Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Movement


As a spirt, bourbon is heavily associated with the state of Kentucky. But while major spirits firm Brown-Forman is located in Louisville, traditionally bourbon was distilled in rural – and ironically, dry – counties like, say, Bourbon County.

But Louisville has managed to stake out a position for itself as the basecamp for Kentucky’s bourbon trail. Also, there’s been a major move of distillers into the city. There are micro-distilleries everywhere these days, but what distinguishes Louisville here is the big money that’s been poured into in-city facilities.

I was in Louisville a few weeks ago and noticed what appeared to be a sizable new mixed use development of some type in the NuLu neighborhood, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. So I walked around to the front of it and saw that it was actually a distillery called Rabbit Hole.

I said to myself, “That thing clearly cost millions. Where did it come from?” When I got home I looked it up and indeed it cost $14.7 million. (By contrast, Cardinal Spirits in Bloomington, Indiana, which I’ve written about before, got started with $850,000 in crowdfunding).

Where did the money come from? As it happens, as with Cardinal Spirits, this is an example of brain drain rebounding to urban benefit. The guy who founded Rabbit Hole married a woman from Louisville while they were both living in Chicago. They moved back to Louisville and he started the distillery with what appears to be financial backing from his wife’s family.

An even bigger $27 million was invested in nearby Angel’s Envy, which is backed by spirits giant Bacardi. The Evan Williams Experience was $9.5 million. That brand is owned by Heaven Hill, which is an established local spirits company, albeit not one of the world’s largest. (They distribute Hpnotiq among other brands).

There may be more like this but these I know offhand. There’s big corporate and local family money that’s been poured into first class facilities for urban bourbon in Louisville. And it appears to be working as I believe bourbon-related tourism is way up in the city.

This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian, Forbes.com, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.