Kentucky has a hearty appetite for the food and beverage industry. More than 270 food and beverage operations employ nearly 43,000 people in Kentucky.  14% of Kentucky’s manufacturing is related to the food and beverage industry. In Northern Kentucky alone, food manufacturers have created $250 million in capital investment since 1987.

I was recently invited, along with six other journalists, to spend almost three days on a Kentucky Food and Beverage Tour sponsored by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. Ninety-five percent of the world’s supply of bourbon is made in the Bluegrass State. In fact, the current 4.9 million barrels of aging bourbon outnumbers Kentucky’s population of 4.3 million. More than 9,000 jobs in Kentucky are connected to distillery-related enterprise. One of the ways the world knows Kentucky is through its bourbon.

First Day of Tour

Our first stop was the Distilled Spirits Epicenter. It is an artisan distillery and education center for small-batch distilling. Housed there are: Grease Monkey Distillery, for testing formulations to running full productions; Moonshine University where one studies the methods used to derive, hone and layer flavors; and Challenge Bottling, a small production bottling line. Several artisan bourbon producers sampled their wares, along with ample hors’d’ouvres.

We had an inside look (the track opened just for our group) at Churchill Downs only 5 weeks after the Kentucky Derby. I was most impressed by the world’s largest (9 stories tall) Panasonic ultra high definition video screen that they turned on for our group. Newly appointed Executive Chef David Danielson regaled us with stories of preparing food and drinks for 160,000 people (120,000 Mint Juleps). We then sampled many of the desserts served at the Derby.

Day Two of Tour:

We started out our first full day very early with a tour of Clearwater Fine Foods. They are a subsidiary of a Canadian company of the same name. The lobsters are caught in Nova Scotia, packed and shipped to Louisville where they live in massive indoor salt tanks (the largest in the US) that resemble their native environment. By minimizing stress to the lobsters they can maintain the quality of fresh-caught lobster. They are shipped alive in containers that maintain their cold environment. Because of the UPS air hub they guarantee 99.9% on-time delivery to your favorite restaurant.

Next, we toured the KFC Test kitchen at their corporate headquarters. There are more than 15,000 KFC outlets in 109 countries and around the world serving some 12 million customers each day. KFC is part of Yum! Brands, one of the world’s largest restaurant companies with over 40,000 restaurants in more than 125 countries. Yum! Brands is ranked #216 on the FORTUNE 500 list with revenues of more than $13 billion. Their restaurant brands are KFC®, Pizza Hut® and Taco Bell®. We saw Colonel Harland Sanders’ original desk and memorabilia from his early days with the company.

We spent a fascinating hour at Brown-Forman (Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, Early Times, Old Forester) cooperage where they produce over 1,500 barrels/day of their many products. The cooperage was opened in 1945 and even though much technology has been added, I felt I had stepped back in time. We had lunch at Brown-Forman corporate headquarters.

Jim Beam

Jim Beam

We left Louisville for Clermont, KY and the headquarters of Jim Beam Distillery. Jim Beam is the best-selling brand of Kentucky straight bourbon and the 14th-best selling spirit in the world. This past April it merged and is now known as Beam Suntory with sales of $4.6 billion. It is the world’s third largest premium spirits company. Thirty family members of the Beam master distillers have worked at the company. After our tour we had a tasting with Fred Booker Noe III, a direct descendent of founder Jacob Beam. Other brands include: Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s and Old Granddad.

I had been looking forward to tonight’s dinner event since I was invited on this trip. Governor Steven Beshear and his wife

Governor Steven Beshear,  Jane Beshear and Ron Kapon

Governor Steven Beshear, Jane Beshear and Ron Kapon

Jane welcomed our group to dinner at the Governors mansion, built in 1914. The Kentucky Distillers’ Association served several brands of bourbon during the reception. In 2013 a record 571,000 people visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The governor and his wife made us feel so at home we felt as if our group had known them for years. They even posed with a copy of my bourbon article in Cheese Connoisseur Magazine.

Day Three of tour:

Our first stop on our last day was at Ale-8-One bottling facility. Ale-8-One is a soft drink unique to the state that has been bottled in Winchester since 1926, and its sodas are sold in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. “It’s like the loyalty shown to University of Kentucky or University of Louisville basketball teams. Kentuckians back Kentucky products.” The name Ale-8-One was the result of one of the nation’s first slogan contests. Still family owned, the drink formula is on hand-written notes.

Our last stop was Zoom Essence. Founded in 2008 it manufacturers dry flavors and food ingredients, with more than 300 types in various snacks, vitamins, supplements, soups, coffee and tea. The company provides flavors for beverages, confectionery, snacks, sweets, soup, sauces, baby food and pet food. Spray drying is the production of highly dispersed powders from a liquid emulsion. These powders are commonly used in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. Utilizing the patent pending DriZoom™ technology, ZoomEssence delivers liquid quality flavors & ingredients in a powder form. If you think I understand any of this you are mistaken.

For your future travel adventure, consider Kentucky for great food and drink.

About the Author:

Ron Kapon has over 55 years experience in the wine & spirit field, starting with his first drink (mixed with water) at age 3 having written (with help from his father) his first wine list at 12. His family’s business Acker, Merrall & Condit was established in 1820 and is the oldest wine merchant in the United States. He graduated from Columbia College & the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University and moved to Europe where he developed his love for wine. Returning to operate his family’s business he immediately knew his passion was teaching, writing & lecturing and so moved in that direction.

You can read Ron’s articles in Sports Network, The Fifty Best, Cheese Connoisseur Magazine, Wine Country International, Real Travel Adventures, Everywhere Magazine, North American Travel Journalist Association, Travel World Magazine, AllWays Traveller, Local Wine Events, Tasters Guild Journal, Leisure Travel Report and FabSeniorTravel.
He is the co-author and co-producer of the FDU On-Line Wine Course which was developed for the NY Times Knowledge Network.

“You will learn & have fun and have fun as you learn.”