A collaborative research and workforce development effort between Kentucky’s flagship university and one of the state’s signature industries, the new Kentucky Spirits Research Institute will help ensure that Kentucky remains the innovation capital of the distilling industry, not merely the
bourbon production capital.

The College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is leading the institute, which draws on expertise from all colleges across the University of Kentucky as well as other Kentucky universities.

“It is exciting to pair Kentucky's land-grant college of agriculture with a signature Kentucky industry. In partnership with other UK colleges, we will provide a suite of services to the industry, ranging from a trained workforce to the latest technologies and the grains and white oak we grow from the
land,” said CAFE Dean Nancy Cox.

artist rendering of Cooper area

Artist's rendering of the future campus of the Kentucky Spirits Research Institute at UK.

All major beverage alcohol industries around the world have workforce development and university assistance.

“The idea behind the Kentucky Spirits Research Institute is to merge UK's research and educational missions to support Kentucky's economy, providing opportunities for growth to our distilleries, our farmers and foresters, and our entrepreneurs and innovators,” said Seth DeBolt, horticulture professor and director of UK's Distillation, Wine and Brewing Studies certificate program. “It’s great that UK will now be offering a ‘one-stop shop’ for research, management tools, and an educated workforce for what is a thriving, historical Kentucky industry.”

DeBolt said that today the majority of relevant patent applications are being filed by companies headquartered outside Kentucky. His goal is to bring that back to the state. UK is to commit $1 million in technology transfer for Kentucky-based companies over the next 10 years.

“The Kentucky Spirits Research Institute is an exciting example of the power of integrating education and research across several colleges on campus towards a common goal, with close links to economic development in the commonwealth,” said Lisa Cassis, UK vice president for research. “We look forward to new educational initiatives that contribute to the spirits workforce, research that augments the spirits industry, and partnering with relevant stakeholders across the commonwealth within the auspices of the Kentucky Spirits Research Institute.”

In addition to encompassing a broad range of research and academic disciplines at UK, the institute will also work closely with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

CAFE alumnus, Patrick Heist, '00 MS, '03 PhD, is the co-owner of Wilderness Trail Distillery and Ferm-Solutions, a research and technical service provider to the distilled spirits industry.

“It seems like a great opportunity for a productive collaborative effort,” he said. “This program has the potential to pipeline some really good talent into positions in the industry.”

UK is at the forefront of universities in alcohol awareness intervention. The institute will support that work and promote a safer drinking culture at UK and beyond.

For DeBolt and his institute collaborators, the Kentucky Spirits Research Institute's success will be counted as having contributed to a vibrant Kentucky industry that is still thriving 100 years from now.

-- Carol Lea Spence