At the Bulleit Distilling Company groundbreaking today, fascinating facts just kept jumping from the podium and the crowd like a leaking bourbon barrel. (Read May post about the distillery announcement. Read my Live Tweets from groundbreaking.)
- Diageo North American President Larry Schwartz said he didn’t want Bulleit Rye when they were first considering the brand. Now that Bulleit Rye is a category leader or rising star (depending on which report you read), he firmly supports it. He says Diageo believes in the Bulleit Bourbon founder, Tom Bulleit.
- Kentucky politicians love Diageo. From the locals to Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to Congressman Steve Massie, they couldn’t stop raving about how great of a company Diageo is.
- Diageo loves Tom Bulleit. When Diageo personnel spoke, they gushed over Bulleit, a Vietnam Veteran (read my American Legion story on Tom) and a cancer survivor.
- An inside source also told me they will move the Stitzel-Weller stills to the new Shelby County facility. I expected that to happen. Why wouldn’t you move those historic stills?
But the most-interesting conversation I had was after the press conference. Diageo’s executive vice president Guy Smith is quickly becoming a top-level interview on the American whiskey scene, because you just don’t know what he will say. He recently commented on Chuck Cowdery’s blog with a few typos and always offers an interview that I can’t tell whether he’s serious or joking.
In this is the interview, Smith kind of offered me a job.
What is the timeline on the Bulleit Distillery?
I won’t give you a specific date because you’ll hold me to it. Construction is a fairly close science, but you always run into things. We’re looking at being operational in about two years—around late 2016.
I was told the Stitzel Weller stills will be coming over here….
We’re looking really hard at that…
We know Bulleit Bourbon will be made here. Will you also make Bulleit rye here?
Probably. We’ll make different kinds of whiskies, some we don’t even have the names for yet.
Are you planning a George Dickel brand here?
Dickel is a Tennessee brand.
I know, but there have been reports that Diageo will make George Dickel here. You could always make George Dickel’s Cascade Bourbon, which was made in Kentucky in the early 1900s.
It’s a pretty good idea… I wish you’d quit being a journalist and come into our innovation department. … I can’t speculate.
Analysts were recently beating up Diageo for its lack of American whiskey efforts. Does this distillery indicate Diageo is going all-in on American whiskey and pulling back on Scotch?
We ain’t pulling out of nothing. But we’re clearly moving into American whiskey even more with a $115 million distillery. It’s our expectation to meet consumer demand and there’s a lot in American whiskey.
Are you looking at buying other American whiskey brands?
Gee… I don’t know. What do you think?
Well, it was you who said yes.
What about Stitzel-Weller? Are you keeping it as a visitor center?
Stitzel-Weller has the history and heritage. It is very important to the company and we’re looking at all kinds of opportunities. I think if we see continued demand we’re going to be taking advantage of those opportunities, and the Stitzel-Weller heritage is an incredible component of that.
Will Diageo continue to rent warehouse space to competing distilleries at Stitzel-Weller?
The industry is a big club. And we will do everything we can to be helpful to craft and old time big guys.
Who is making Bulleit right now?
Some very, very talented whiskey makers.
Is there more than one distillery?
I don’t know.