New Kentucky bourbon distilleries on the way for 2 major whiskey brands. Here are the plans

Two major distillery projects are coming to Kentucky, state officials said Thursday, adding to an already-booming bourbon market in the commonwealth.

Pernod Ricard, the second largest wine and spirits company in the world and parent of Absolut vodka, Jameson and The Glenlivet scotch, Beefeater gin, Kahlua liqueur and many more brands, announced the company will build its first Kentucky distillery.

Family-owned Willett Distillery, based in Bardstown, plans to build a second, larger distillery in Washington County.

Pernod Ricard plans to invest $250 million over five years in a new distillery and bourbon warehouses in Lebanon in Marion County for its Jefferson’s Bourbon brand as well as existing American whiskey operations in West Virginia, Texas and Kentucky. The company also owns Rabbit Hole Distillery in Louisville.

The project will include a state-of-the-art carbon neutral distillery and a world-class visitor center, according to the company. The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority approved up to $1.6 million in tax incentives for the new distillery, which is expected to create 55 jobs over 15 years with an average hourly wage of $82.35 including benefits across those jobs, according to Gov. Andy Beshear’s office.

A rendering of the Kentucky distillery that Pernod Ricard plans to build in Marion County to make its Jefferson’s Bourbon.
A rendering of the Kentucky distillery that Pernod Ricard plans to build in Marion County to make its Jefferson’s Bourbon.

“The commonwealth’s bourbon industry continues to gain momentum and grow to new heights,” Beshear said in a news release. “This investment by Pernod Ricard is a welcome addition to the Lebanon and Marion County community and will reinforce our bourbon industry and set us apart in our continued sustainability efforts. I want to thank the leaders of Pernod Ricard for their vision to grow in Kentucky, and I look forward to seeing their success in the coming years.”

Work on the 7.5 million proof-gallon distillery, which will produce 115,000 barrels annually, is expected to begin in January 2023 and be completed by July 2024.

A rendering of Pernod Ricard’s planned distillery for Jefferson’s Bourbon in Lebanon in Marion County.
A rendering of Pernod Ricard’s planned distillery for Jefferson’s Bourbon in Lebanon in Marion County.

“American whiskey is an extremely vibrant spirits category, and our strategic investments over the last few years have proven successful,” said Alexandre Ricard, chairman and CEO, Pernod Ricard, said in a news release.

“Our philosophy of partnering with entrepreneurial brand founders, while preserving the heritage and terroir associated with the brands they created, has made us an established player in premium American Whiskey. Jefferson’s founder Trey Zoeller is no exception. This new investment will allow us to grow our share of category sales not only in the U.S., but also in export markets,” Ricard said.

A rendering of the Pernod Ricard facility, planned for Marion County. A new 75,000-square-foot facility will be built on a 265-acre site in Lebanon. The site will include a distillery, drying operation, three warehouses and a world-class visitor center. Work on the facility is expected to begin in January 2023 and be completed by July 2024. The Marion County facility will be fully carbon neutral and will have zero fossil fuel consumption to produce bourbon.
A rendering of the Pernod Ricard facility, planned for Marion County. A new 75,000-square-foot facility will be built on a 265-acre site in Lebanon. The site will include a distillery, drying operation, three warehouses and a world-class visitor center. Work on the facility is expected to begin in January 2023 and be completed by July 2024. The Marion County facility will be fully carbon neutral and will have zero fossil fuel consumption to produce bourbon.

Ann Mukherjee, chairman and CEO, Pernod Ricard North America, said in a statement that the new distillery will enable Jefferson’s to efficiently keep up with very strong consumer demand while staying true to the company’s longstanding commitment to sustainability.

“American whiskey is booming, and Jefferson’s growth has been phenomenal,” Mukherjee said. “We’re very bullish on the brand’s potential, and we’re committed to making our new Jefferson’s facility one of the most exemplary distilleries in the world in order to achieve it.”

Founded in 1997 by Trey Zoeller and his father Chet, Jefferson’s joined the Pernod Ricard portfolio in 2019 when the company acquired the brand’s parent, Castle Brands. Trey Zoeller continues to guide Jefferson’s in his role as founder and chief strategist. Since the acquisition, Jefferson’s U.S. sales have doubled.

Trey Zoeller, head of Jefferson’s Bourbon.
Trey Zoeller, head of Jefferson’s Bourbon.

“For the last 25 years we have been sourcing, contract distilling and — through Kentucky Artisan Distillery — distilling ourselves,” Zoeller said in the release. “It is now time for us to take more control of our destiny.”

The distillery will be the second facility in Kentucky to claim total carbon neutrality, following Diageo’s Bulleit distillery, which opened in Lebanon in 2021.

Pernod Ricard plans to continue partnering with local farmers and suppliers to source ingredients and barrels, according to the company.

“Our company is an agricultural company at its core and so it is vital that we lead the category forward — in partnership with our farmers and growers — and remain committed to the long-term sustainability of our people, our industry and our planet. This investment is the latest illustration of that belief,” said Mukherjee.

Willett plans to build second distillery

Bottles of Willett bourbon for sale during a tour of the Willett Distillery at the 2013 Kentucky Bourbon Festival. The brand has a growing following and plans to build a bigger distillery to meet demand.
Bottles of Willett bourbon for sale during a tour of the Willett Distillery at the 2013 Kentucky Bourbon Festival. The brand has a growing following and plans to build a bigger distillery to meet demand.

Also on Dec. 8, the KEDFA board approved up to $800,000 in tax incentives for a new distillery for the Willett Distillery, owned by the Kulsveen family. They plan to build a $92.9 million distillery and barrel warehouses in Springfield in Washington Co., according to KEDFA, creating 35 jobs with average wages of $34.96 including benefits.

Willett has a historic distillery and warehouses in Bardstown.

Visitors took a tour of the Willett Distillery in Bardstown during the 2013 Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
Visitors took a tour of the Willett Distillery in Bardstown during the 2013 Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

“The demand for our bourbon is stronger than ever, and that’s a testament to the companies and distillers we have in the commonwealth who produce high-quality, world-class bourbon,” Beshear said in a news release. “Willett Distillery, which has been a staple of Kentucky bourbon for over eight decades, is bringing quality jobs to Washington County. I want to thank their leadership for continuing to support the commonwealth and look forward to many more years of their success.”

Willett plans to build a 70,000-square-foot facility on 150 acres, including new distillery operation, barrel storage warehouses and a water storage area for fire prevention at 1170 Mackville Road in Springfield. Construction of the project is expected to begin in January 2023.

“We are grateful for each person that picks up a bottle of our family’s whiskey,” said Britt Kulsveen, president and chief whiskey officer at Willett Distillery, said in the news release. “It is both humbling and the greatest honor to be included in any celebration. Our intention is always to make a personal connection with our customers and fill their glass with cheer.”