Bourbon Distilleries See a Leadership Evolution in Kentucky

By Nino Kilgore-Marchetti / December 23, 2015

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) recently illuminated some of its most interesting inner workings, revealing that different levels of membership depend, in part, upon how many barrels are aging in a distillery’s warehouses. Recently, two distilleries reached the next levels of membership, moving up in the echelons of the trade group’s power brokers.

Two levels of membership, called “Heritage” and “Proof,” reflect at least 25,000 or 10,000 barrels, respectively, aging in an associated Kentucky distillery’s warehouses. Just seven of the current 28 members (including Beam Suntory, Brown Forman, Diageo North America, Four Roses, Heaven Hill Brands, and Wild Turkey) are part of this top tier of membership.

Willet distillery

Now joining on the Heritage level is Michter’s, said to be the first new member of this group since 1982. From a news release,  we learn the following about this new bourbon leader:

  • Has at least 25,000 bottles of Kentucky spirits aging in warehouses.
  • In the 1990’s, Michter’s president Joseph Magliocco and his consultant and mentor, the late Richard “Dick” Newman, teamed to resurrect the historic – but abandoned – Michter’s brand, which previously had called Pennsylvania its home.
  • In 2011, they announced the decision to build their own distillery in Kentucky, the birthplace of Bourbon, to ensure access to the best whiskey talent and resources available. All Michter’s whiskey offered by their group has been distilled in Kentucky.
  • Today, Michter’s has two locations in Kentucky – a 67,000-square-foot distillery and bottling facility on 5.6 acres in the Shively neighborhood of Louisville and the iconic Fort Nelson Building, currently undergoing a massive restoration along downtown’s famed Whiskey Row.
  • In October 2014, Michter’s installed a custom 32-inch copper column still and 250-gallon pot copper pot still doubler in its Shively distillery, which will significantly increase production to satisfy the growing international demand for Michter’s small batch and single barrel Bourbons, single barrel ryes and American whiskeys.
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“All of us at Michter’s are thankful and deeply honored to join the ranks of the KDA Heritage members,” Magliocco said in a statement. “The six existing Heritage members represent the pinnacle of distilling excellence in our industry.”

On the Proof level, meanwhile, Willett Distillery was given the nod for being the newest “second tier” member (they are, in fact, the only one at present). Here are some pretty interesting factoids on these guys, again from a news release announcing the new level:

  • Has at least 10,000 bottles of Kentucky spirits aging in warehouses.
  • The Willett Distilling Co. was a vital part of the KDA in the 1950’s through the 1970’s, but left when the family ceased its distilling operations in the 1980’s. Willett rejoined the KDA soon after resuming production in 2012.
  • The small, independent, family-owned distillery features eight traditional rickhouses on its picturesque Nelson County grounds, a gift shop and tasting bar, and a lake fed by a real limestone spring.
  • Construction is underway to expand the Visitors Center as well as an elegant bed and breakfast, which will have considerable meeting and event space. A new grist mill and open-air pavilion are scheduled to open in 2016.
  • Their boutique whiskey brands include Willett Family Estate Bourbon and Rye, Willett Pot Still Reserve, Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Johnny Drum, Old Bardstown, Pure Kentucky and more.

“After many years working with my father, Even Kulsveen, to refurbish and restore our family’s distillery, the fifth generation filled our first barrel of Bourbon on what would have been our grandfather’s 103rd birthday,” said Britt Chavanne, the distillery’s vice president of administration and granddaughter of founder Thompson Willett.