This history of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery and the brands that carry on its legacy today
By Elizabeth Scinta
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson and Stitzel-Weller Distillery
In 1935, the first Saturday of May celebrated more than the running of the 61st Kentucky Derby, it marked the grand opening of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville. “Stitzel-Weller is known as the cathedral of bourbon and it’s been a benchmark of quality and innovation in the bourbon industry for over 85 years now. They’ve been known for their wheated mash bills and having super high-quality production off of a 65-foot copper column still which is still on display at the distillery,” explained Elizabeth Dowell, the brand home manager for Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Dowell has worked at the distillery for two years but has always been in the spirits industry.
The aged bourbon produced at this distillery created a name for itself using a recipe where wheat is the secondary grain in the concoction. This recipe gave Stitzel-Weller a foot in the door of the bourbon world and established them as a legendary distillery. Stitzel-Weller Distillery stopped distilling bourbon in 1992, so most of this bourbon is gone, but what’s left is being produced into Blade and Bow bourbon. “Blade and Bow was created in 2015 which is relatively new, but it revolves around the rich history that is the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Blade and Bow is made from some of the last remaining bourbon produced at Stitzel. Its name is the anatomy of the skeleton key. The blade being the shaft and the handle being the bow. Stitzel is about preserving the rich history of the iconic distillery, so Blade and Bow is similar by preserving the last bourbon that was distilled before it was shut down in 1992,” explained Dowell. Stitzel-Weller Distillery reopened in 2014 on Derby Day to pay tribute to the original opening of the distillery.
Five brass skeleton keys once hung on the doors of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, informing the public they were open for business and showcasing the five steps of crafting bourbon: grains, yeast, fermentation, distillation and aging. The keys are a significant part of Stitzel-Weller Distillery and can be found adorning many spaces within. The keys define the Blade and Bow brand, showcased in the label itself and the Five Keys Club. “Each bottle comes with a key that has a number one through five that you can collect and join our Five Key Club. There’s a room at Stitzel dedicated to the club and you get a gold julep cup with your name on it once you get all five keys,” explained Dowell.
There are two variants of Blade and Bow, Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Blade and Bow 22-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is an homage to the whiskey Stitzel-Weller produced before closing in 1992. Blade and Bow uses Solera Aging System, which mixes the old bourbon with younger whiskeys in charred American White Oak barrels to create Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, according to Dowell. They describe this bourbon as having an aroma of fresh fruit and a taste that encompasses hints of dried apricot, ripe pear, sweet roasted grain, charred oak and warm winter spices, according to the Blade and Bow website. Dowell likes to use this to create her favorite bourbon cocktail, an Old Fashioned. You can recreate her favorite cocktail as well as some of your other favorites like the Mint Julep and Gold Rush by following the recipes on bladeandbowwhiskey.com/recipes.
According to Dowell, the Blade and Bow 22-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a limited edition that has been aged and completely bottled. This edition has notes of torched sugar and apples baked in honey and spices, according to the Blade and Bow website. Blade and Bow 22-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is highly sought after and might not be easy to find. Both of these bourbons are or have been aged and bottled at Stitzel-Weller Distillery.
The Stitzel-Weller Experience encompasses the history of Blade and Bow, I.W. Harper and Orphan Barrels Co. and Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, but their main focal point is Blade and Bow. The experience focuses on the history of the people and the brands that originated at this iconic distillery. Bulleit Bourbon is known for its high rye content and aging philosophy, waiting until the bourbon is ready. Isaac Wolfe Bernheim founded I.W. Harper in the 1800s. Currently, I.W. Harper is aged at Stitzel-Weller Distillery and bottled in Tullahoma, Tennessee, according to Dowell. Orphan Barrel Whiskey Co. was a precursor to Blade and Bow and was the first idea to come out of Stitzel-Weller Distillery before Bulleit was brought into the space. Orphan Barrel Co. takes forgotten barrels of whiskey and bottles them for the world to try.
Stitzel-Weller Distillery is opening its doors to the next Garden & Gun Club later this summer. “Blade and Bow has always had a partnership with Garden & Gun since its start. It was a natural fit for the next location of the Garden & Gun Club,” explained Dowell. “It’s writing a new chapter in Southern hospitality. It’s going to be a premium cocktail bar and lounge that brings a defining Southern lifestyle brand to life with a curated menu of cocktails with a modern twist on some favorite classic Southern dishes. Think small plates and signature cocktails, but also a full bar. Like if you want a martini, you can get a martini.” The Garden & Gun Club was initially supposed to open in May, but they’re hoping for early July due to construction delays. Be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date information.
Don’t miss out on all the fantastic tours, tastings and opportunities Stitzel-Weller Distillery has to offer. Cheers to history, fine bourbon and memories that will last a lifetime.