Officials cut the ribbon on the new Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience in Shively. Photos by Kevin Gibson.
Officials cut the ribbon on the new Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience in Shively. Photos by Kevin Gibson.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail now has nine stops. Diageo officials, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, Mayor Greg Fischer and others gathered today at noon for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the new Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville.

Also in the plans are a new bottling line, an on-site finishing center and a small-batch still. So far in 2014, Diageo, which owns the historic distillery located in Shively, has invested roughly $10 million in refurbishing the site. Last month, Diageo announced a new Kentucky Bulleit Distilling Co. facility that is set to open in Shelby County in 2016.

Today’s ribbon-cutting was a ceremonial affair, with plenty of thank-yous and back-patting to go around, along with a light lunch and bourbon drinks all set in the landmark facility that opened in 1935 and currently houses more than 400,000 barrels of whiskey in rick.

Larry Schwartz, President of Diageo North America, speaks at today's ribbon-cutting.
Larry Schwartz, president of Diageo North America, speaks at today’s ribbon-cutting.

Diageo North America president Larry Schwartz forgot his glasses but took to the podium to read through a long list of people who worked on the project, repeatedly calling the Bulleit brand “the house that Tom built,” in reference to Tom Bulleit, originator of the brand.

“I usually like to take credit for these things,” Schwartz told Tom Bulleit from the podium, “but I know you.”

Bulleit was quick to share the credit.

“It’s amazing that we’ve created this infrastructure here,” Bulleit told the crowd. “It’s a great opportunity for all of us here in my beloved Kentucky… I can’t say it’s our brand. It’s absolutely your brand.”

Mayor Greg Fischer called Kentucky’s bourbon culture a “52-week-a-year tourist attraction,” and noted the “collegial competition” between area distillers to continually build bigger and better attractions, such as the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville.

“When the water rises,” Bulleit noted, “all the boats float higher.”

Bullet Barrel Head

Shively Mayor Sherry Connor spoke of the Van Winkle family, which opened the distillery in 1935, and said, “I wonder if old Pappy ever had a vision that this would become what it has?”

The sprawling grounds of the old distillery indeed are a sight to behold, with huge warehouses sitting back to back filled with aging bourbon and whiskey.

Kentucky Distillers’ Association president Eric Gregory referred to it as “one of the cathedrals of American whiskey.” He noted that more than 600,000 people took part in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 2013, a record. The new attraction can only help add to that number.

“We think of bourbon as a food group here in Kentucky,” Fischer said.

During the announcement, a copper plaque was bestowed on the facility to commemorate its Kentucky Bourbon Trail membership. In addition, Schwartz and Fischer stamped the first Kentucky Bourbon Trail passports featuring the new attraction.

Diageo announced the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience restoration project back in February; the welcome center and tour officially opens tomorrow. Visitors can see Bulleit’s working office, tour the warehouse where the rickhousing system was invented in 1879, the cooperage which remains unchanged since opening in 1935, and the historic foyer, inspired by Monticello. The original administrative office has been transformed into the welcome center.

The still will include an industry archive and serve as a resource for members of the trade, whiskey industry and other interested parties who are of legal drinking age. It was not announced when distilling will begin, but the bottling plant is expected to begin operation near the end of 2014. It will bottle a range of American whiskeys and bourbons.

The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller will be open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. -3 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 2 p.m.  Admission, which includes a tasting, costs $10 for adults of legal drinking age.

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Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies. Email Kevin at [email protected]