Owensboro distiller eager to join Bourbon Trail

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by By KEITH LAWRENCE

WHAS11.com

Posted on September 26, 2009 at 11:14 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 15 at 5:18 PM

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky's Bourbon Trail has brought visitors from 43 states and seven countries to the state this year to tour the eight participating distilleries.

Derek Schneider, plant manager for Charles Medley Distillers Kentucky in Owensboro, is eager to see that facility become the ninth distillery on the trail.

But it might be at least 2012 before the distillery on the city's northwest side will meet the qualifications for inclusion, he said.

"The minimum requirement is to have produced 25,000 barrels (of bourbon) and have 20,000 in the warehouse," he said. "It might be 2012 before we're at that level."

Trinidad-based Angostura Limited bought the distillery two years ago with plans to make its entrance into the world's bourbon market. But the severe global recession has slowed plans for starting bourbon production in the county for the first time since 1992.

"Our timeline is still in flux," Schneider said. "We have all but one of the new roofs on (after they were damaged by Hurricane Ike.) The next step is replacing the boiler. Things will go faster after that."

Those are part of a planned $25 million renovation project.

"With the financial markets the way they've been for the past year, we've had to move more slowly than we hoped," Schneider said.

The company expects to produce 32,000 barrels of bourbon a year. Each barrel holds 53 gallons.

"Our goal is to get on the Bourbon Trail," Schneider said soon after he was hired. "We're planning a visitor's center, a museum and guided tours of the facility."

Sampling may also be part of the tour, he said.

"2012 is going to be a big year around here," Karen Miller, executive director of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said last week.

Local officials are hoping to have a new downtown hotel open that year.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity to have the distillery ready to be a part of the Bourbon Trail," she said. "The time is right for Owensboro to once again promote our bourbon heritage."

Local histories say a man named Walter McFarland, who moved here from North Carolina, began making whiskey and peach brandy in either 1804 or 1805 on a 200-acre estate.

Sometime between 1800 and 1810, Cornelius Westerfield began distilling corn on his farm three miles southwest of Whitesville on the banks of Deserter Creek. It closed in 1872, after more than 60 years.

By the 1880s, there were 18 large distilleries operating in Daviess County at the same time. Charles Medley Distillers Kentucky is at least the 59th distillery in the county's history.

But bourbon hasn't been produced here since 1992.

"The more unique attractions we have, the more interest visitors will have in coming to see us," Miller said. "Visitors are looking for experiences and being on the Bourbon Trail will give us a great opportunity to create a new experience. It will add another layer to the experiences we already offer, from our bluegrass heritage to art to history to Broadway."

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was created 10 years ago to help draw tourists to the eight featured distilleries. Since that time, more than 1.5 million visits have been made to the distilleries.

Tourists have come from all 50 states and 25 different counties.

"The Kentucky Distillers Association has been very supportive of our efforts," Schneider said. "They're encouraging us to get on the trail. They don't see us as competition."

People from St. Louis and Paducah "might not drive all the way to Louisville or farther to a distillery, but they might come here," he said. "And then, they might have such a good time that they'll want to visit the other distilleries. This would open up the western half of the state."

The distilleries on the trail -- Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Tom Moore, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve -- are primarily between Louisville and Lexington.

Charles Medley Distillers Kentucky is continuing to host parties even without having its own bourbon to serve.

Angostura's brands include Angostura bitters, 1919 Rum, HINE cognacs, blu vodka and Scottish Leader Scotch whisky. The company, which dates back to 1824, is based in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean island nation.

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Information from: Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, http://www.messenger-inquirer.com

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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