Made in America: Bourbon Boom in the Heartland

Production of bourbon is up 18 percent in the last year and continues to soar.

ByABC News
November 7, 2011, 10:08 AM

Nov. 7, 2011 -- There's a bourbon boom in the heartland. Production has expanded, sales have broken records and employment is on the rise.

Bourbon, an 100 percent American product that is almost as old as the U.S. itself, has not seen this kind of demand since the end of Prohibition, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association.

"It's a remarkable thing," said Max Shapira, president of Heaven Hill Distilleries. "A remarkable turnaround for an industry, especially in this kind of economic climate."

Production of bourbon has been up 18 percent in the past year and continues to soar. In Kentucky, there are now more barrels of bourbon than there are people, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association.

According to Fred Noe, great-grandson of Jim Beam, half of the company's business is now overseas.

"We're selling American products around the world, which is great," said Noe, the seventh-generation Beam family distiller. And it means jobs, he said.

Noticing a slowing American market, bourbon makers aggressively sought sales overseas. They improved quality and capitalized on what made them different: By definition bourbon can only be made in America. Distillers could sell bourbon by selling America itself, plastering horses, cowboys and the Kentucky Derby right on the bottle.

The results have been lucrative.

In the past decade, bourbon exports have boomed, reaching 126 countries.

In Spain, sales are up 153 percent and in France, where ads showcase Mount Rushmore, sales have increased 286 percent. They are also up 98 percent in Australia and 55 percent in Germany.

Guthrie McKay, owner of Toddy's liquors in Bardstown, Ky., told ABC News the boom has been tremendous for all aspects of the bourbon industry.

"You got the truck drivers that deliver it, the people that make the barrels ... you got all the restaurants that benefit from it," he said.

One cooperage in Louisville has added 60 new jobs over the past three years, employing 270 people. There are new jobs on the bottling line too.

Maker's Mark is racing to build new warehouses to store all its barrels. The bourbon inside the barrels won't be ready until 2016, but Maker's Mark is banking on a long boom.

Once it's ready, each bottle will be dipped in wax by hand, a tradition Maker's Mark says no boom will bust.