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Issue 138 - Short History of Stitzel-Weller

Whisky Magazine Issue 138
September 2016


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Short History of Stitzel-Weller

True to the 'human' form of distillation and popularised 'wheated Bourbon'

When Pappy Van Winkle sipped a mint julep on Kentucky Derby day 1935, I wonder if he knew how much his Stitzel-Weller Distillery would change the whiskey world. On that day, they opened the now famous distillery and celebrated with one of Louisville's grandest parties. Soon thereafter, the famous 60 inches in diameter column still fired up and the legendary open-window warehouses started ageing Bourbon, specifically a recipe using wheat as its secondary grain.

The first distiller Will McGill once publicly challenged a Seagram's research director on using chemistry techniques in distilling. McGill thought the human senses made good whiskey, not technology. This style lasted all the way up to the facility's last distiller, Whisky Magazine Hall of Famer Edwin Foote, who lamented 'automation' in distillation. Every Stitzel-Weller master distiller used his palate and nose to make great whiskey. Not a computer.

On the sales and marketing front, Pappy Van Winkle changed the advertising landscape. He wrote advertorials that were published in major US publications and pursued private brands unlike any distiller before or after. Pappy sold to the legendary retailer Macy's and iconic hotel chain Hilton private labels. For a short time, Macy's and Hilton carried private label Stitzel-Weller Bourbon, both of which are collector items.

Their own brands – Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, Cabin Still and a few others – would become synonymous with quality, especially if they w...

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