Whisky Advocate

Stitzel-Weller Distillery to start making bourbon again!

January 13th, 2013

Yes, it’s true. My sources at Diageo informed me back in September, but I was asked to keep quiet until they were prepared to go public with the news.

However, it appears that someone in the company (or with knowledge of the company’s plans) let the cat out of the bag, as you will witness by the comment just posted on this thread. (Secrets are practically impossible to keep these days.) So, before rumors begin flying regarding whether it’s true or not. let me just clarify and say that it is. Not only that, they are still sitting on stocks of very mature bourbon. Hopefully, some of the better barrels will be bottled for sale in the future.

As soon as I get formal details from Diageo, I will pass them along. That should be very soon. No matter how you look at it, this is very good news indeed!

45 Responses to “Stitzel-Weller Distillery to start making bourbon again!”

  1. tmckenzie says:

    That is great news. The bourbon industry still proves to be a bright spot in the economy.

  2. portwood says:

    Great news assuming the juice coming off the stills is the same as it was when the distillery was shut down.

    In a few years when the matured whiskey starts to come out of the barrels everyone will be complaining that its not the same as in the good old days.

    In other words … this is GREAT news for Diageo – the owners of the distillery! They will get A LOT of FREE press as the whisky nerds will be going gaga over this for years to come.

  3. William says:

    Great News, does that mean Pappys will still have some Stitzl juice? Or will all of te new production be moved over to BT?

  4. Michael N. says:

    William, new Pappy production has been moved to BT for going on 11 years. So unless BT starts buying whiskey from Diageo I’d wager the answer to your question is “no”.

    Honestly, I’m more excited by the prospect of seeing the place restored and in action than I am over the unlikelihood that whiskey coming off the still will just pick up flavorwise where it left off in 1992. The last I read on Diageo’s plans for the property involved Bulliet so it is unclear whether or not they will even produce wheated bourbon. Of course given the site’s history I think they’d be silly not to try.

    • Danny Maguire says:

      It’s not unknown, in reality quite common, in the Scotch industry for the different distillers to swap new make spirit. Could happen here.

  5. sam k says:

    Makes me wonder if they will keep the salvageable equipment as close to original as they can, or do an overall upgrade (computers, etc.) that could potentially harm the mystique of S-W. (“No chemists!”)

    I’d be willing to bet that Julian stays with Buffalo Trace. It’s a known and respected quantity and he has an excellent working relationship with them. Why risk that by moving to a potentially fickle multi-national conglomerate?

    Regardless, this is amazing news for American distilling in general. Just makes me sadder that the original Michter’s distillery has largely been scrapped and razed. It deserved this kind of effort, too.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Diageo will upgrade the hell out of this distillery just as they have with all of their venerable old Scottish distilleries.

  6. Gary Crone says:

    Visited there last spring with Tim Bulleit
    Awesome place.

  7. Richard Turner says:

    OOOOOOOH…. I can hardly wait to try some of the new juice (although I suppose that’ll be years down the road). …And, I definitely want to hear more about these “very mature stocks of bourbon” and when we might be able to sample some; and under what brand(?s?)!

  8. Jason Beatty says:

    Start saving your cash… The stash of SW is for us!

  9. Doc says:

    Exciting news!

  10. Josh says:

    I am 10 fold more interested in the stocks of S-W that have been aging (how many barrels and whar ages) rather than new production. I am sure all of the guys producing the bourbon pre 1992 are long gone and majority of the equipment will be new with higher technology installed. And honestly, even if they are going to start making whetted bourbon again at S-W, I really don’t want to wait until the year 2028 to try a new 15 year old product. Maybe my now 1 year old son will benefit from it….

  11. EricH says:

    I guess those asbestos cleanup costs aren’t that expensive these days.

  12. Tim Read says:

    Seems like this is just going to be fodder for Bulleit more than anything. Cool to see an old name reopen but I don’t see how this suddenly equates to anything approximating Van Winkle. Heck, does Diageo even have a wheated bourbon in their portfolio?

    Maybe I’m just a cynic but this feels like a favorite restaurant reopening with the old name but no staff or equipment from the old restaurant, nor any old dishes…

    • You have the right idea, Tim. We don’t really know anything. Will they use any of the original equipment? Will they make wheated bourbon? We have no idea. Remember, Diageo owns none of the brands that used to be made there. They do have one thing, though. A master distiller. Last year, John Lunn added responsibility for operations as Stitzel-Weller to his job as George Dickel master distiller. He told me in October that they do both maturation and blending there for various Diageo brands.

  13. Been 22 years since Stitzel-Weller ran and I’m guessing that its mojo is not going to be coming back with it. Considering its being run by completely different people with no knowledge (well, no INTIMATE knowledge) of its previous operation…I don’t think we’ll be getting any of the fabled S-W juice out of it any time soon, if at all. Sad…but true. Replicating whiskey is a tough thing.

    • Ed Foote, the last Master Distiller at Stitzel-Weller, is alive and well and living in Louisville. I imagine some of his old hands are too. Twenty-two isn’t very long in whiskey years.

  14. theBitterFig says:

    Even if Diageo doesn’t match the legend, they’d be leaving money on the table to not make a wheated bourbon. That said, given their marketing neglect of George Dickel, I could see them missing the boat on wheaters.

  15. Alegro Borracho says:

    We will know soon enough. S-W used to sell a great deal of 4-5 year whisky before it entered its present rarefied status. If the intent is to replicate the previous distillate, Diageo should be able to carry this out with the old equipment (if it is intact) and consultation with the folks that used to work there. It all depends on what Diageo plans to do with it and how much they are willing to invest to make it happen. Replicating whisky is less difficult so long as cost cutting is given less importance than quality.

  16. bpbleus says:

    I’m inclined to say that excellent SW juice is still being produced and I’m sure cigar smoking will be strictly forbidden in and around the modernized facility.

    The old stock will probably be priced ‘Manager’s Choice’ or ‘Annual Release’ style and might well be much to woody except for the palates of die hard romantics.

    • Richard Turner says:

      Maybe I AM a ‘Diehard Romantic’…. I sure would like to taste and decide for myself, if the stocks of ‘very mature bourbon’ are anything like the good ole SW juice we all (most?) know and love. I am extremely interested to know what brand(?s) will have this stuff in their bottles. A new release? I don’t think Diageo owns any of the old brands that would’ve had this juice…? And, I thought Julian owned ALL the old barrel-stocks… Did he sell it to Diageo? Or did he NOT own all of it? I certainly hope Diageo doesn’t just grab the chance to do a “Knock-Off of Pappy” and make it so hard and so damned expensive that the rest of us get left out by the “too rich to care & proud of it” crowd.

      • the layman says:

        What about the Jefferson’s presidential select? It is mature stitzel weller stock. Where are did they get theirs?

        • Richard Turner says:

          Yeah, I believe you’re right in asking where, & by whom, the stocks are stored for Jeff’s Pres. Select; and all the Jeff’s. As a side note: NOT ALL the Jefferson’s is wonderful stuff. Look for my comment in the ‘what were you disappointed with in 2012′ thread. The bottle of Jeff’s Pres. Select (for which I paid a bunch) I last acquired was awful. …So, maybe some/all the existing stocks at SW might be over-aged and be less than fabulous juice.

          • Although we don’t know how many, we know Diageo retained quite a few barrels of SW whiskey for use in Crown Royal and other blends. That fact is well known and there were several efforts to pry some of it from their hands before Trey Zoeller finally succeeded with the Jefferson’s. That said, I don’t have high hopes for whatever is left, at 20+ years, but we’ll know about that soon enough.

          • the layman says:

            Here’s to hoping that they tankered some of it.

  17. Luke says:

    Great News!

  18. Texas says:

    When has Diageo ever managed any of their holdings in the manner that most of us think they should..never. Not going to get excited by this.

  19. HighHorse says:

    “Not only that, they are still sitting on stocks of very mature bourbon.”

    If it’s pre ’92 it is, indeed, VERY mature bourbon. From everything I understand, sitting on very mature bourbon is a dicey proposition. But, what the hell .. if it’s syrup with the SW label .. we’ll pay out the nose for a taste! Insanity. I’m all in.

  20. So that’s what they do with the $2.7 billion in tax breaks they get from our Government. Glad for the new whiskey, but still feel naked from the rape of our tax monies.

  21. Todd says:

    My guess… with all the money they get back from rum subsidies they’re going to do a total overhaul of the place. Hope they do something special with all the reserves there, though.

  22. […] what could only qualify as a major victory for bourbon drinkers, Diageo has announced plans to re-start production at the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery in Kentucky. John Hansell announced via the Whisky Advocate blog on Sunday that plans have been underway for a […]

  23. Charlie F says:

    A former longtime employee told me the formulas are still known (he knows them) but not sure if the yeast was maintained

    • Mark says:

      Charlie F, that last part was the key. If the recipe is known but the yeast is gone, it will not be the same and maybe not even close. The yeast is the key.

    • bpbleus says:

      Isn’t BT using this/those yeast strain(s) in the WLRW and PvW recipes? Besides, I can hardly imagine that those strains are not kept on glycerol in several -70C freezers. I suppose that is what all distillers and brewers serious about their yeast do, as strains evolve over time (inoculation of the next brew with yeast from the previous will eventually lead to another strain). If all fails, with some effort, the original strains can likely still be isolated from old brewing equipment, maybe even from (the outside of) casks with SW juice. But in the end, imho, most important is that they come up with stupendous bourbon, whether or not is is identical to old SW juice.

      • Danny Maguire says:

        I think the strain of yeast is irrelevant when you are distilling, for a brewer it’s important but not for a distiller since every last cell of it is dead by the time it gets to the still.

        • luther says:

          Yeast can make a very big difference, and it’s why distillers guard their yeast like the family jewels. Different yeasts create different chemical compounds, some of which make it through distilling and aging into your glass. Four Roses uses 5 different yeast strains (and is very transparent about which ones go in which products), and you can definitely taste the difference in their bourbons between the different strains.

        • bpbleus says:

          Yeasts produce a wide range of small amounts of fermentation products besides ethanol (and CO2). Those products end up in the distillate and contribute to the flavor profile of the (matured) spirit. The relative amounts of those products vary among strains. Hence the importance of the choice of the strain.

  24. Jason Beatty says:

    This one is not as credible as the last but I would bet anything it’s true as can be as it is first hand account… My new favorite bartender just told me that the master distiller of George Dickle has been spending a lot at the neighborhood bar, “John, with a logo on front”. I swear both times I was just drinking good whiskey and in good spirits and all comes out… he even told him that Stitzel-Weller would be opening so I was on down the line. At least I gave a heads up notice to the blog I actually read.

  25. Dan Shaffer says:

    In his interview on the K&L Spirits podcast, Julian said that the last time he visited SW the equipment was all rusted out and spent…then again, he does have a very good reason to claim that SW bourbon like the old Pappy’s can never be made again. Maybe Diageo was just waiting for the tail end of the SW juice to be released, so they wouldn’t have to compete? That said, I agree with most on here that Diageo will gut the place.

    • sam k says:

      I’d be more concerned with the condition of any copper equipment rather than steel. Anything steel is most likely fermenters, holding tanks, etc.

  26. Ed in PA says:

    OT – if you live in PA – the PA Online Liquor store has listed Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel for sale – but I ordered a couple and I got Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch – I’m not complaining – anyway – for those that care… for others – sorry for the off topic post.

    • Ed in PA says:

      Wow – that was fast – they’re gone now. Sorry for the OT again.

    • sam k says:

      Ed, I had been watching this listing on the PLCB website for the last couple of weeks wondering if it was really single barrel or small batch. I decided to trust the listing,. Thanks, PLCB, for totally screwing up my chances at getting a bottle of Limited Edition Small Batch, you ignorant wretches.

      Why am I not surprised?

  27. John Hansell says:

    Quick update: I’m still waiting on more specific details. My contact at Diageo is on holiday this week.

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