Sunday, February 16, 2014

Buffalo Trace Tourism Growth Surpasses Statewide Totals

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, Bourbon Trail® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® are all registered trademarks of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA). The official tours include only those attractions that are owned by dues-paying KDA members.

The elephant in the room that is Kentucky bourbon tourism is, of course, Sazerac and its two Kentucky distilleries, Buffalo Trace (Frankfort) and Barton 1792 (Bardstown). Sazerac quit the KDA several years ago, saying it felt it could better use its KDA dues by investing in its own tourism enterprise. Lawsuits and a settlement followed, and an atmosphere of mutual hostility remains.

Yet both are doing well. In 2013, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® recorded more than 630,000 visits, a new milestone for the tour. A record 571,701 people visited the 'heritage' (i.e., big) distilleries, a 12% increase over 2012. An additional 61,698 traveled to the participating craft distilleries.

Numbers were up even more at Sazerac's distilleries, 34% at Buffalo Trace and 31% at Barton 1792. At Buffalo Trace, 84,629 guests took a tour in 2013, compared to 63,181 in 2012. Counting people who came to events at the distillery, including private events held at the Clubhouse (which can be rented), Buffalo Trace received 97,930 total visitors in 2013, a 21% increase over 2012.

The folks at Sazerac point to those numbers as evidence that they are better off outside the KDA, using the money they would be spending on KDA dues to enhance and publicize their own tourism offering. Both Sazerac distilleries provide free tours and tastings, and at Buffalo Trace five different tours are available.

The KDA argues that Sazerac benefits from the Association's general tourism promotion expenditures even though Sazerac doesn't help pay for them, but as KDA has gotten more aggressive about trying to undermine any non-KDA events and attractions, with the Sazerac distilleries at the top of that list (and all under the table, of course), that argument loses most of its credibility.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be a distiller to be a KDA member. You just have to have a bourbon production facility in the state and pay the dues. Neither Diageo nor Michters distills in Kentucky and yet both belong to the KDA. Diageo qualifies because it ages bourbon at Stitzel-Weller, and Michters bottles its products at a facility nearby. Neither is open for tourism although, for $150, you can get inside Stitzel-Weller as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Affair.

In addition to members, KDA now has sponsors. Dozens of bourbon-inspired restaurants, bars, hotels, transportation companies, markets, specialty food stores, and convention and visitors bureaus signed on in 2013.

Most non-parties to the KDA-Sazerac conflict, including the state and relevant county and city tourism bureaus, try to remain independent and, thus, neutral. KDA, despite its pose to the contrary, is a private entity whose members are its sole concern and in that way, it is exactly the same as Sazerac. There should be more than enough room for both to thrive, as the statistics indicate is the case, and for the entry of any other persons or groups who want to provide bourbon-related experiences for Kentucky visitors.

No 'gatekeeper' is needed nor wanted.


Harry said...

Thanks for telling us the rest of the story. I am so glad I can sip on their products (and I do switch around some) from over here while they squabble over there. I just hope they don't forget that they all make products which can be consumed daily and which can be swapped around and that tourism is an occasional thing and also has alternatives. Plus, I choose restaurants based on what the food's like, not on what's behind the bar because I can always find something I like to drink regardless of who owns the brands - or I'll drink when I get home. But, don't make me choose sides. I'll go elsewhere instead of fight.

Anonymous said...

Many in the industry question the ethics of current KDA leadership. I work for a KDA member distillery. KDA wants everything related to bourbon to be funneled through them. They think they're the bourbon police.

KDA Aggressively undermines good efforts of the industry unless it credits KDA.

Last week I heard a KDA rep tell a community organization that all bourbon events had to be ran through KDA by law- it ain't true.

Topic of much talk last couple weeks - KDA encouraged member distilleries to not sponsor the Louisville Bourbon Classic because KDA said it was in competition with KDA's bourbon Affair. A bully move that succeeded on a couple distilleries .

KDA non-profit? Why do they need sponsors? How much does it cost each distillery to be an official member - Anyone know? Suspect KDA is profiting big time . With only 5 full time employees at KDA, who is cashing in?

Im proud to work alongside hard working fellow Kentuckians. Don't want our Bourbon tainted. KDA has become a divisive poison. Good for Buffalo Trace for breaking away, our distillery has been discussing it too.

Kentucky bourbon tourism is a success because of the efforts of many, but KDA acts like they are solely to credit.

Chuck several of us at this unnamed distillery hope you'll write on this more. It matters how the KDA represents and effects us, thank you.

JDL said...

I have no idea what KDA dues are, but I think that Buffalo Trace benefits from the KDA. I wish that Buffalo Trace would join. I think that the KDA has benefited the entire industry and the state of Kentucky.

Anonymous said...

JDL, why do you wish Buffalo Trace would join? Are you working for KDA, or how does it affect you that Buffalo Trace is not a member?

Chip Sobel said...

As I recall, the orignal issue betwen KDA and Sazarac was the way dues were determined. At the time, a distillery's dues were based on the previous year's number of barrels filled. Buffalo Trace did not think that they should be billed for all bourbon they distilled when Brown Forman only paid for barrels filled at Woodford Reserve. It went downhill from there.

Whether KDA should have accomodated Sazarac's offer to remain a member under a revised dues structure, or the distiller should have been a team player is subject to continued debate. One thing is for sure - A rising tide lifts all boats.

Kerry Jones said...

Sazarac's issue with KDA is Eric Gregory. They are right, a lot of the KDA members have an issue with him. He sees himself as some sort of bourbon god. KDA dumps Gregory chances of Sazarac rejoining go up.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Everything KDA does has to be approved by the board of directors, who are very much 'activist' directors. It's not about one man.

Chuck Cowdery said...

...on either side.

Anonymous said...

KDA's 990 (IRS form for non-profits) shows approx. $1M in revenue ($896k in dues), and $176k in salary to President Eric Gregory.