Willie Pratt, Former Michter’s Legendary Master Distiller, Passes Away

The success in recent years of the Michter’s brand out of Kentucky can, in a large way, be attributed to former master distiller Willie Pratt. He spent a good number of years working there, after an even longer career in the whiskey industry as a whole. He has now sadly passed away at age 78.

Master Distiller Emeritus Willie Pratt, according to Michter’s, was “born in 1942 to a school teacher mother and a coal miner father living in the town of Hazard in Eastern Kentucky, Willie set out to Louisville to seek employment at age 20. He joined the great distiller Brown-Forman, which paid for his education as he attended evening classes and earned his degree from University of Louisville. Willie worked over four decades in a variety of positions at Brown-Forman, where he served for a period of years on the company’s committee studying distillation, cooperage, and aging conditions.

Master Distiller Emeritus Willie Pratt

Michter’s Master Distiller Emeritus Willie Pratt (image via Michter’s)

“At age 65, Willie retired from Brown-Forman, but his passion for the bourbon industry led him back to work. In 2007 Willie joined Michter’s as its Master Distiller. At the start of his tenure at the company, he oversaw Michter’s production program which was conducted at another Kentucky distillery before Michter’s could afford its own brick and mortar facility.

“Eventually Willie oversaw the design and the building of the state-of-the-art Michter’s Shively Distillery. When Willie decided to work a reduced schedule, he turned over the Michter’s Master Distiller position to Pam Heilmann, who was eventually succeeded by Dan McKee. Willie continued to serve as the company’s Master Distiller Emeritus and remained actively involved in Michter’s production until his passing.

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“In 2017 Willie was inducted into The Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame.”

“To work with Willie and to have him as a friend was a tremendous gift. When the challenges seemed overwhelming, that’s when Willie’s leadership would shine through. He was a paradigm of strength and courage,” said Michter’s President Joseph J. Magliocco, in a prepared statement.

“Laser focused on quality,” it was noted by Michter’s, “Willie was good naturedly referred to as ‘Dr. No’ by the Michter’s salespeople for his refusing to release whiskey for bottling until he deemed it just right, even though the whiskey may have been significantly older than the age statement on the label.”

“Times like this make me realize how fortunate I was to be able to learn from one of the greats in the industry. I’m going to miss standing back in the distillery with Willie, talking about making whiskey and listening to his life stories,” Michter’s Master Distiller Dan McKee. Michter’s Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson commented. “It is not often in your career you get to sit and listen to someone with over 50 years of experience in this industry who poured his heart and soul into every single detail.

“Making bourbon was not a job to Willie, it was pure joy.”

Michter’s Master Distiller Emerita Pam Heilmann said, “It was my pleasure and the opportunity of a lifetime to work with Willie. The years we had together enhanced my learning and grew my knowledge of the bourbon industry by virtue of his wisdom and tutelage.”

Willie’s hobbies included fishing in Florida, riding motorcycles, and flying his Cherokee four-seater. He is survived by his beloved wife Patsy, his children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren and his dog Sophie.