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Can a Strong Drink Revive a City?

Should bourbon be used to reinvigorate Louisville, Kentucky?

Does bourbon have the strength to reinvigorate a whole city? And is it really wise to seek answers at the bottom of a barrel?

Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon and its history is richly steeped in the drink. But now its largest city, Louisville, has decided the future should rest on it too.

Could ‘bourbonism’ revive the city? According to Louisville's mayor, tourism based on the amber liquor is ‘shooting through the roof’. But, for many, alcohol is a gateway into other forms of addiction, and Kentucky is already facing a drugs epidemic. Alcohol-induced death rates in Louisville are higher than state and national figures.

In this episode, journalist Phil Reevell explores the emergence of ‘bourbonism’ through the city’s food and music scene. He joins the ‘bourbon trail’ which attracted 1.4 million people last year.

As the coal industry has turned to dust, large areas of the city have been deindustrialised, but Phil finds there are plans for the construction of more than 20 hotels, and that some tourists will pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle - or more.

(Photo: Giant bourbon bottle looms over cityscape of Louisville, Kentucky. Credit: Getty Images).

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