The Stitzel-Weller Distilling Company was founded in 1935 with the combination of the distributor W. L. Weller & Sons, and the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery. The two companies had continued to operate together during Prohibition, selling spirits under a medicinal license. Following the repeal of prohibition by the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment the Stitzel-Weller Distillery was built by Julian Van Winkle Sr., along with Alex T. Farnsley, and Arthur Phillip Stitzel. The facility opened on Derby Day in 1935, and became popularly known as the Old Fitzgerald Distillery, after the main brand of bourbon it produced, which it acquired from the Old Judge Distillery located west of Frankfort, Kentucky in 1933. The 53 acres (21 ha) acre site was chosen so as to be outside of the city limits and therefore avoid taxes, and because of the quality of water at the location. Outside, the owners displayed a sign reading “no chemists allowed”, a homage to their belief that distilling should be treated as “an art, not a science.”
Decorative barrels outside the coopering exhibit
Farnsley and Stitzel died in 1941 and 47 respectively, leaving the distillery in the control of Van Winkle. Van Winkle Sr. himself died in 1965, and operations passed to his son Julian Van Winkle Jr.
The facility was eventually sold on June 30, 1972 to Norton-Simon, amidst a broad depression in the sales of whiskey, as the drink lost popularity to other spirits. The sale was made under the condition that Pappy’s son would be able to procure old stocks from the site, and maintain the Van Winkel name. Norton-Simon officially changed the name to the Old Fitzgerald Distillery, and organized it under the company Somerset Imports, itself later acquired by Distillers Corporation Limited, and then by Guinness PLC, which became United Distillers. A number of brands were sold off to other companies, such as Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace, and the facility finally closed in 1972, although some products, such as Bulleit and Crown Royal continued to be aged there. In 1992 United Distillers officially changed the facility’s name back to the Stitzel-Weller Distillery.
Diageo, the latest incarnation of United Distillers following a 1997 merger with Grand Metropolitan, reopened the facility 2014 with between a 10 and 18 million USD investment. Speaking of the opening, Diageo CEO, Larry Schwartz said, “We are the heirs of Pappy Van Winkle and certainly the great brands that were distilled here through the years.”