- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s bourbon industry on Tuesday toasted final passage of legislation to allow visitors to sip cocktails and purchase more whiskey during distillery tours that have become prime tourist attractions.

The sweeping alcohol bill won final passage on a 31-6 Senate vote, a day after the House put final touches on crafting the legislation that caters to tourists flocking in record numbers to the state’s distilleries.

The measure next moves to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk.

“This is a happy hour,” said Sen. Republican John Schickel of Union, the bill’s lead sponsor.

A key provision of the bill 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 Senate accepted a House change that altered the amount of whiskey adult visitors could purchase at distillery gift shops in wet territories. The final version allows a person to purchase up to 4.5 liters per day. The current limit is 3 liters. The Senate originally supported allowing daily sales up to 9 liters per visitor.

The bill also would expand sample sizes during distillery tours.

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. Reflecting another House change, the local-option provision would expire after three years unless lawmakers reauthorized it.

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, called it a landmark bill that takes “a giant step out of Prohibition-era policies” regulating the industry.

“We are proud to raise a glass in thanks to the legislature for passing these bold, sweeping reforms that will create jobs and spur additional investment,” he said.

Bourbon tourism has become a big business in Kentucky, where distilleries produce about 95 percent of the world’s bourbon supply.

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.

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

Reaching beyond bourbon, the legislation also would allow expanded production for small farm wineries and microbreweries in Kentucky.

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The legislation is Senate Bill 11.

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