Sustainable Spirits initiative helps Kentucky distillers improve environmental awareness

Kentucky’s distilleries and breweries provide Kentucky with some of its signature products. Bourbon, whiskey and other spirits are one of the state’s hallmarks, bringing notoriety, tourism and commerce to the state.

But as businesses and manufacturers, distilleries face environmental challenges and opportunities that are unique, challenging and require innovation and best practices.

The Division of Compliance Assistance, in collaboration with the Kentucky Distillers Association, has created the Sustainable Spirits Initiative to bring members of the industry together to discuss and share their experiences about current environmental issues and aspire to shape future opportunities for this sector.

The Sustainable Spirit project is open to all of Kentucky’s distilleries and breweries. A goal of the initiative is to address how Kentucky’s unique bourbon and beer industries can work together to protect and preserve Kentucky’s natural resources. On a regular basis, distilleries and breweries conduct a broad range of environmentally conscious or pollution prevention activities. Through this venture, all citizens may become aware of the choices these entities are making in order to provide a higher quality product while protecting our environment. Distilleries and breweries are encouraged to address the environmental measures taken at their facilities during educational and outreach activities, including employee meetings and public tours. Many activities are already taking place at Kentucky distilleries.

  • Maker’s Mark has a 684-acre property in which they have established a wetland area, promoted native species establishment, and utilized natural insect population control methods.
  • All corn used by Woodford Reserves is locally sourced which limits transportation costs and reduces air emissions.
  • Jim Beam – Clermont built a LEED-gold certified still house visitor center.
  • Wild Turkey uses a closed loop cooling system that recycles used city water, eliminating the need to draw water from the Kentucky River and return it to the river at elevated temperatures.

These are just some examples of the work the distilleries are doing. For more information on these and other activities, please see the Sustainable Spirits document online at

The Sustainable Spirits initiative regularly holds summit meetings where its members collaborate and share information about the environmental practices at their respective businesses. Wild Turkey hosted the most recent one, with representatives from five of Kentucky’s distilleries present, including two KY EXCEL members: Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark. Other distilleries involved in the meeting included Wild Turkey, Brown Forman (Woodford Reserve), and Michter’s. Additionally, a representative from the Kentucky Distillers Association attended, and provided ideas for coordinating involvement of other distilleries and breweries and increasing sustainable practices within the industry.

At the most recent summit, Kim Harmon of Heaven Hill, spoke about the establishment and operation of a successful and profitable recycling program. Heaven Hill uses green promotion techniques such as visual signage, placement of recycling bins, allowing employees to bring recycling from home, and setting recycling goals and awarding employees when goals are met. Harmon also addressed the way they manage glass at their facility. Nearly all distilleries and microbreweries have concerns addressing the abundant glass waste stream produced during their normal operations. There are few glass recyclers in the state and glass can be expensive to transport and dispose of at a landfill on a per ton basis.

The summit had representatives from Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence (DEDI) to speak on a national objective of reducing energy use. Systems such as a combined heat and power can help to increase the capacity of efficient, simultaneous, on-site generation of heat and power and decrease environmental impact, providing energy security, and reduce operating costs. Bill Lunsford discussed areas in which distilleries can use these systems in their process and modify existing systems to increase efficiencies.  Kenya Stump provided information on using solar energy and the optimal use systems and locations in Kentucky. Distilleries could place solar panels on the roof of a barrel house or warehouse and utilize existing spaces or establish ground-mounted solar panels. Both Lunsford and Stump elaborated on the wealth of information available including technical service providers and potential financial assistance opportunities. DEDI is able to work with companies to identify a facility’s opportunities and helpful resources.

Wild Turkey provided lunch and a private tour of the facility. The Sustainable Spirits Summit is an opportunity to speak with other distilleries and breweries to address industry-specific questions and ideas. The network of parties involved in the summit is growing. If your facility is interested in sharing how it addresses environmental excellence, or if it is seeking ways to improve our environment, please contact John Eisiminger with the KY EXCEL program at or call 800-926-8111. To learn more about the KY EXCEL program and read what other industries are doing please visit us online at