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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Stitzel-Weller, Kentucky, USA

There is no tour here and in fact the distillery has been closed since 1992, although the warehouses and office are still used by one of Diageo’s brands, Bulleit, and it seems it may re-open in some fashion (at least as a vistor center if not a working distillery) in the future.  Located near the Louisville airport I paid a visit (to be precise I stood outside and took photos) because if you like bourbon the chances are you like the Van Winkle line (now made at Buffalo Trace) and this is their spiritual home.  Opened after prohibition in 1935 and acquired by Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle (you couldn't make that name up if you tried) it produced wheated bourbons like Old Fitzgerald, that name is painted on the brick chimney still standing in the grounds of the S-W distillery and which is now made by Heaven Hill, and the W L Weller line after which the distillery is named, and is also now made at Buffalo Trace.  I had the pleasure to meet Preston Van Winkle at WhiskyLive London in 2010 and wheated bourbon, specifically Maker's Mark (which uses same recipe as Julian Pappy Van Winkle used) was my entry into bourbon, just as Ardbeg Blasda was my entry into Islay whisky.  So this was somewhere I needed to see, my bourbon ground zero if you like, and a fitting last stop as I completed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in May 2012.  Perhaps I will be able to come back soon and step inside when it opens as the Diageo or Bulliet Bourbon Center.  The good news is of course it was free to stand outside and there was no bottling hall visit to endure! 

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Bowmore, Islay, Scotland

Bowmore, Islay, Scotland

Probably my favorite distillery tour and experience to date. I visited in July 2010 and after a couple of days touring Islay’s distilleries Tammy and Eleanor had seen enough and let me go alone, with a plan to meet in the tasting room at end of the tour. It turned out it was the last tour of the day and I was the only person who signed up, so it felt like I had the entire place to myself and my guide was happy to indulge every question I had, and without larger group I could indulge myself in the minutia of the place. Effectively it was a private tour of Bowmore, and the notes I took that day show that being alone had liberated my inner “whisky anorak” who normally stays safely hidden in the group tours. Not only was the tour perfect, but the subsequent tasting in a great room overlooking the Loch was well organized, fun, informative and innovative (they gave food samples like coconut, chocolate and raisins to help match tastes in the whisky). We tried a range of whiskies from their parent company, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and of course Bowmore. Perhaps with it being the last tour of the day they were also generous with pours and allowed us to retry samples while giving our daughter sweets and juice to keep her happy as well. Personally I fell in love with the rich, highly sherried Bowmore Darkest 15 year old that afternoon, and while it has never tasted quite as good as it did that perfect day in the distillery, it is still a 4 star whisky for me and my “go to” Bowmore.

If you go to Islay and only do one tour (which would not be a great idea in itself, stay and do more) I would say do this one and I can only hope you have same great experience I did.

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