LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It was 1783 when Evan Williams established what is believed to be Kentucky's first distillery. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, William's distillery would put Louisville in the history books.
More than 200 years later, most distillery's are established outside of the urban bustle and Louisville has a limited role in bourbon tourism.
All of that is changing, however, as the Kentucky Distiller's Association (KDA) announces its plans to make Louisville the starting point for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
"It all just ties together and makes sense to bring that history back to life," said Jeff Crowe, general manager of the Evan William's Experience in downtown Louisville.
KDA has partnered with the Frazier History Museum to create a large bourbon history exhibit on West Main Street. The permanent exhibit will be built in 40,000 square feet of vacant space just east of the museum.
“We're willing to put Kentucky bourbon up against the greatest whiskey in the world and have an experience here in downtown Louisville that you can only get it in Kentucky and in Louisville," said KDA president Eric Gregory.
The exhibit will look at the heritage and history of bourbon. It will include a visitor center and will serve as the official starting point to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.
"This has the opportunity to bring a tremendous amount of tourism to Louisville, and it also adds a dynamic to our community so they can see unabashed stories about bourbon and how it grew and how it developed and became part of our American history," said Mac Brown. Brown not only serves on the Board of Directors of the Frazier History Museum, but is the Vice President of the Brown-Forman Corporation.
“It's going to be a multi-year project,” said Brown who added that the multi-million dollar project will be funded by donations.
Brown admits the timing "couldn't be better," as several urban distilleries are under construction in Louisville. Old Forester, Angel's Envy, and Jim Beam will soon have a presence in downtown Louisville, as Heaven Hill relishes in the success of the Evan William's Experience.
"Louisville was kind of an untapped market as far as the bourbon industry went. There has not been anything on Whiskey Row for for over 100 years," said Crowe. "We felt it was a captive audience we had but we weren't utilizing."
Crowe said they expect ticket sales to soar once Louisville becomes the official start of the Bourbon Trail, but he doesn't think it will take away from distilleries in Nelson and Franklin Counties.
"There's enough pie to share with everybody," he said. "To be able to come here, walk, have lunch, walk between distilleries and have a totally different experience. I don't think it will hinder what they are seeing there, it will be an addition."
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