Stitzel–Weller Distillery

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Coordinates: 38°12′35″N 85°48′33″W / 38.2095845°N 85.8090329°W / 38.2095845; -85.8090329

Stitzel–Weller Distillery
IndustryBourbon distilling
FoundedMay 5, 1935; 84 years ago (1935-05-05)
FoundersJulian Van Winkle Sr.,
Alex T. Farnsley,
Arthur Phillip Stitzel

The Stitzel–Weller Distillery is a distillery located in Shively, a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, founded in 1935, closed in 1972, and reopened in 2014.[1] It has produced a number of notable brands, and as of 2017 houses the welcome center and public tour for Bulleit Bourbon, as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.[2][3]


The Stitzel–Weller Distilling Company was founded in 1935 with the combination of the distributor W. L. Weller & Sons, and the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery.[4] The two companies had continued to operate together during Prohibition, selling spirits under a medicinal license.[5] Following the repeal of prohibition by the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment the Stitzel–Weller Distillery was built by Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr.,[a] along with Alex T. Farnsley,[b] and Arthur Phillip Stitzel.[5] The facility opened on Derby Day in 1935, and became popularly known as the Old Fitzgerald Distillery, after the main brand of bourbon it produced, which it acquired from the Old Judge Distillery located west of Frankfort, Kentucky in 1933.[4][6] The 53-acre (21 ha) site was chosen so as to be outside of the city limits and therefore avoid taxes, and because of the quality of water at the location.[4] Outside, the owners displayed a sign reading "no chemists allowed", a homage to their belief that distilling should be treated as "an art, not a science".[6]

Decorative barrels outside the coopering exhibit

Farnsley and Stitzel died in 1941 and 47 respectively, leaving the distillery in the control of Van Winkle.[7] Van Winkle himself died in 1965, and operations passed to his son Julian Van Winkle Jr.[8]

The facility was eventually sold on June 30, 1972 to Norton-Simon, amidst a broad depression in the sales of whiskey, as the drink lost popularity to other spirits.[7][4] The sale was made under the condition that Pappy's son would be able to procure old stocks from the site, and maintain the Van Winkle brand name.[5] Norton-Simon officially changed the name to the Old Fitzgerald Distillery, and organized it under the company Somerset Imports, itself later acquired by Distillers Corporation Limited, and then by Guinness PLC, which became United Distillers.[6] A number of brands were sold off to other companies, such as Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace, and the facility finally closed in 1972, although some products, such as Bulleit and Crown Royal continued to be aged there.[9] In 1992 United Distillers officially changed the facility's name back to the Stitzel–Weller Distillery.[6]

Diageo, the latest incarnation of United Distillers following a 1997 merger with Grand Metropolitan, reopened the facility 2014 with a $10–18 million dollar investment.[5][10][11][12] Speaking of the opening, Diageo CEO, Larry Schwartz said, "We are the heirs of Pappy Van Winkle and certainly the great brands that were distilled here through the years."[13]


The facility produced brands such as W. L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Pappy Van Winkle, Old Weller, Rebel Yell, and Weller's Cabin Still.[14][13][15] Along with the 1972 closure, Rebel Yell was sold to The David Sherman Corporation, W.L. Weller to the Ancient Age distillery, to eventually be distilled by Buffalo Trace under the Sazerac Company, and the Old Fitzgerald brand to Heaven Hill.[10][16] As of 2017, owner Diageo has restarted bottling Bulleit Bourbon at the site.

Stitzel–Weller was influential along with Maker's Mark, for championing the making of wheated bourbon, substituting wheat for the rye more popularly used in bourbon making.[17][18] It was also notable for often aging its spirits longer than the normal industry standard of the time, storing product at times 10 years or more.[9]


Barrels of bourbon aging in a storage warehouse at Stitzel–Weller in 2017

Upon opening in 1935, the facility had two warehouses with combined capacity to store 25,200 barrels.[6] At its height, the facility boasted a workforce of 220 and a capacity of 800,000 cases annually.[4] As of 2001 the facility was composed of 18 total warehouses with a combined capacity to store 300,000 barrels.[6]

The original doubler was reclaimed and in use as of 2017 at the Bulleit distillery in Shelbyville, Kentucky.[1] As of 2017, the facility was used mostly for aging, with only one still in operation, producing about a barrel per day, and used for experimentation and research.[14]

Master distillers[edit]

Will McGill served as the first Master Distiller for the Stitzel–Weller Distillery. McGill was previously affiliated with the Early Times and Tom Moore distilleries in Nelson County, Kentucky, and when he died in 1952, he was the "oldest executive distiller in the industry" at 87. He was followed as master distiller by Andry J. Corcoran (died 1958), Roy Hawes (ending in 1971), and Woodrow Wilson. Wilson has previously spent 12 years as an assistant to Hawes.[4]


The location began offering a public tour, the "Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience" as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail beginning September 16, 2014.[19][13] As of 2015, 8,400 visitors had toured the site.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle Sr. was born in 1874 in Danville, Kentucky, and died in 1965. He began his career in 1983 as a salesman for W. L. Weller and eventually went on to buy the company along with Farnsley. Together, following the death of W. L. Weller, the two controlled 203 out of 206 shares of the company.[5][4]
  2. ^ Alex T. Farnsley was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on February 9, 1969, and died in 1941. He had also been a salesman for Weller along with Van Winkle.[4]


  1. ^ a b Coomes, Steve (15 March 2017). "Bulleit Distillery Opens in Shelbyville, Kentucky Even As Expansion Is Considered". The Whiskey Wash. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  2. ^ "The Bulleit Experience at Historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery". Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  3. ^ Bryson, Lew (20 May 2017). "Kentucky's Newest Bourbon Barons". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Van Winkle Campbell, Sally (16 July 2012). But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald. BookBaby. ISBN 9780967420806. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Greene, Heather (2014). Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life. Penguin. pp. 110–111. ISBN 9780525429784.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Cleber, John E. (2001). The Encyclopedia of Louisville. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813121000.
  7. ^ a b Veach, Michael R. (1 March 2013). Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813141657. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  8. ^ Givens, Ron (2 July 2013). Bourbon at its Best: The Lore and Allure of America's Finest Spirits. Clerisy Press. p. 90. ISBN 9781578603046. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  9. ^ a b Susan, Reigler (22 August 2016). Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 49–51. ISBN 9780813168067. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  10. ^ a b Moss, Robert F. (2016). Southern Spirits: Four Hundred Years of Drinking in the American South, with Recipes. Ten Speed Press. p. 285. ISBN 9781607748670. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  11. ^ Hopkins, Amy (7 January 2017). "Diageo in Stitzel-Weller whiskey lawsuit". The Spirits Business. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  12. ^ "Bulleit Distilling Co. Celebrates Ribbon Cutting Event At New Distillery In Shelbyville, KY" (Press release). PR Newswire. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  13. ^ a b c Hall, Gregory (15 September 2014). "Bulleit Experience opens at Stitzel-Weller". Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  14. ^ a b Sachs, Tony (30 May 2017). "The Fascinating Story Behind Blade And Bow's 22 Year Old Bourbon". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  15. ^ "Tonight Enjoy Weller's Cabin Still (advertisement)". Park City Daily News. 7 November 1961. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  16. ^ "Sazerac Completes Acquisition of Weller and Charter Brands" (Press release). PRNewswire. April 28, 1999. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
  17. ^ Cowdery, Chuck (23 May 2017). "Do the Stitzels Get Too Much Credit for Modern Wheated Bourbon?". The Whiskey Wash. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  18. ^ a b Hell, Gregory (30 April 2015). "Distilling back at historic Stitzel-Weller". The Courier Journal. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  19. ^ Arellano, Gustavo (15 June 2017). "How to Do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Right". OC Weekly. Retrieved 5 July 2017.

External links[edit]