This year’s Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame inductees are three individuals who should have earned the honor years ago.
The theme amongst them is they were all extremely active in tourism, which has become the industry’s greatest political ally. Dry counties see the revenue taxes and tourism bring into their neighboring counties, forcing them to rethink their 1920s political views. These inductees paved the way for the likes of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Vintage Spirits Act and brand-centric strategies that created the bourbon boom we now live in.
This is an excellent class.
- Chris Morris, Vice President & Master Distiller, Brown-Forman Corp.
- Bill Samuels, Jr., Chairman Emeritus of Maker’s Mark Distillery (Lifetime Achievement)
- The late Harry J. Shapira, Executive Vice President, Heaven Hill Brands
- Jerry Summers, Director of Community Relations, Beam Suntory
Samuels, who retired in 2011 after 35 years as President of Maker’s Mark, was honored with the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award. He was elected a charter member of the Hall of Fame in 2001 and a Lifetime Honorary Member of the KDA Board of Directors in 2011. He received a hand-crafted plaque in the shape of Kentucky made entirely from barrel staves – and, of course, dipped in red wax.
According to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, HOF candidates may be nominated each year by the KDA, its member distilleries and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival from four categories: Industry, Journalism, Roll of Honor and Lifetime Achievement.Nominees are then sent to the KDA Board of Directors for final selection.
BIOs provided and written by the KDA
Master Distiller, Brown-Forman Corporation, Industry Nominee
Chris Morris is Master Distiller for Brown-Forman Corporation, the seventh since the company began in 1870. A Louisville native, he has spent his working life in the Bourbon industry. He is responsible for maintaining the award-winning taste of the whiskies produced at the Woodford Reserve and Old Forester Distilleries. Additionally, he serves as a brand ambassador for Brown-Forman at numerous trade and consumer functions.
Morris grew up around Bourbon, as he is one of three generations of his family to work at Brown-Forman. His career began in 1976 as a trainee in the central lab working for the Master Distiller. In 1988 he went to work for Glenmore Distilleries Company and joined United Distillers through its acquisition of Glenmore in 1991.
In 1997 he returned to Brown-Forman and was chosen to begin training as Brown-Forman Master Distiller, a position he has held since 2003. In 2002 he developed the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon product and more recently the brand’s Whiskey Row Series.
At Woodford Reserve, he developed the Masters Collection, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Rye and Distillery Series products. In 2015, Morris was given the additional responsibility of Vice President of Whiskey Innovation for Brown-Forman.
As a student of the industry Morris authored the Society of Wine Educators Certified Spirits Specialist program, introduced the use of tasting notes for Bourbon in 1992 and developed the Bourbon Flavor Wheel in 2004.
Morris has served on the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s Board of Directors, and is Chairman of the Order of the Writ Society. He has served as a Whisky judge at the IWSC and ISC competitions and Co-chair of the DISCUS Master Distillers Committee.
William (Bill) Samuels, Jr., Chairman Emeritus, Maker’s Mark Distillery, Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award
Maker’s Mark Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr. has been called a maverick, a giant in the distillery business, a marketing genius, a visionary, and the best friend the Kentucky Bourbon industry has ever had. But he prefers another label: Eyewitness.
Bill has personally seen it all: the creation of the premium Bourbon category and the resurrection of the entire industry. That first-hand perspective has given Bill what many recognize as the most comprehensive view of the business today. And the best stories.
- Bill’s next-door-neighbor as a child, and his godfather, was Bourbon legend Jim Beam.
- He was there when Bill, Sr. burned the family’s 170-year-old whisky recipe – and caught his sister’s hair on fire.
- He listened to his father lose the argument with his mother about sealing their new Bourbon with dripping red wax, resulting in one of the most recognizable trademarks in the spirits world.
- Bill tagged along to his father’s advisory board meetings where all the key distillers of the day – otherwise competitors –helped his father create this completely new approach to making Bourbon.
- The only day of school he missed was in 1954 when he watched the first barrels of Maker’s Mark produced.
- He learned much of the distillery business not from his dad, but from Jack Daniel’s great nephew Hap Motlow, and sat in on company meetings that helped expand that great brand to international fame.
As a teenager, Bill got a PhD in salesmanship by driving Harland Sanders around Kentucky as the Colonel was launching his new chicken business. Later, Bill earned a degree in engineering physics, helped design both the Gemini and Polaris missiles, and became friends with the founding administrator of NASA and with America’s leading physicist at the time (Edward Teller). Then it was on to law school and the White House (as an intern) before joining his father in the family business.
He was put in charge of marketing – he’s not sure his father wanted him to have anything to do directly with the whisky, itself – and began writing the brand’s distinctive, quirky ads himself. Bill followed no conventional marketing wisdom; he determined that he would rather be different than right. His father insisted that they never talk to anyone about the whisky who wasn’t already interested. So Bill tricked his father into talking to a Wall Street Journal reporter (saying he was a fraternity brother) with the resulting story giving the brand national credibility practically overnight.
Bill also witnessed the merger of Bourbon and tourism. 60 years ago, a distillery wasn’t considered a tourist destination. But his mother insisted that a dollar’s worth of improvement go into the Maker’s Mark distillery grounds for every dollar his father put into operations, eventually creating one of the most popular visitor experiences in Kentucky.
When Bill assumed leadership of Maker’s Mark in the mid-1970s, his father’s stern warning was simply, “Don’t screw up the whisky.” Despite the labor-intensive, largely inefficient methods used to hand-make Maker’s Mark, Bill heeded his father’s advice and stubbornly stuck with every step in the process even as the brand – and demand – grew exponentially over the years.
The unparalleled success of Maker’s Mark as a premium Bourbon created an entirely new category in the industry and led to renewed interest in “brown spirits.” Today, Kentucky Bourbon in particular has so many devoted new fans that there are, for the first time, more barrels of Bourbon aging in the Commonwealth than there are people in the state.
As Bill was considering the transition to Chairman Emeritus status, he introduced a new expression of his whisky called Maker’s 46. Although Bill calls it “realizing the dream of a desperate old man about to retire with no legacy,” in fact Maker’s 46 is indeed another remarkable achievement in distilling craft: a bolder, spicier flavor with an elongated finish yet without any bitterness.
Anything of any significance that happened in the past two or three generations of distilling, Bill not only lived through it, but chances are he was actually there. Bill Samuels, Jr. – the industry’s incomparable Eyewitness Emeritus.
Harry J. Shapira, Heaven Hill Brands, Inc., Industry Nominee
Harry J. Shapira was born into the Bourbon business in April of 1947 as the only son of David Shapira, one of the five founding brothers of Heaven Hill Distilleries.
Raised in Louisville, KY, Shapira earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Louisville School of Business in 1969. Following graduation, he served in the U.S. Army until 1971, where he was stationed at the Pentagon.
After his Army service, Shapira accepted a position with the Lazarus department store company in Columbus, OH. Shapira returned to his family’s business in 1973, eventually being named vice president for Heaven Hill Distilleries.
Shapira was elected executive vice president in 1996 following the death of his uncle George Shapira, the last surviving member of the five brothers. He also served as Secretary/Treasurer for Heaven Hill.
During Shapira’s tenure, Heaven Hill grew beyond its traditional roots as a Bourbon distiller to become the nation’s largest independent, family-owned and operated spirits producer and marketer.
He spearheaded Heaven Hill’s tourism and visitor experience efforts, overseeing the construction and opening of the Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown in 2004 and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville in 2013.
Shapira served on numerous associations and boards, and was president of Keneseth Israel Synagogue in Louisville from 1995 through 2000.
Harry Shapira passed away in 2013, survived by his wife Judy, two married sons—Ian is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post and Adam is a Cardio Electro Physiologist in Dallas—and four grandchildren.
Jerry Summers, Beam Suntory, Roll of Honor Nominee
Throughout his almost 40-year career at Jim Beam, Jerry Summers has been heavily involved in the communities in which Jim Beam serves.
He has served on the boards of Kentucky Distillers Association/Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, KTIA, Bullitt County Tourism/Chamber/ Economic Development Authority, Kentucky Bourbon Festival, Leadership Bullitt County, YMCA of Bullitt County, Bullitt County School for Excellence and Commerce Lexington. He is also involved in supporting the Moore-Mayfield Foundation, Ronald McDonald House and Kosair.
Throughout his career, Jerry has worked tirelessly to raise the stature of the Bourbon industry so that is duly recognized as one of Kentucky’s signature industries. As Chairman of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival Board of Directors, Jerry served on the Executive Team that secured a new Executive Director, advanced the festival through the implementation of new events and shepherded the festival through a period of change and growth. You can see the impact of Jerry’s vision and guidance on both the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and KTIA through their growth, streamlined operations and enhanced professionalism.
Through his involvement with the Kentucky Tourism Industry Association, Jerry served on the Executive Team that selected our current KTIA President and it was under his term as chair that the KTIA team began implementation of the efforts to take KTIA and the Kentucky Travel Industry to a new level.
Through his mutual positions in the Bourbon and tourism industries, Jerry has actively worked to increase the partnership and strengthen the relationship between tourism and Kentucky’s signature Bourbon industry. The tourism industry and the Bourbon industry are both highly collaborative and Jerry epitomizes that spirit of collaboration.
Jerry Summers is someone who could be referred to with equal accuracy as “Mr. Bourbon” or “Mr. Tourism” and as an industry we are better for his influence and ability to so beautifully embody both.
In his home community of Bullitt County, Jerry’s presence has been even more felt. He was instrumental in the efforts to beautify and enhance the Hwy 245 corridor and I-65 interchange into the heart of Bourbon Country and has been an indispensable partner to the Shepherdsville-Bullitt County Tourism Commission. His leadership and support has allowed the Commission to grow into a strong. presence in state tourism.
This blog post was adapted from the KDA press release.