Bourbon Truth

Don't Drink the Purple Kool-aide the crappy booze companies are feeding you

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What’s going on behind the gates of the Old Stitzel-Weller Plant?

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It’s a bit humorous that the media and other writers seem to be super quiet on this seeming moratorium on what’s going on at the old Stitzel-Weller plant in Louisville (now owned by Diageo). It opened back in the ’30s, and was run by the Van Winkle’s until 1972 when the family was forced out.

It then changed names and owners through various acquisitions before it stopped distilling in 1991, stopped bottling in 1992 and became a storage facility for not only owner Diageo but supposedly many other big names. The “asbestos problem” seemed to be too expensive a hurdle to overcome. Many millions of dollars would need to be spent to get the distillery back in operation.

Here’s a bit of what I’m hearing:

  • Whiskycast says that Bulleit Bourbon (Diageo Brand) is getting cut off from Four Roses, where it is currently produced, in a few months.
  • LDI/MGPI has no old stuff to spare and there has been unconfirmed news of Stitzel-Weller/Diageo reopening.
  • I hear Dickel in TN’s Master Distiller (the only Diageo owned American Whiskey Distillery) is spending lots of time in Louisville.
  • This is coming up in October at the New York Whiskey Fest: “Stitzel-­Weller bourbon presented by Ewan Morgan, Master of Whisky for Diageo. This legendary bourbon distillery closed in the early 1990s. We will taste a whiskey picked specially from the stocks that remain.”
  • Early this year, I was informed no one gets inside Stitzel-Weller anymore – no one (unless employee or contractor). Not even for the “Bulliet Experience,” which was nothing more than a visit to the old Van Winkle Offices with memorabilia and such. Even that was stopped. The security guard wasn’t too happy with people taking photos from a public street. When I started asking about debris and Asbestos removal he couldn’t get a word out without stumbling; his poker face was very bad.
  • What about the possibility of Diageo buying LDI/MGPI distillery? Well, yes, could make some sense as Stitzel-Weller has nothing new, so it would take 2 to 10 years to produce new stock, depending on how good the Bourbon would be.

Also, here’s the most recent news on the so-called “whiskey fungus” lawsuit: “On July 26, 2013, Diageo and the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control Board entered into an agreement that allows the company to move its whiskey barrels, currently stored at Diageo’s Millers Lane facility, to their Stitzel-Weller facility, which is located only a half mile south of their current location. The move will take place over a 2 ½ year period and will allow Diageo to escape paying a $10,000 a day fine previously threatened by Louisville Metro. The action by Diageo at first glance seems like a positive move but in reality this move will only shift the problem and expand the number of homes affected by the growth of whiskey fungus.” http://www.whiskeyfunguslawsuit.com/news/2013/9/3/diageo-to-move-whiskey-barrels.html

I’m searching for permits on construction and asbestos removal. Loads of permits have been applied for. I will post when/if located.

It is also rumored that MGPI Distillery is for sale. It was bought for $16 million, and it’s worth many times more. The upside is that a bunch of Bourbon/Rye brands out there would have to get their whiskey from somewhere else, as they have no distillery of their own – even though they pretend to with such aggression and eloquence. They even offer opportunities to meet the master distillers and have bottles signed, or describe the place the Bourbon is made like a vacation brochure.

If MPGI were to be bought up for a supply by someone like a Diageo, it could kill lots of competition – maybe even forcing these brands to sell. Obviously, contracts are in place to some extent and although unlikely, another big distillery might have surplus to sell.

So, the story goes that very early this year a bartender (someone traveling in this close circle) got info directly from an irrefutable inside source that the Stitzel-Weller plant was going to start distilling again. I know the bartender. Faster than you can say “booze,” Whisky Advocate, Chuck Cowdery and others chimed in, not to be scooped to essentially say, “We knew, but promised to stay quiet until the news broke.”

Apparently, the pressure and potential advertising revenue and/or harm one of the largest advertisers can exert will keep mouths shut. Once this flurry of “announcements” that we knew all along came out, it’s been a silence lockdown – again. It’s funny that one of the biggest American Whiskey stories in 20 years doesn’t even result in a “no comment” question from a source of responsible journalism. Then again, I don’t get anything from these people, so I don’t care.

Going back to the Whiskeyfest Seminar tasting of the Stitzel-Weller “…whiskey picked specially from the stocks that remain: Can’t one make an argument it’s a reward for silence or prelude to or for “that big official announcement?” I recently brought it up to an industry insider that so adamently said a re-opening wasn’t happening, especially due to the fungus lawsuit, that it almost seemed too convincing.

My count is 16 large, aging warehouses that don’t have many drinkable 1991 and earlier barrels. Only a few could be Dickel (if permissible for a Tennessee whiskey) and Bulleit Bourbon and Rye. There’s also assorted other stuff and leased space. In either case it would take years to start filling the place up once/if distillation began.

In the end, the duck test is in order: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

Let my friends out there in the cyber world be the judge. In any case, don’t be shocked if, sometime around the October 11th or 12th at the New York Whiskey Fest, a big earth-shaking announcement comes out on Stitzel-Weller. I won’t be.

New note—reminded by a Master Distiller that LDI/MGPI whiskey could not be referred to as “Kentucky” which was a good point.
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