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Jim Beam, also owned by Fortune Brands, is the world’s top-selling bourbon. Beam is pumping $18 million into upgrading its visitor center and making other improvements at its Clermont plant to accommodate growing numbers of tourists flocking to distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which features six distilleries that give tours. It is also spending $26 million to expand its bottling operation in the state capital, Frankfort.

Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., whose brands include Evan Williams bourbon, added two storage warehouses earlier this year, boosting its capacity by about 40,000 barrels at a cost of about $5 million. The company is eyeing improvements to its bottling facilities to keep the momentum going.

The Four Roses, Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve distilleries also have put money into upgrading visitor centers.

One of Kentucky’s most popular tourist destinations, the Bourbon Trail has averaged double-digit percentage growth in the past five years, with nearly 2 million people visiting at least one distillery during the period, Mr. Gregory said.

In the U.S., 15.4 million 9-liter cases of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey sold in 2010, generating $1.9 billion in revenues for distillers, according to statistics from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a national trade association. In 2003, 13.4 million cases sold, yielding $1.3 billion in revenues.

The industry’s biggest boost, though, has come from exports.

Producers of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey reaped $768.2 million in export sales in 2010, up from $303.8 million in 2000, according to the spirits council, citing statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The biggest overseas customers include Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and Germany, but the industry is looking at two seemingly bottomless markets - China and India - along with other emerging markets in Asia and Africa.

Mr. Russell, who has 30 years at Wild Turkey, has ambitious plans, with hopes the new distillery will need to be expanded in just a few years.

“This is a crucial time for all of us to put our product out there and put our best foot forward for the world,” he said.