Catching the Rabbit

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By John Logan Brent

Henry County Judge-Executive

Monday night Fiscal Court entered into an option agreement to sell land at the Henry County Commerce Park to Rabbit Hole Distilling for the purpose of building a barrel warehouse.

This is a significant formal step toward Rabbit Hole making Henry County their home. Discussions about Rabbit Hole and distilleries have been the buzz in the county for the last month. It has been a long time since I have had so many calls from so many passionate people about a single subject.

A year ago I knew little about distilleries. Today I know much more and I wish to pass some of what I have learned along to you. There are four primary positives to having distilleries, warehouses and tasting rooms in our county.

The first benefit is job creation. The distilleries locating in Henry County start employees between $15 and $20 an hour with Rabbit Hole’s average at $23 an hour.

The next benefit is tourism. People come from all over the world to take the Bourbon Trail and tour Kentucky distilleries. Distilleries like Six Mile Creek and Rabbit Hole will help us to become a destination benefitting various businesses such as restaurants and farms interested in agri-tourism.

Farmers will also benefit from the premium paid for locally grown grain and save on hauling costs. 

The last noteworthy benefit is the generation of unparalleled tax revenue. Based on a letter from Henry County PVA Jason Scriber (citing information from the Kentucky Department of Revenue), a two to three year old barrel of distilled spirits would produce the following tangible tax revenue: County Government - 67 cents, Henry County Schools - $3.14, Eminence Schools- $3.44, Library – 58 cents, County Extension – 30 cents, and Health Department – 17 cents.

The Kentucky Peerless Distillery warehouse recently built in Campbellsburg will hold 5,000 barrels. That small warehouse will generate $24,300 toward county services in three years, with $15,700 of it going to the schools. The warehouse Rabbit Hole plans to build in the Commerce Park will hold 20,000 barrels; this equates to $62,800 in tangible tax to the schools alone. Additional revenue will come from property taxes on the buildings themselves.

Citizens have expressed a number of potential concerns associated with the industry: smell, “whiskey fungus,” public drunkenness and other nuisances. While these are valid concerns, I can tell you that I personally toured Peerless, Rabbit Hole and Angel’s Envy Distilleries in downtown Louisville and saw no signs of any of the above issues.

I do believe scale should be taken into account when forming one’s opinion. The Campbellsburg Grocery is not a Kroger Superstore, and Rabbit Hole is not Buffalo Trace in Frankfort.

Before making up one’s mind, I would encourage you to take a tour. To that end the owner of Rabbit Hole has set aside Mondays for Henry County citizens to take free tours. To schedule a tour, please call (502) 561-2000.

The last issue that has been raised is the unease about the message the support of the distillery industry sends to a community battling addiction.

This past week a respected friend asked if I was sending a mixed message as a leader who was trying to build a Hope Center and at the same time was encouraging distilleries to locate here. It is a fair question and one that I have thought about considerably.

My practical answer is that I do not believe that there will be a measurable increase in alcohol consumption in Henry County from Rabbit Hole bourbon that sells for over $40 a bottle or from barrels of stored product that will be sent around the world.

My kids have also pricked my conscience when they ask why we raise tobacco when it is bad for people’s health. They always conveniently ask this question when I hand them the hoes to go chop weeds! While I would never encourage anyone to start smoking or drinking, I also know that the tobacco program that lasted for 64 years was the core of Henry County’s economy; and now without it our farms, towns, schools and even churches are looking different.

We need a new economic core — maybe the distillery industry could be it.