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‘Bourbon and beer’

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Willett collaborates with Ky. craft brewers on experiment

By Kacie Goode

Willett Distillery and the Kentucky Guild of Brewers are collaborating on an experiment, which will recycle charred oak barrels for a special beer showcase to be released in Louisville this summer.

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A mix of bourbon and beer experts gathered Monday morning inside the Bardstown distillery’s newly finished visitors center to kick off the collaboration, which was attended by 25 craft brewers from around the state. The event allowed the brewers to pick up the used barrels, which will be recycled for the purpose of creating barrel-aged beer.

“We take pride in producing really wonderful craft beer, and Willett has the same legacy with bourbon. It just seemed like a natural partnership,” said Derek Selznick, executive director of the Guild. Selznick said the Guild is “a trade association that works for the promotion and protection of the craft beer industry in Kentucky.”

The beer will be released June 23 at the second annual Kentucky Craft Bash at the Louisville Waterfront Park’s Festival Plaza. That event will feature 35 breweries from around the state and more than 90 different beers, according to a press release.

“We are going to have a special tapping, and all of these breweries that we have here today, they are all going to be filling these wonderful Willett barrels,” Selznick said, adding that a new beer will be tapped at the event every 10 minutes and the samples will be exclusive. “The only place you are going to be able to get it is at our festival.”

A list of participating brewers can be found at www.kystandard.com.

While the project with the Guild is new, Willett Distillery has connected with other brewers in the past.

“We’ve worked with a lot of other breweries across the country, but to be able to keep these barrels here in the state of Kentucky and be able to work with local breweries is really what this is about,” said Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen, who was leading private tours Monday along with his sister, Britt. “The beer that they are going to be creating from our 80th anniversary barrels is going to be really special.”

In addition to celebrating the new project, Kulsveen and Selznick said they have each seen growth and demand in their respective industries, which is evidenced by the distillery’s new visitor space and other construction projects.

“Last year, we hit over 50,000 people and we decided it was beyond the time of adding on and expanding the visitors center,” Kulsveen said. Along with that is increasing the experience, he said, and the distillery plans to have a restaurant and a bar opened in the near future, as well as bed-and-breakfast lodging.

In it’s five years of work, the Kentucky Guild of Brewers has also been hit with high demand and a growing business. Just a few years ago, he said, there were only a few breweries in the state.

“We have 55 active licenses as of right now,” he said Monday, adding that 11 breweries were opened in 2016, and another 13 are planned to open this year. In addition, production and workforce each grew by 30 percent this year, he said. “It’s a great time to be in the beer business.”

Additional information on Willett Distillery and its history can be found online at www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com. Information and updates on the upcoming Kentucky Craft Bash can be viewed at www.kycraftbash.com.