FRANKFORT, Ky. – Shane Baker of Wilderness Trail Distillery and KDA Board Chairwoman Jessica Pendergrass of Heaven Hill Distillery are the recipients of a new award honoring industry leaders who personify the legendary group’s spirit of camaraderie and integrity.
The Esprit de Corps Award can be bestowed by the KDA board chair to individuals who have, “by demonstrable and honorable action,” gone above and beyond the call of duty to advance the mission of the KDA and Kentucky’s signature Bourbon and distilled spirits industry, said KDA President Eric Gregory.
“Throughout our industry’s history, KDA members have risen to meet unforeseen challenges and this year was no different,” Gregory said. “The technical expertise of Shane Baker was instrumental in protecting Kentuckians against COVID-19 and the leadership of Jessica Pendergrass was vital in addressing deep-seated social issues.
“Their vision, dedication, and unrelenting efforts have strengthened our venerable Association and our historic, homegrown industry. They symbolize our maxim that we are stronger by working together than standing apart. For that, we are proud to honor them with this new award and offer our utmost and truest thanks.”
Pendergrass conferred the inaugural award to Baker last week at the KDA’s 140th Annual Meeting of Members, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Baker, one of the founders of Wilderness Trail in Danville, received an engraved medal in recognition of his exceptional service.
The board’s resolution saluted Baker “for his technical education, assistance and collaborative efforts in the production and distribution of hand sanitizer in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and for his overall support, assistance, and guidance to other members of the KDA throughout his tenure with the organization.
“Mr. Baker’s outstanding service and devotion to his community and to the cause helped our beloved commonwealth contain the early spread of the virus and protected hundreds of doctors, first responders, and emergency personnel through the donation of sanitizer and the assistance to KDA members in its manufacture and coordination of resources,” the resolution stated.
Baker said, “This is such a prestigious honor bestowed upon me by an organization I hold in the highest degree of respect, for not only the positive impacts made by our members within our local communities but how time-honored traditions and values of our members have always strived to put others first.
“When I learned of receiving this award, a floodgate of emotions released from everything 2020 had thrown at us and it left me speechless. No different than so many others during this time, my efforts were driven to help those in need without question and utilize our resources to assist everyone during an unprecedented time of need.”
Later in the meeting, as the board commended Pendergrass for her outstanding performance as chairwoman during the many unprecedented challenges of 2020, Vice Chairwoman Pauline Rooney surprised Pendergrass with the second-ever Esprit de Corps award.
“During her tenure in office, Chairwoman Pendergrass devoted countless hours of her time and a tremendous deal of energy and personal sacrifice in guiding the Association in the many difficult and unexpected matters presented during her term,” the board’s resolution stated.
“As Chairwoman Pendergrass has demonstrated true camaraderie, visionary leadership and immense devotion to the KDA and the industry in these trying times, the board of directors is honored to present her with the KDA Esprit de Corps Award for her overall support, assistance and guidance to the members of the KDA.”
Pendergrass, general counsel and chief compliance officer for Heaven Hill Distilleries is only the third woman to chair the KDA’s Board of Directors. Rooney, who is vice president of distillation and maturation for Diageo North America, was second in 2015.
The first was Andrea Wilson, who is now executive vice president and general manager of Michter’s Distillery, in 2009. Pendergrass also received an engraved medal amid cheers of thanks from KDA members for her tireless service and devotion during these trying times.
“This has been a challenging year for all of us, but 2020 has also been a year of hope and possibility,” Pendergrass said. “I am truly honored to be recognized by my colleagues in the distilling industry and look forward to continuing our work in 2021 to create lasting, meaningful change as we continue to expand inclusion in our industry to make it welcoming for everyone.”
Founded in 1880, the KDA is the state’s voice for bourbon and spirits issues. Its diverse membership produces the overwhelming majority of the world’s bourbon, from legendary, global brands to emerging micro distilleries that are building the next generation of the timeless craft.
Kentucky bourbon is one of the commonwealth’s most historic and treasured industries, a booming $8.6 billion economic engine that generates more than 20,100 jobs with an annual payroll topping $1 billion million each year.
In addition, the industry is in the middle of a $2.3 billion building boom, from innovative new tourism centers to expanded production facilities, all to meet the growing global thirst for Kentucky bourbon.
There are now nearly 10 million barrels of bourbon and other spirits aging in Kentucky warehouses, the highest number in the modern era of American Whiskey. Of that, 9.3 million are just bourbon, the first time since 1967 that the number of bourbon barrels topped nine million.
Bourbon production has skyrocketed more than 360% since the turn of the century, with Kentucky distillers filling 2.1 million barrels in 2019, the second year in a row that Kentucky distillers have filled two million barrels, the first time that’s happened in the modern era.
Attendance at the KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour distilleries has skyrocketed more than 300 percent in the last 10 years. Total attendance last year was nearly 2 million, the highest number since KDA founded the KBT tour in 1999.