Friday, April 15, 2016

Are Whiskey Warehouses 'Agricultural'?

Warehouses at the Willett Distillery (Bardstown) back in the day.
The Lexington Herald Leader reported Wednesday that Brown-Forman wants to build twelve bourbon warehouses near Midway on land zoned for agricultural use. This raised the question of whether or not bourbon aging is an agricultural pursuit. The site is in Woodford County and would serve Brown-Forman's Woodford Reserve Distillery. The warehouses will be built over a 12-year period. When completed they will have a capacity of 900,000 barrels.

Before it can go forward, the proposal must be approved by the Woodford County Board of Adjustment, which has forwarded it to the county's Agricultural Advisory Review Committee. Some members have expressed skepticism. �It does seem kind of a stretch to call the making of bourbon an agricultural enterprise,� said one of them.

Bourbon warehouses can be built close together in an industrial park or other places zoned for industry, but a site with lots of land where the buildings can be widely spaced has advantages. It is safer from the standpoint of fires, and good for the whiskey because of better air circulation. A rural site with few neighbors avoids complaints about the inevitable harmless black fungus that always grows near whiskey warehouses. Using land zoned for agricultural use also has tax advantages.

If bourbon aging is not an agricultural activity, it would be equally hard to call it an industrial activity. No processing is done on the whiskey in the warehouses. No machines are involved. There are no moving parts. Rural warehouses, unlike urban ones, have no climate controls beyond opening and closing the windows. Putting new barrels in and taking mature barrels out is just about the only activity.

If bourbon aging is not an agricultural use, it is certainly compatible with such use. At the Four Roses warehousing site at Cox's Creek, cows graze on the grass between buildings.

When Kentucky was a major producer of tobacco, nobody argued that tobacco warehouses were not an agricultural use.

The reality is probably that bourbon aging is a unique land use, not anticipated in normal distinctions between agricultural, industrial and commercial classifications. If any state can sort that out and accommodate it correctly, that state should be Kentucky.

As a footnote, this is another example of the fine job the Lexington Herald-Leader does covering the state's whiskey-making business. They are the best in the state.

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