Veterans Day: Two Kentucky Bourbons Founded By Combat Vets


November 10, 2014

I’m a veteran. I walked the streets of Iraq, from Al Kut to Talafar, with an M-16 slinged by my side and a Nikon D1X firmly in my grips. I wrote about that lovely experience, including the RPG that could have taken my life, in my Iraq War memoir, Camera Boy.

Today, I am a whiskey writer. And it’s my solemn duty as a veteran / whiskey writer to inform you that on Veterans Day you can toast all Americans who served their country with two bourbons founded by U.S. combat veterans.

Bulleit Bourbon founder Tom Bulleit was a Navy corpsman attached to Marines and saved lives in Vietnam. When Bulleit speaks about Vietnam, like many veterans who remember their wars, his posture changes. “The thing I am most proud of in my life – other than being a husband and a father – is my service as a corpsman with the Marine Corps in Vietnam,” he says. “Nothing comes close to that.”

Tom Bulleit, the founder of Bulleit Bourbon, in Vietnam.
Tom Bulleit, the founder of Bulleit Bourbon, in Vietnam.

As Bulleit embarks on its new distillery, the bourbon is poised to compete at the highest levels of bourbon sales. MB Roland Distillery, on the other hand, is a microscopic brand in comparison, but the stellar whiskey stands neck and neck with the bigger brands in taste offs.

A U.S. Army Infantry officer and West Point graduate, MB Roland founder Paul Tomaszewski named the Western Kentucky distillery after his wife’s maiden name, Merry Beth Roland. He served two tours in Iraq and came up with the idea for a distillery while in Iraq. I don’t have a quote for you about Tomaszewski’s service, like I did with Bulleit’s, because I never asked.

Paul Tomaszewski founded MB Roland. photo provided by Tomaszewski.
Paul Tomaszewski founded MB Roland. photo provided by Tomaszewski.

When we mentioned our service, both of our eyes just sort of glazed over and Merry Beth’s looked at Paul slightly nervously. Some things are left best unsaid.

Despite the occasional vet bragging about his “service” in the VA lobby waiting area or an author promoting his book (me!), we generally don’t talk about the things we did or saw, and we genuinely try to move on. Some get stuck or lost, if you will, in the war that took their innocence.

That’s not the case with Bulleit or Tomaszewki. They’ve become leaders in the civilian world. Just as they were in the military.


The Bulleit quote appeared in my 2010 American Legion story. Check out Whiskey Women. Follow me on Twitter / Facebook.