Diageo Adds a Bulleit Attraction to Bourbon Country

bulleit ribbon cutting
bulleit ribbon cutting

All photos by Kevin Gibson. 

Louisville, Ky., mayor Greg Fischer told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting for the new Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience that that the state of Kentucky considers bourbon a food group. He was exaggerating, but not by much.

Bourbon-mad Kentucky added another tourist draw this week in Louisville that will provide a tour of one of the state’s “hallowed ground” – Fischer’s words – at the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery, where so many iconic brands were created and distilled.

The new attraction will offer visitors tours that offer a look at Bulleit founder Tom Bulleit’s office, rickhouses, the original Stitzel-Weller cooperage that opened in 1935, historic relics and more. The facility will include an industry archive and serve as a resource for members of the trade, whiskey industry and others interested in distilling history.

In addition, a bottling line will be in operation by the end of 2014, and a still attraction will produce small-batch bourbon whiskey. (Bulleit bourbon products will continue to be distilled at Kirin Brewing Company’s Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky.)

stitzel bulleit
stitzel bulleit

It’s probably no accident that the opening comes in the middle of Bourbon Heritage Month. And the Stizel-Weller grounds are, well, legendary. It makes perfect sense that the site should have such a tourist attraction. Just being there, looking around at the rickhouses where more than 400,000 barrels of whiskey sit quietly aging is impressive enough.

“Stitzel-Weller is hallowed ground for Bourbon aficionados and one of the true cathedrals of American whiskey,” Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, said.  “It has been home to many of the industry’s iconic brands, innovators and true characters.”

The ribbon-cutting was little more than a lot of people congratulating each other, but the feeling amongst the crowd was one of accomplishment. Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail now grows to nine attractions, and more are in the works.

Louisville mayor Greg Fischer noted that it isn’t simply bourbon’s popularity driving these projects, but also can be attributed to a “collegial competition” within the state. In other words, the distillers in the state where the vast majority of the world’s bourbon is distilled, even while working together, aren’t above one-upping each other from time to time.

Bulleit founder Tom Bulleit spoke wistfully about the project and how important it is that the attraction will live in the Stitzel-Weller space. He talked about Pappy Van Winkle, who of course created his distinctive brand and distilled at Stitzel-Weller for decades until its closure in 1972. With a backdrop of the buzzing of cicadas in the surrounding trees, Bulleit called it the “song of the south.”

“As a Kentuckian and a son of the bourbon industry, watching this national treasure come back to life has been an incredible experience,” Bulleit said. “Having Stitzel-Weller be the home of the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience and a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail gives me a tremendous amount of pride and a feeling of excitement for what the future holds.”

The bourbon industry drew more than 600,000 people to the state last year alone. In fact, there are more barrels of whiskey aging in Kentucky than there are residents. The Bourbon Trail attraction is both a product of and a reason for these startling statistics.

“I think it’s safe to say the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has surpassed our wildest dreams,” Gregory told the gathering.

stitzel bulleit barrels
stitzel bulleit barrels

While it’s more of a tourist attraction than anything will create more bourbon, it’s part of a broader plan – in recent weeks, Diageo also announced it will build a new distilling center in nearby Shelby County, Kentucky. The new Bulleit attraction is more about recognizing a brand and maintaining a relationship with roots.

“Stitzel-Weller is widely recognized as an iconic part of bourbon’s past, and the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience we are opening today celebrates that history,” Larry Schwartz, president of Diageo North America. “Now, with these new investments and our innovation plans, Stitzel-Weller and Diageo will help shape the future of American Whiskey in Louisville, and in the state of Kentucky.”

The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller will be open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. -3 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 2 p.m.  Admission, which includes a tasting, costs $10 for adults of legal drinking age.