Sunday, January 13, 2013
After More Than 20 Years, Stitzel-Weller to Resume Production
Earlier today, John Hansell reported on the Whisky Advocate Blog that Diageo sources have told him Stitzel-Weller will resume production soon. No further details are available. Hansell received the news in confidence several months ago, and decided to confirm it today after the news began to leak over the weekend. According to one report, on Friday night a Diageo rep spoke about it freely at Bourbon's Bistro in Louisville.
Stitzel-Weller is the Louisville distillery established by the Van Winkle family after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. It was known for producing wheated bourbon, which it sold as Old Fitzgerald, W. L. Weller and several other brands. The Van Winkle family sold the distillery, its whiskey stocks and brands in 1972. After that, ownership changed several times until it landed with a predecessor company to Diageo, which closed it in 1992. Since then, the warehouses have been used but not the distillery. There have been multiple reports that the need for asbestos abatement makes it cost prohibitive to return the existing distillery to production. How that will be resolved remains unknown.
In 1999, Diageo sold Old Fitzgerald and the other Stitzel-Weller brands.
When the Van Winkle family sold Stitzel-Weller, they retained rights to Van Winkle as a brand name and went into business as a non-distiller producer, using whiskey bought from their family's former plant. This is the basis of the now famous Pappy Van Winkle line, although today only the 23-year-old is entirely Stitzel-Weller bourbon. In other forms too, whiskey produced at Stitzel-Weller has long been highly prized but, after more than 20 years, it is very scarce.
Diageo's only active whiskey distillery in the United States is the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee. In 2012, Dickel Master Distiller John Lunn was put in charge of operations at Stitzel-Weller, where whiskey for Diageo brands is matured and blended.
We await an official announcement from Diageo as well as meaningful details. Whatever the plan, it will be several years before new Stitzel-Weller whiskey will be ready to sell.
In recent years, Diageo has prepared Stitzel-Weller to serve as a homeplace for Diageo's Bulleit brand, which is made elsewhere at non-Diageo facilities. Although The Bulleit Bourbon Experience has been ready for nearly two years, it hasn't been opened to the public. Presumably that too is imminent, but again there is no official word.