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The Bourbon Economy Bounces Back
CNBC.com | March 07, 2012 | 12:49 PM EST

Move over vodka. Bourbon, long considered a "southern drink" is growing in popularity globally.

Bourbon now accounts for 70 percent of the $1.1 billion in spirits the U.S. exports annually, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States . Citigroup estimates that sales could double over the next seven years.

Why the renaissance? A lot of credit goes to the development of high end "small batch" bourbons made by Jim Beam and Brown Forman , as well as the popularity of cocktails and the addition of new flavor-infused bourbons that are bringing in non-traditional whiskey fans.

When master distiller Chris Morris at Woodford Reserve first came to work for Brown Forman 36 years ago, bourbon "wasn't cool anymore." That's changed. Since Woodford Reserve launched in 1996, sales of the expensive liquor have grown double digits every year.

"Flavor has returned," Morris says. "Bourbon was discovered to be full of flavor."

"I'll tell you, bourbon is on fire," says Kevin Smith, who heads up bourbon distillery operations for Jim Beam. The company is investing in a "multi-million dollar, multi-year" expansion of its facility in Clermont, Kentucky , to create a new visitors center.

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