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Monday, August 2, 2021

Craft distilleries aim to make whiskey an experience

When it’s completed next year, Dent Crossing will include a 7,300-square-foot restaurant, 22,000-square-foot venue, bed-and-breakfast accommodations, a 2,000-seat amphitheater, a 12-acre lakefront and a trail that surrounds the lake. Of course, a 21,000-square-foot distillery is capable of producing 15,000 barrels of bourbon annually. The Rickhouses will store barrels of the family’s Monks Road bourbon, named for the road that leads to the distillery from the 173-year-old abbey of the Cistercian monastery that was home to the monk and social worker Thomas Merton. The president, Mr. Dant, expects to hire 130 people.

Call it a whiskey resort. “This is the first in Kentucky with this vision and scale,” said Seth DeBolt, director of the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits at the University of Kentucky. “Making bourbon. Drinking bourbon. Staying overnight. Going to a concert. A handful of others are headed in to take advantage of an experiential opportunity around this place.”

Although states differ in their guidelines for craft distilleries, they are generally distinguished in two ways: producing batches of smaller spirits than commercial distilleries, and selling them at premium prices in the tasting room and beyond. .

When businesses were ordered to close during the pandemic last year, no one knew how much the closures would hurt the sector, which employed 40,000 people nationwide. The revenue figures were worrying. Wine production typically provides half or more of the annual revenue. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group, sales of craft spirits declined by $700 million in the first six months of 2020, a 41 percent drop.

About half of the distilleries lost at least a quarter of their sales. The Distilled Spirits Council identified eight craft distilleries to be closed in the country.

But other craft distillers reported having a highly profitable year thanks to government aid. Distillery owners say Paycheck Protection Program loans and other aid to businesses kept key production and marketing staff in place. After years of thought and debate, Congress approved legislation that helped small producers reduce the federal tax for the first 100,000 gallons of alcohol from $13.50 to $2.70 per gallon.

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