working hard to promote the area between Louisville and Lexington as a luxury destination.

Their efforts are paying off. In 2016 visitors made about one million stops along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. By 2018, that number had jumped to 1.6 million, a nearly sixty percent increase. Tech Republic recently reported there are $2.3 billion in capital projects completed or planned in Kentucky from 2019 to 2022.

We were curious: how is all this growth impacting architecture, engineering, and construction firms in the area? Is the bourbon-boom changing building there too?

“I’ve seen the majority of change in our design partners,” says Eric Doninger, Global Director of Brand Homeplace Operations at Brown-Forman, makers of premium small batch bourbon Woodford Reserve.

“We live in a world of building brands,” says Doninger. “When people visit us, they aren’t just visiting a building. It needs to tell a brand story. When we first started, architects and builders didn’t necessarily understand that storytelling component. Now, there’s a much higher level of attention to detail. Together we’re telling stories through stone, water, wood. The consultants we are using are well versed in that language of storytelling.”

Another well known Kentucky distillery finds value in working with brand savvy partners in the area as well.

“Once we’ve been able to develop projects successfully with a partner, we work with the same ones over and over again,” says Environmental Champion Jason Nally at Maker's Mark. “We have over 150,000 visitors a year, but we still want you to feel like we’ve invited you into our own home. We want you to feel like you’ve been taken back in time yet still have everything you need.”

Tourism-related construction has special considerations around it, particularly when an annual summer rush is on its way.

“On the front end, I’m extremely careful about front-end budgeting and construction services,” explains Doninger. “It’s important for me to understand the budgeting process before the project has even begun. The tourism industry is tied to high season and low season, so if a project is delayed and I miss my window, it can really throw things off.”

Tech Republic recently reported that the rise in bourbon sales have led some distilleries including Lawrenceburg-based Wild Turkey to take a high tech approach to increasing production capacity including automation, sensors, and a range of other new methods.

Does it matter to distilleries how technologically advanced their AEC partners are?

“Yes, typically we use 3D modeling on all our projects...and we expect our third party partners to have that capability too.” explains Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley. “As bourbon demand grows, we are committed to grow with it.”

“The biggest magic show we do is making people feel connected to the world while still delivering an authentic, immersive experience,” says Nally. “So many people are far removed from agriculture, forests, water. We can offer a respite from that.”

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