LORETTO, Ky. – The world-renowned members of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) today installed Bill Samuels, Jr., as a “Lifetime Honorary Member” of its prestigious Board of Directors, a title bestowed to only four other people in the group’s storied 131-year history.
Mr. Samuels, who is retiring Friday as the iconic President and CEO of Maker’s Mark Distillery, is the longest-serving member of the KDA Board since its founding in 1880. He joined in 1968 as the distillery’s alternate Director under his father, T. William Samuels, Sr.
The KDA ceremony took place at the picturesque Maker’s Mark Distillery in Marion County, with all of the distillery’s employees, distinguished executives and legendary Master Distillers of Kentucky’s signature Bourbon industry in attendance.
"The only person more surprised than I am about receiving this great honor would probably have been my father, who I think always suspected that I might not be cut out for this business," Mr. Samuels said.
"I’ve enjoyed serving the Kentucky Distillers’ Association all these years while sharing Bourbon, an essential part of Kentucky’s culture, with the world. This is a signature industry for the Commonwealth and I’m proud of the work the KDA has done to keep the industry healthy."
In a spirited twist of fate, the last person to be prescribed a "Lifetime Honorary Member" was Mr. Samuels’ father in 1982 upon his retirement. The elder Samuels founded Maker’s Mark in 1953 and served on the KDA Board for 28 years. He died in 1992.
Other honorary members are:
- Dr. Frank Kraus was the first KDA Board member from Barton Distilling Company when it joined in 1963. Later an executive with Jim Beam Distillery, Dr. Kraus was named an honorary member in 1979. He died in 2004.
- Charles King McClure of Stitzel-Weller Distillery, who led the successful repeal of Kentucky’s production tax on spirits in 1966 as KDA Chairman. He served on the Board more than 25 years and was named a “Lifetime” member in 1968. He died in 1977.
- James Bigstaff O’Rear of Schenley Distilleries, who served on the KDA Board for 30 years, was hailed for his "untiring efforts" to benefit the industry upon his honorary recognition in 1965. He died in 1975.
"His tenacity for quality, genius for marketing and undeniable business savvy is why Maker’s Mark continues to be a leader in growth for Bourbon," said Rhea, who is Chief Operating Officer at Four Roses Distillery.
"Plus, his skill as a Bourbon Ambassador has done more to move Bourbon back to its rightful place as 'America’s Spirit' than the rest of us could do in two lifetimes. And if that’s not enough, his philanthropic leadership has helped countless community and charitable causes.
"Bill Samuels walks the walk of Bourbon, talks the talk of Bourbon and does so to benefit the entire industry. We congratulate him today, thank him for a lifetime of success and look forward to many more years of his friendship and leadership for Kentucky."
The KDA, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1880 to protect the Bourbon industry from needless and obstructive laws and regulations. Today, the KDA is the state’s leading voice on spirits issues and operates the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour.
KDA members, which produce nearly 90 percent of the world’s Bourbon, include Beam Global Spirits & Wine (Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark), Brown-Forman Corp., Diageo North America, Four Roses, Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., and Wild Turkey.
KDA President Eric Gregory called Mr. Samuels a "monumental leader, not only for Bourbon but for the Bluegrass as well."
"Many people don’t realize what Bill Samuels means to Kentucky. He is a champion for education, health care and business. He is a global Ambassador whose integrity and sense of humor and honor has won the world over. In a sense, Bill is our best export.
"We are proud today that he joins his father as a Lifetime member of our cherished industry, and we welcome his continued visionary service to the KDA and to our great Commonwealth."