Diageo North America released the bittersweet news Wednesday that it will invest $2 million into visitor center for Bulleit at the mothballed Stitzel-Weller distillery.
That’s good news and bad news. Bulleit is a sourced whisky with no physical home. According to Whisky Advocate: “It’s a pretty poorly-kept secret that Bulleit bourbon is made at Four Roses; it’s open knowledge that Bulleit rye is made at MGP in Indiana.” Kentucky officials are excited about getting a new tourist attraction.
But the news left Whisky Advocate and other enthusiasts disappointed that the company hadn’t gone further. The Stitzel-Weller distillery hasn’t produced since 1992, and Wednesday’s announcement didn’t change that. The distillery was founded in 1935 by Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle and produced other brands, including W.L. Weller, Cabin Still, Old Fitzergerald and Rebel Yell, according to Sour Mash Manifesto. The family sold the distillery off in 1972 and it changed hands a few times before landing with Diageo.
Whisky Advocate’s publisher John Hansell wrote last year that unnamed sources at Diageo had told him they would restart production, but that hasn’t happened. He stands by the story, saying the company changed direction. Some say an asbestos problem has obstructed attempts to revive production. The buzz surrounding Diageo’s new “Orphan Barrel Project” — a pair of aged bourbons from the Stitzel-Weller warehouse released under the labels Barterhouse and Old Blowhard — seemed to provide a good moment to reawaken the silent distillery. (For a critical take on the marketing of that project, see whisky writer Chuck Cowdery’s post from back in November.)
Having said all that, it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment voiced by Lew Bryson at Whisky Advocate, who writes: “we’d rather see Bulleit get a distillery than a gift shop, but it’s a start.” Work begins immediately and Diageo hopes to finish the visitor center, welcome center and gift shop by the end of the summer.
Image courtesy of Diageo North America.