Company formed by soldiers who fought in Afghanistan plans Kentucky bourbon distillery

·3 min read

If all goes as planned, a new distillery will be up and running in Somerset in three years to serve as the southern anchor of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Horse Soldier Bourbon would like to begin construction in a couple of months on its planned facilities in Somerset, said Scotty Neil, chief operating officer.

The initial plan was to build a bourbon distillery and rickhouse on the site of a former golf course near Lake Cumberland, but the project has grown to include plans for retail shops, restaurants, a hotel, a wedding chapel and attractions such as horse riding, an adventure center, concerts and a rope course.

The facility, called Horse Soldier Farms, is a $200 million investment, according to a release from the office of Gov. Andy Beshear.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, Beshear, state Senate President Robert Stivers, Attorney General Daniel Cameron and other state and local officials attended a ground-breaking ceremony for the project Tuesday.

Officials said the project holds the promise not only of an estimated 400-plus direct jobs, but would be a key new attraction in the regional and state tourism economy.

“It’s transformational,” said Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, who recruited Horse Soldier to undertake the project.

Neil said the first goal is to get the distillery part of the project in operation. The company hopes to begin distilling at the new site in 36 months, he said.

Horse Soldier has a distillery in Columbus, Ohio, but will move that work to Somerset when the new facility is ready, according to Beshear’s office.

“I want production,” Neil said.

People stood in front of renderings on Oct. 19, 2021 of the planned Horse Soldier Farms project to create a bourbon distillery and other attractions in Somerset, Ky.
People stood in front of renderings on Oct. 19, 2021 of the planned Horse Soldier Farms project to create a bourbon distillery and other attractions in Somerset, Ky.

The state approved American Freedom Distillery LLC, which makes Horse Soldier bourbon, for incentives totaling almost $30 million that it can receive for meeting job targets. The incentives have a wage target of $26.50, including benefits, according to state records.

Separately, the city of Somerset approved a tax-increment financing district for the distillery. That will allow the company to keep 80 percent of new occupational-tax revenue generated by the project, Keck said.

Pulaski County joined in that agreement, Keck said.

At the event Tuesday, Beshear said bourbon is an $8.6 billion industry in Kentucky, generates more than 20,000 jobs and plays a key role drawing tourists to Kentucky.

“Think about how many more visitors we’re gonna see right here” at Horse Soldier, he said.

There are 18 distilleries on the state’s signature Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Horse Soldier has talked with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association about joining, said Eric Gregory, president of the association.

Horse Soldier has a unique origin story. It was started by former U.S. special-forces soldiers who went into northern Afghanistan not long after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

The soldiers rode horses in the rugged, mountainous terrain, fighting alongside Afghan allies to help capture a key city, according to the company’s site.

Neil said members of the group who were stationed at Fort Campbell, the giant base on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, were training on the Cumberland River the day the attacks happened, and went overseas soon after.

The groundbreaking Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the soldiers going into Afghanistan, he said.

“Symbolically for us, this is coming home,” Neil said building the distillery in Kentucky.

Horse Soldier makes its glass bottles in molds made from steel salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York, according to the company.

Retired Lt. Col. Bill Markham, flying the American flag, parachuted in to an event on Oct. 19, 2021 to break ground on the planned construction of a bourbon distillery in Somerset, Ky., by Horse Soldier Farms.
Retired Lt. Col. Bill Markham, flying the American flag, parachuted in to an event on Oct. 19, 2021 to break ground on the planned construction of a bourbon distillery in Somerset, Ky., by Horse Soldier Farms.
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