Open house for Diageo well attended

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Community turns out to welcome distillers

By Lisa King

A crowd of about 100 turned out Tuesday at an open house for Diageo, the international distilling company that plans to build a facility in Shelby County.

“It’s a great crowd, we’re very pleased with the reception we’re getting in Shelby County,” said Alix Dunn, director of external communications for Diageo, as she glanced around the crowded room at the Shelbyville Country Club at people milling around, sampling spirits and food made with bourbon.

Diageo announced late last month its intention to build a $115 million facility and 1.8 million proof gallon distillery on a 300 acre lot just north of Lake Shelby on Benson Pike.

“I’m really glad to be here,” said Tom Bulleit, founder of Bulleit Distilling Co., headquartered in Lawrenceburg.

Bulleit Distillery is owned by Diageo, and Dunn complimented Bulleit on his efforts to promote Diageo’s products.

“He has been just a great ambassador since we started working with him, and he goes around, as well as his daughter, meeting with bartenders and mixologists, trade groups and consumers all around the country,” Dunn said. “He’s been doing this for years, just explaining about the brand, showing people how to mix it, that sort of thing.”

Bulleit explained how in 1987, he had fulfilled a lifelong dream of reviving his family’s bourbon recipe by starting his distillery, using a recipe created in the 1860s by his great-great-grandfather Augustus Bulleit.

“We want to be the best neighbors you ever had,” said Bulleit.

Shelby countians that attend the afternoon event also expressed favorable opinions about the company’s efforts to introduce themselves to the community.

Barlow Dean, an employee at the club’s pro shop, said he was very impressed with both the turnout and the event itself.

“Personally, I think the response was great,” he said. “People were here early for it, to check it out. Diageo looks like it’s very successful, and I think it’s going to grow.”

Dean said he liked the way that Diageo officials had set up displays in the country club’s reception area, with a bar at one end, some of their premiere brands of spirits set up on a prominent table and easels situated around the room at strategic locations displaying photos and sketches of the proposed distillery on Benson Pike.

“Everything was looking good,” he said.

Local officials were on hand, complementing Diageo’s decision to build in Shelby County.

“It looks like it’s going to be a wonderful benefit for Shelby County,” said Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty. “I’m pleased that they chose Shelby County; they could have chosen anywhere in central Kentucky, but they chose Shelby County and I’m very pleased with that.”

Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) said that judging from people’s reactions at the open house, it was his impression that the community is going to be a good fit for the distillery.

“It’s so well attended and people are so excited and supportive of Diageo’s being in Shelby County, at least from what I can tell from the open house,” he said. “I am encouraged and enjoyed visiting with them and hearing about their vision and what they saw for the future for them here in Shelby County.”

Kentucky state economic development officials had announced May 29 that Diageo, a global company with the distinction of being a world leader in distilled sprits, had received preliminary approval of $4 million in tax incentives to locate in Shelby County.

To qualify for the incentives, the distillery will have to provide 11 jobs at $29 per hour in one year, and 31 jobs in years two through 10, to earn $2.5 million in incentives. The other $1.5 million will come from the investment in the facility.

Shelby County officials had been working for several months to lure the distillery to Shelby County, and are said they are still excited about their success even though the distillery could not be part of the state's Bourbon Trail without a tasting room; a necessary omission since Shelby is a dry county. Diageo, however, announce din February that it will locate a tasting room for its legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery on Whisky Row in Louisville.

Diageo spokesperson Kristen Crofoot, however, said that if the county were to go wet, the company would possibly add a tasting room.

The next step for Diageo will be a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday during the Triple S Planning Commission meeting at the Stratton Center

That’s where company officials will present the details of its design plans, which include fitting in with the surrounding countryside and conserving the natural landscape.