Saturday, June 8, 2013
Bourbon Lifer Marvels at Whiskey's Renaissance
Max Shapira, president of Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky, may be the only bourbon business CEO who was born into it. His father and four uncles owned Heaven Hill almost from the start and their descendants are its sole owners today.
So Shapira, more than just about anyone else, has experienced the business at both its top (now) and bottom (the '70s and '80s). He's a good person to comment on how stunning the current boom is to anyone who remembers the bust.
Speaking to the Lexington Herald Leader (Lexington, KY) last month, Shapira recalled that it wasn't long ago that bourbon had been virtually written off, but times have changed. "Almost an unbelievable renaissance in the bourbon category," Shapira said. "Now we're the darling distilled spirit not just of the state or the U.S., but of the world. People are enamoured of this industry."
The occasion was the formal addition of downtown Louisville's 'Evan Williams Experience' to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Visitor centers in downtown Louisville are the newest way the industry is reaching out to consumers, since many visitors to Kentucky's largest city would like to have a bourbon experience but don't have time to visit one of the distilleries.
Evan Williams Bourbon is Heaven Hill's flagship product and, as they like to say, the #2 bourbon in the world. They can say that, of course, because although they trail both Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's, Jack doesn't choose to call itself 'bourbon.'
Still, achieving that stature is a remarkable accomplishment for a relatively small, family-owned company. Heaven Hill stuck with bourbon and rye through the hardest times. They never even had a long shut-down like most other distilleries did. That's why they so richly deserve to reap the benefits of bourbon's turnaround now.