March 11, 2020

Kentucky Becomes Leading Whiskey Exporter in US, Breaks Overall Exports Record for Fourth Consecutive Year

As Kentucky’s signature bourbon industry continues to boom, the commonwealth can now tout its title as the nation’s leading whiskey exporter, according to 2019 export reports.

Gov. Andy Beshear made the announcement while filling the 16-millionth barrel of Jim Beam at Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont in February.

“We are immensely proud of our signature bourbon industry, and thanks to its national and global appeal Kentucky’s exports of whiskey hit an all-time high of $485 million last year,” said Gov. Beshear. “Our bourbon is now a multibillion-dollar signature industry, which helps support our families with more than 20,000 jobs, which an annual payroll topping $1 billion.”

Overall, in 2019, Kentucky exports also continued to grow, reaching more than $33 billion in goods and services shipped abroad. Kentucky fared well when compared to the rest of the United States. The commonwealth grew its exports by 4% over the previous year, despite a nationwide downturn of 1.2%.

“Our state continues making its mark on the global economy,” Gov. Beshear added. “Having bested our own export records eight of the past nine years signifies Kentucky is headed in the right direction. We will work to continue expanding market opportunities for the benefit of businesses throughout the commonwealth.”

Nationally, the state ranked sixth in exports per capita in 2019, based on U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. Kentucky placed 16th overall among all states and Washington D.C. while having just the 26th largest population.

Kentucky led all states in whiskey exports in 2019 at $485 million. That total marks a 326.5% increase since 2004, aided by the bourbon industry’s exponential growth across the past decade-plus. The state exported whiskies to 93 countries throughout the year, with Japan ($91 million), the United Kingdom ($85 million), and Germany ($68 million) serving as Kentucky’s top three markets in the sector.

In turn, the commonwealth’s exports of products used in barrel making also made significant gains in recent years. Kentucky exported $234 million of casks, barrels, vats, and wood parts last year, a 1,080% increase since 2004. The state accounted for 57.5% of all US exports in the sector.

Consistent with the past several years, aerospace products and parts resoundingly took top-export-category honors in 2019, according to data recently released by the U.S. Census Foreign Trade Bureau and WISERTrade. The industry shipped more than $14.6 billion in products and parts to other countries last year, a substantial increase of 16.4% over 2018.

Here’s a look at Kentucky’s top five exports for 2019:

Several Kentucky-made products saw notable gains in 2019. Communications equipment leapt 33% over the previous year, making the sector one of Kentucky’s top 10 exports on the year at $658 million. Other sectors with considerable increases included:

Canada retained its spot as Kentucky’s top export destination, importing more than $7.7 billion in goods and services. The United Kingdom ($3.55 billion) jumped to second on the list, as Kentucky increased exports to the country by nearly 20% as compared to 2018. France (more than $3.5 billion), Brazil (more than $2.6 billion) and Mexico ($2.2 billion) make up the rest of Kentucky’s top five 2019 export destinations.

Kentucky businesses can learn more about export opportunities and make connections with export markets through the Kentucky Export Initiative. KEI brings together a coalition of business organizations, trade experts and government entities, including the Cabinet for Economic Development, with a focus on increasing Kentucky exports to create new jobs and diversified markets for the state’s products. Find the state’s 2019 export reports and learn more about KEI at