Bulleit bourbon traces back to 1830s Louisville, Kentucky. The Bulleit recipe was created by Augustus Bulleit, a tavern keeper. Bulleit distilled his bourbon until he vanished mysteriously while transporting his product from Louisville to New Orleans. The recipe was almost lost forever. Today, Thomas Bulleit Jr. distills his ancestor's recipe at the Stitzel-Weller distillery, which originally opened in 1935. The property was reopened to the public in 2014 and is now one of the stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
The story of Bulleit whiskey is tied to the stories of Pappy Van Winkle whiskey and the Weller and Stitzel companies. Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle got his start in the whiskey business as a salesman for William Larue Weller. W. L. Weller and his brother Charles opened their distillery in 1849. His son, George Pence, joined the company in 1870. In 1889, George and Weller’s other son, John C., took over the business after their father’s death. Meanwhile, Pappy Van Winkle rose to the position of secretary-treasurer in 1907. At some point, the Weller company quit making alcohol and, in 1912, became a wholesaler for the A. Ph. Stitzel Company instead.
After coming to America in 1859, German brothers Frederick, Phillip, and Jacob Stitzel became interested in the production of alcohol. In 1872, they built their first distillery. A fire destroyed the building in 1883, but it was rebuilt on the same site. The business was reincorporated as the A. Ph. Stitzel Company in 1921 when Phillip’s son Arthur Phillip took over. In 1933, the Stitzel distillery and the Weller wholesale company merged. The new business made it through Prohibition by selling already-distilled whiskey for medicinal purposes. Once Prohibition was repealed, the Weller-Stitzel distillery was given permission to reopen. Opening on Derby Day in 1935, the distillery went on to produce brands such as Pappy Van Winkle, Rebel Yell, and Old Fitzgerald.