Tom Bulleit at Stitzel-Weller
Before you read this please understand that none of the information comes from anyone at Diageo, and my feelings on this topic are based on exactly that – feelings not facts.
A few years ago I was introduced to Bulleit rye by a good friend of mine. The enthusiasm from hipster’s was a little odd to me due to the fact it was owned by Diageo. So I did some digging and got sucked right into the hype.
I found that Tom Bulleit the brands creator and name holder was one of the smartest guys I have ever met. He could have made millions selling cars, but bourbon is just as much a reputable trade in the south.
Tom is a master salesman and somehow talked the world’s largest alcohol manufacturer into buying his brand of bourbon and rye. This master deal could have only been done by a handful of guys.
I guess it does not matter as much how the deal got done, but more as where it’s going.
You see to understand how big a horizon Bulleit “may” have, we need to look at the sunset of another distillery.
Back in 1992 United Distillers had given up on Stitzel-Weller Distillery and wanted to sell the old war horse off for a nice big sum. This once massive city of a distillery was home to brands like Old Fitzgerald, W. L. Weller, Rebel Yell, Cabin Still, and Old Rip Van Winkle that became Pappy Van Winkle at Buffalo Trace.
This closed distillery scar is still fresh in the minds of many bourbon aficionados and due to the increased Pappy Van Winkle craze has made it something of a legend. So any talk of re-opening Stitzel –Weller was whimsical but not realistic. It may even be un-realistic today, but as more and more people gossip about this legend coming back online we need to see what could happen and what “may” happen.
Right now the state of Stitzel-Weller is very poor. Its main distillery is in dilapidation and the only use it has right now is housing barrels for other brands. Understand that even with a massive update it would be a few years until they could start turning out bourbon or rye again.
That being said we know from past improvements at Diageo that things can happen at shocking speeds. So the facts right now are Diageo owns Stitzel-Weller and is partnered with Bulleit and has more money than some small countries. It has the power to build a home base for Tom, and by doing so would move Bulleit from the outside blender into the Beam, Jack, and Trace side of the game.
The bigger question I can’t answer is would building their own product be profitable?
I know from a tourism stand point it would be a massive win for the brand, but if building all the juice offsite is more profitable then my hypothesis is fabricated on dreams and not reality.
The only reason I have this hypothesis in the first place is a few months back Diageo moved Tom’s office into Stitzel-Weller. This topic has been on my mind since the move and it’s a very interesting turn of events. So until the marketing team at Diageo puts out a press release stating their intention we have to assume.
The one thing with Bulleit we never have to assume is the brand is in good hands with Tom, and Diageo. It doesn’t also hurt that the head brand ambassador for Bulleit, Tom’s daughter Hollis, is one of the most successful brand ambassadors in the game. She is also one of my favorite people in the whole world. She is not what you expect from a Kentucky brand ambassador, and is half of the reason for the craze. Bartenders and consumers alike flock to be around her and hear her speak. I can’t say enough nice stuff about the brand or the family.
To sum this all up, I can see Tom getting a home base. Most practically that would be Stitzel. I’m also happy to say that if that does happen it could not go to a better guy. In closing Tom if you read this I want my orange shirt. For everyone else take the time and buy a bottle of Bulleit, you won’t be disappointed.