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Craft Distilleries Aim to Make Whiskey an Experience

When it is completed next year, Dant Crossing will include a 7,300-square-foot restaurant, a 22,000-square-foot events venue, bed-and-breakfast lodging, a 2,000-seat amphitheater, a trail around a 12-acre lake and, of course, a 21,000-square-foot distillery capable of producing 15,000 barrels of bourbon annually. Rickhouses will store barrels of the family’s Monk’s Road bourbon, named for the road that leads to the distillery from the 173-year-old Abbey of Gethsemani, the Cistercian monastery that was home to the monk and social activist Thomas Merton. Mr. Dant, the president, anticipates hiring 130 people.

Call it a whiskey resort. “It’s the first like it in Kentucky with this vision and scale,” said Seth DeBolt, director of the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits at the University of Kentucky. “Making bourbon. Drinking bourbon. Staying overnight. Going to a concert. A handful of others are moving in that direction to capture an experiential opportunity around this space.”

Although states differ in their guidelines for craft distilleries, they are generally distinguished in two ways: producing batches of spirits smaller than those of commercial distilleries, and selling them at premium prices in tasting rooms and beyond.

When businesses were ordered to shutter last year during the pandemic, no one knew how much damage the closures would cause to the sector, which employed 40,000 people across the country. The revenue numbers were worrisome. Liquor production typically provides half or more of annual revenue. Sales of craft spirits dropped $700 million in the first six months of 2020, a 41 percent decline, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group.

Almost half of the distilleries lost at least a quarter of their sales. The Distilled Spirits Council identified eight craft distilleries in the country that closed.

But other craft distillers reported having a highly profitable year thanks in part to government assistance. Distillery owners say Paycheck Protection Program loans and other aid to businesses kept core production and marketing staffs in places. After years of consideration and debate, Congress approved legislation that helped small producers by lowering the federal tax for the first 100,000 gallons of alcohol to $2.70 a gallon from $13.50.

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