Formalizing Sustainability: Kentucky Bourbon Industry Collaborates with BIER

May 7, 2019 | Ali Edelstein

Bourbon with Kentucky Distillers' Association logo and BIER logo
Kentucky bourbon industry releases results of first environmental benchmarking study with BIER

We are excited to share a guest blog from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, where we explore their first benchmarking report created in partnership with BIER. Thank you to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and Ali Edelstein for their support and partnership.

Sustainability is nothing new to Kentucky’s signature Bourbon and distilled spirits industry. In fact, it’s a way of life for businesses that are often family-operated and dependent upon natural resources, like wood, water, and grains.

In recent years, however, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) – the non-profit trade group representing Kentucky’s large and craft distilleries – has formalized its commitment to environmental sustainability to preserve the industry’s ability to grow.

Members like Bacardi, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, and Diageo have led the way – sharing best practices and identifying opportunities for collective action, like an environmental benchmarking study with the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER).

Kentucky Distiller's Association benchmarking addendum cover

In 2018, the KDA and BIER initiated a partnership to measure and report the Kentucky Bourbon industry’s first set of energy, water, and emissions data as an addendum to BIER’s regular biennial report, released earlier this year.

Four Roses, Heaven Hill, OZ Tyler, and Wild Turkey joined existing BIER members Bacardi, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, and Diageo in submitting data – ensuring the addendum represents 98% of KDA membership by production volume.

Andy Battjes, Brown-Forman’s Director of Environmental Health & Safety, was instrumental in initiating the partnership. He recounted, “For Brown-Forman, one of the advantages of being a BIER member is learning from the technical expertise of other member companies and using that information to accelerate our own environmental sustainability improvements. We felt it was important to share this wealth of knowledge with our fellow Kentucky distilleries so we can continue working together to protect and sustain the natural resources that we all depend on and share.”

The results offer an insightful performance analysis of Kentucky’s distilleries, combining benchmarking data from KDA and BIER members to analyze Kentucky Bourbon distilleries’ efficiency when compared to global industry peers.

Overall, Kentucky distilleries’ collective energy and water use ratios consistently declined from 2013 to 2017, and rested below the global distillery averages in 2017.

Specifically, nine of the 11 participating Kentucky distilleries performed within the top 50% of global distilleries with regard to energy use ratio.

Moreover, the average water use ratio for Kentucky distilleries decreased over 41% from 53.40 L/L in 2013 to 31.32 L/L in 2017, representing a total water use avoidance of more than 6 million kiloliters – enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool nearly 2,400 times!

Heaven Hill Brands is a KDA member that was new to BIER’s environmental benchmarking study, and it presented some of the greatest efficiency improvement.

After updating the water source at its Bernheim Distillery, the company reduced its water usage by 33%. By placing two still condensers onto the cooling tower loop, the distillery now recycles water within its operations instead of sourcing it new – saving 330,000 gallons of water per day.

Historically, Heaven Hill Brands has tracked environmental information primarily to comply with regulatory requirements; however, in recent years, it has used data to make informed decisions on sustainability-related equipment purchases and process improvements.

Thanks to the study, the company has identified its environmental footprint, compared it to industry peers’, and discussed ways to strive for even greater efficiency moving forward.

Rhoneé Rodgers, the company’s Environmental Health & Safety Manager, said, “Participating in this study helped me understand the beverage industry’s impact on environmental sustainability. While Heaven Hill makes a direct impact locally, we make a greater difference when we work in conjunction with our colleagues across the industry. I feel good about what we have accomplished so far and will continue striving for this goal of environmental sustainability.”

Despite its success, KDA’s first environmental benchmarking study encountered challenges, too. Craft distilleries lacked the employee resources to track energy and water usage over the past five years, and larger distilleries struggled to quantify their Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

Moving forward, KDA will partner with BIER and local stakeholders like the Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet’s Division of Compliance Assistance to provide workshops that strengthen these capabilities amongst Kentucky’s distilleries.

For now, KDA and its members are raising a glass of Kentucky Bourbon to toast the group’s excellent results, which can be read online here.

About the Kentucky Distillers’ Association

Founded in 1880, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association is the historic voice for Kentucky’s signature Bourbon and distilled spirits industry. Its diverse and growing membership produces 90 percent of the world’s Bourbon, from legendary, global brands to emerging micro distilleries that are fostering the next generation of the Commonwealth’s timeless craft and treasured economic engine. Member benefits include media relations, international trade development, private sampling events, technical assistance, economic development support, networking, legal defense, marketing strategies, governmental and regulatory advocacy and innovative tourism experiences through the KDA’s world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® adventures. The KDA maintains an open membership policy, champions a strong commitment to the responsible and moderate consumption of spirits, and fights to curb underage drinking and drunk driving. Learn more at and

Ali Edelstein is the first Director of Social Responsibility for the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, where she leads the collective alcohol responsibility and environmental sustainability efforts of 39 Bourbon and distilled spirits companies in Kentucky. Previously, she managed ESG reporting as Senior Sustainability Advisor at Yum! Brands, where she collaborated with Antea Group on the company’s CDP reports. She holds a Master of International Business from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from The Honors College at Western Kentucky University.
By Ali Edelstein [crp]

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector. Formed in 2006, BIER is a common voice across the beverage sector, speaking to influence global standards on environmental sustainability aspects most relevant to the sector, affect change both up and down the supply chain and share best practices that raise the bar for environmental performance of the industry. By doing so, BIER is able to monitor data and trends, engage with key stakeholders, develop best practices, and guide a course of action for the future.

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