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Brown-Forman Reinforces Its Presence In Kentucky Bourbon

April 10, 2018

Led by Jack Daniel’s, Tennessee whiskey continues to account for more than half of Brown-Forman’s U.S. volume, but the Louisville-based company has also been aggressively strengthening its presence in whiskey from its home state of Kentucky.

Brown-Forman’s lead Bourbon brand, Woodford Reserve, had a banner year in 2017, crossing a half-million cases in the U.S. for the first time. Woodford, which features a core Bourbon ($35) as well as Double Oaked ($55), and Rye ($38) expressions, has expanded by 75% over the past three years, and Brown-Forman chief marketing officer John Hayes sees further gains ahead.

“Woodford Reserve is continuing to perform incredibly well in the U.S., but we’re also having really nice growth overseas,” Hayes notes, adding that the brand’s rye offering has been boosting momentum. “Woodford Reserve Rye’s mash bill is just above 50% rye, so it has a nice balance. We’ve been able to open up supply over the past year and the reception has been incredible.” Brown-Forman has looked to increase Woodford’s exposure through horse-racing sponsorships, most notably through tie-ups with the Kentucky Derby (where it’s the presenting sponsor through 2020) as well as Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.

Meanwhile, Brown-Forman is set to open its new Old Forester Distillery on Louisville’s Whiskey Row this spring. The $45-million distillery will have the capacity to produce 100,000 cases a year, and will feature tourism facilities and a tasting room. “The new distillery will help us to grow the brand and really bring visitors into the process of distilling this historic Bourbon,” Hayes says.

Old Forester was up 12% to nearly 200,000 cases in the U.S. last year, according to Impact Databank. The brand has been active at upscale price points lately with its Whiskey Row range (around $45-$65), which now includes three expressions, each highlighting a specific period in the brand’s history, which dates to 1870. Last year, Old Forester’s Statesman special edition ($60-$70)—a 42.5% abv tie-in with the movie Kingsman: The Golden Circle—had an unplanned second production run after immediately selling out of its first batch, Hayes notes.

In June, Brown-Forman will further expand its Bourbon offering at the high end with the resurrection of the King of Kentucky brand, which was discontinued in 1968. A 14-year-old release limited to 960 bottles, King of Kentucky is bottled at barrel proof and will be available only in Kentucky, retailing at around $200. —Shane English

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