September 15, 2014 – Diageo’s commitment to turning Bulleit Bourbon into a global brand continued today with the opening of the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in the Louisville suburb of Shively. The project is part of a $10 million investment in upgrading facilities at the old distillery, including today’s announcement that a micro-distillery is under construction with plans to start producing small batches of whiskey as part of the Bulleit visitor experience as early as May of 2015.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” Bulleit founder Tom Bulleit said during a tour of the visitor attraction following the dedication ceremony. The original Bulleit Experience opened in 2011, and Bulleit had said at the time that it would eventually open to the public. However, it was used only for training programs before closing to allow for construction work on the new project. Workers replicated existing architectural elements of the historic distillery’s administration building while adding new space inside for tasting rooms and a gift shop. The building dates back to Stitzel-Weller’s opening in 1935, and Bulleit now uses the office once occupied by the legendary Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle on what Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called “sacred ground” during the dedication.
“He understood the need for change and growth,” Sally Van Winkle Campbell said of her grandfather, while suggesting that he would be surprised to see visitors coming to the distillery as a tourist attraction. Stitzel-Weller’s warehouses have been used to mature Bulleit’s whiskies, while the distillery itself closed in 1992. However, Diageo’s John Lunn, who oversees operations at Stitzel-Weller as well as serving as master distiller at Diageo’s George Dickel Distillery in Tennessee, said the company’s decision to build a new $115 million Bulleit distillery near Shelbyville, Kentucky does not rule out the possibility that Stitzel-Weller might one day be used for large-scale distilling again. The stillhouse has significant environmental issues with asbestos that helped play a part in the decision to build the Shelby County facility, but Lunn suggested that the old building could be demolished and a new stillhouse built if needed in the future.
The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience will serve as the brand home for Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye, along with Diageo’s new Orphan Barrel range of American whiskies. In an interview after the ceremony, Diageo North America President Larry Schwartz credited Tom Bulleit’s leadership and vision for the project.
“Everybody has a vision, but not all the time can you realize that vision…to be able to realize it and to create something that Tom Bulleit was an integral part of really makes me very proud,” he said. “How do you keep this big company small and entrepreneurial, and doing something like Tom, I think, really demonstrates that this big company can act very small, can be very entrepreneurial.” Schwartz said the Stitzel-Weller archives will serve as a guide for developing new whiskies based on the historic whiskies produced at the distillery in the past using some of the 412,000 barrels stored on site.
The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience will open to the public Tuesday, and will be the second Louisville distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience operates its own micro-distillery inside the Main Street attraction, which opened last November.