- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Sipping cocktails could become part of the experience at bourbon distilleries as the Kentucky House passed a bill Monday aimed at increasing sales opportunities in the booming bourbon tourism business.

The measure would allow distilleries in wet territories to offer by-the-drink sales to visitors. It also would let the distilleries sell more of their whiskey and offer slightly larger amounts of free samples.

The legislation, sought by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, was accepted by the House on a 76-20 vote. The bill is potentially one step away from reaching Gov. Matt Bevin if the Senate accepts House changes.

Senators passed the bill in mid-January, but it languished until recent days in the House.

KDA President Eric Gregory applauded the House action and said the measure would modernize the state’s “archaic” alcohol laws and strengthen the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as a tourist destination.

“This is a responsible, bipartisan and common-sense measure that will create jobs, increase investment and generate millions in new tax revenue for state and local coffers, while ensuring a richer experience for our visitors,” Gregory said in a statement Monday evening.

Republican Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown, whose district is in the heart of Kentucky bourbon country, called House passage of the bill “a great step forward for the industry.”

The legislation also would allow expanded production for small farm wineries and microbreweries, but much of the focus has been on the state’s signature bourbon industry.

Before passing the bill, the House reduced the amount of whiskey adult visitors could purchase at distillery gift shops in wet territories. The House version allows purchases up to 4.5 liters per day, compared with the Senate version of up to 9 liters. The current limit is 3 liters.

Both versions would expand sample sizes. Currently, adult visitors can get up to 1 ounce of samples at each distillery in wet territories. The legislation would increase the amount to 1.75 ounces per stop.

For distilleries in dry territories, the bill would allow local-option precinct elections on whether to allow liquor sales in the area that includes the distillery. Under the House version, that local-option provision would expire after three years unless lawmakers reauthorized it.

Bourbon tourism has matured into a huge business in Kentucky.

Last year, nearly 900,000 guests visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour as bourbon tourism remained on a record-setting pace, according to KDA.

Bourbon tourists, on average, spend $1,000 on their trip, according to a study by the University of Louisville. The study said more than 85 percent of visitors are from outside Kentucky.

Gregory has predicted the tours will reach a milestone of 1 million visits in 2016.

The state’s bourbon sector is in the midst of a $1.3 billion investment boom that could grow as demand increases, Gregory has said. The expansion includes new and expanded distilleries, warehouses, bottling operations and tourism centers.

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The legislation is Senate Bill 11.

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