Wednesday, January 16, 2013

October Interview With John Lunn Reconsidered

Back in October, when Diageo announced the introduction of George Dickel Rye, I had occasion to talk briefly with John Lunn. He didn't have much to say that wasn't already in the press materials, but we had never met so I took the opportunity to chat him up when it was offered by the PR folks. We had a brief but pleasant conversation.

Earlier last year, I had learned that, in addition to being Master Distiller at the George Dickel Distillery in Tennessee, Lunn had been given responsibility for operations at the company's Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Kentucky. With the revelation this past Sunday that Diageo will resume distilling at Stitzel-Weller, revisiting that interview seemed like a good idea.

There were a few interesting tidbits. I learned that the property in Tennessee is 600 acres, so there's plenty of room for expansion, though nothing is currently planned. I probed for any inkling of future plans, but nothing leaked. "We're always looking at innovation, what we can do and what the people want," was all he would say.

We talked a little bit about Ralph Dupps, who oversaw the building of George Dickel in the late 1950s. Lunn got to meet Dupps before his death in 2008 at the age of 90. "His only advice was, 'Don’t change a damn thing,'" Lunn told me. That's when I learned that everything at Dickel is done the old fashioned way. There are no computers. "It's all sight and sound, touch and feel. Some of the employees here have 30 or more years of experience."

Although nothing was said about distilling resuming at Stitzel-Weller, we did discuss his responsibilities there. Operations there include maturation--which involves entering barrels, periodically checking them, and removing them when the whiskey is ready to sell--as well as blending. He declined to name which brands are matured or blended there, or where the whiskey aging there was distilled.

Visitors granted admission to The Bulleit Experience at Stitzel-Weller are not allowed to get close enough to the warehouses to look in the windows and see what the barrel heads say.

There is no bottling facility at either George Dickel or Stitzel-Weller. The whiskey goes from there to Plainfield, Illinois for bottling. Several requests to tour that facility have been denied.

Diageo has not publically confirmed anything about its plans for Stitzel-Weller.

So we don't know what Diageo plans to do at Sttzel-Weller, or if John Lunn will have anything to do with it, but it's easy to paint a pleasing picture of Mr. Lunn, after doing things 'the old fashioned way' at Dickel, doing the same thing with the mothballed equipment at Stitzel-Weller. Wouldn't that be something?

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