Jim Beam plans $400 million expansion in Kentucky Bourbon

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The company famous for its brown water wants to be green – and it’s spending big bucks to get there.

To meet growing demand, Jim Beam maker Beam Suntory said Wednesday it will roll out a $400 million expansion at its largest Kentucky distillery and power it with renewable energy.

Two birds with a whiskey stone

Beam Suntory, which also makes the fancier Maker’s Mark craft whiskey and is owned by Japan’s Suntory, has a two-part environmental plan. First, to halve greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption by 2030. Second, to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than its activities emit by 2040, by part by planting more than 500,000 trees every year for the rest of the decade, or enough to offset the ones he needs to make casks for aging whisky.

With the Jim Beam factory in Boston, Kentucky* running out of capacity (no New England non-rhoticity here, it’s all Southern twang), the time has come for a green project that also allows the company to make a lot more of the most bourbon the most sold to the world:

  • The new expansion will increase capacity at the Boston plant by 50% and produce more Jim Beam White Label and Black Label bourbons, most of which will support anticipated sales growth in Europe and Asia. Beam Suntory reported global sales growth of 11% last year, with double-digit growth in China and India.
  • When the new project is completed in 2024, the distillery will derive 65% of its electricity from renewable natural gas and 35% from fossil-based natural gas. The trick here will be the construction of a new facility across the street, in partnership with renewable energy developer 3 Rivers Energy Partners, which will convert waste from bourbon manufacturing into biogas.

Proof of concept: About 95% of the world’s bourbon production is based in Kentucky, forming the heart of the state’s $9 billion distilling industry. According to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, distillers are planning $5 billion in capital investment. Alcohol has generally been a recession-proof industry – and the most resilient products are doing particularly well. According to the Cowen researchers, distillers now hold 41.5% of the alcohol market in the United States, with much of this growth coming at the expense of breweries, thanks to their luxury status, cocktail culture and their health and wellness trends. Let’s say it cheers them up.

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