- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Bourbon tourism in Kentucky’s largest city received another shot of momentum Wednesday when the spirits giant behind the Jim Beam brand said it plans to open a whiskey-related attraction featuring a small working distillery.

The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse is expected to open next year in a downtown entertainment district, Beam Suntory Inc. said. Its request for tax incentives related to the multi-million-dollar project won preliminary approval Wednesday from the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority.

The venture will offer a “hands-on opportunity to experience the heritage and craftsmanship of bourbon,” said Beam Suntory vice president Kevin Smith.

Beam Suntory becomes the latest big name in bourbon to open or roll out plans for projects in Louisville to tap into the growing popularity of getting a firsthand look at Kentucky’s $3 billion bourbon industry - and sampling the state’s signature spirit.

Last year, the the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience opened just steps from where the whiskey pioneer who inspired the Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc. brand fired up his own stills two centuries ago.

Earlier this year, Brown-Forman Corp. said it will build a downtown distillery to produce Old Forester bourbon, its founding brand. The facility will be open to tours and will have a tasting room, exhibits and bourbon-making demonstrations.

Craft distilleries are sprouting up, and Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail offers a bourbon cocktail and culinary experience at participating restaurants.

The developments have reconnected Louisville to its roots as a hub for Kentucky whiskey makers. Today’s powerhouse bourbon brands such as Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Four Roses and Maker’s Mark are crafted in rural Kentucky settings, an hour or less away.

“Our city’s bourbon experiences are attracting a new type of tourist and that leads directly to economic growth,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse will be a street-level attraction beneath the company’s global business services center in Louisville, Beam Suntory said. The company has about 900 employees in Kentucky.

Its $5.2 million investment in Louisville will include a pot still, a bottling line where visitors can fill their own bottles, a tasting area to sample products and a gift shop, said Gil Lawson, a spokesman for the state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.

Beam Suntory received preliminary approval from the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority for tax incentives that eventually could result in the company recouping up to 25 percent, or $1.3 million, of its investment over 10 years.

The next step would be a study to verify the project’s impact before the proposed incentives get final approval.

Kentucky is home to 95 percent of the world’s bourbon production.

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