Shortly after Prohibition ended in the United States, Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc. was founded in Bardstown, Kentucky by the Shapira family to produce and market Bourbon and premium American whiskeys.
At the time, it was as speculative a new business venture as the dot com start-ups of the 1990's -- a company founded with no brands, no available stocks of whiskey, and at the height of the Great Depression. Today, the company has overcome these initial challenges and grown to become the largest independent, family-owned and operated producer and marketer of distilled spirits in the US.
According to industry analysts, Heaven Hill is now the seventh largest spirits supplier in the United States and is the second largest holder of aging Bourbon whiskey in the world with an inventory in excess of 800,000 barrels.
Over the last two decades Heaven Hill has moved beyond its traditional focus on American whiskeys to become a broadly diversified spirits supplier.
Heaven Hill's portfolio includes both domestically produced products, such as Elijah Craig Bourbon and Christian Brothers Brandy, as well as a growing line of selected imported brands from around the world, such as Hpnotiq Liqueur and O'Mara's Irish Country Cream. Brands are identified and developed to take advantage of the many varied consumer tastes that exist in the vast U.S. distilled spirits market. These brands are then sold on a national basis through an innovative and aggressive marketing and sales organization under a concept that is unique to the industry.
With an already robust business in the United States, Heaven Hill has now mounted an aggressive international expansion plan, forming partnerships with like-minded companies throughout the world. Heaven Hill has established its brands in over 40 countries throughout Europe, Asia, the Pacific Rim, Central and South America.
1783 -- William Heavenhill is born "during an Indian raid which was being waged, under the cliffs near Rowan Creek" at the site of present day Heaven Hill Distilleries.
1783 -- Evan Williams sets up his distillery on the banks of the Ohio in Louisville at what is now 4th Street, thereby becoming Kentucky's First Distiller.
1789 -- Rev. Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister and farmer who had immigrated to Kentucky from Virginia, experiences a fire in his barn where he stores whiskey barrels. Putting his new whiskey in the burnt barrels anyway, Craig soon discovered that the whiskey would age better in the charred barrels, picking up colour and flavour, and earning Craig the title of the "Father of Bourbon."
1837 -- Henry McKenna arrives in Kentucky from his native County Derry, Ireland. He sets up his distillery in Fairfield in 1855 where he begins producing his eponymous Bourbon, known as "Kentucky's Finest Table Whiskey."
1870 -- John E. Fitzgerald introduces his "private label" Bourbon, Old Fitzgerald, available only on rail and steamship lines and private clubs.
1934 -- Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., originally known as "Old Heavenhill Springs" distillery, is founded by a group of Bardstown-area investors and the five Shapira brothers, David, Ed, Gary, George and Mose. The company has 12 employees at the time of its founding.
1935 -- Barrel #1 is filled on December 13. Bourbon Falls is the company's first label.
1942 -- Heaven Hill, and many other distilled spirits production plants, are shut down during World War II and work with the government to produce alcohol for the war effort.
1946 -- Earl Beam leaves the Beam Company to succeed his cousin, Harry Beam, as Heaven Hill's Master Distiller.
1957 -- Evan Williams Bourbon is introduced and becomes one of the nation's leading Bourbons and Heaven Hill's flagship brand.
1960 -- Earl Beam's son and current Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam joins the family business.
1967 -- A new bottling facility is built with a capacity of 2.5 million cases per year.
1975 -- Parker Beam is named Heaven Hill Master Distiller, succeeding his father Earl.
1983 -- Parker Beam's son and current Heaven Hill Master Distiller Craig Beam joins the family business.
1986 -- Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Bourbon is introduced, thus becoming the first "Small Batch" Bourbon available.
1995 -- Heaven Hill introduces Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon, Elijah Craig 18 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon, and Henry McKenna Bottled In Bond Single Barrel Bourbon. Heaven Hill acquires Two Fingers Tequila, and in conjunction with First Ireland Spirits, Ltd., of Abbyleix, Ireland introduces O'Mara's Irish Country Cream.
1996 -- George Shapira, last surviving member of the five founding brothers, passes away.
1999 -- Heaven Hill acquires the historic Bernheim Distillery, The Christian Brothers Brandies, and the Old Fitzgerald Bourbon brand.
2003 -- Heaven Hill breaks ground for the Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Centre - set to open in Autumn 2004
2006 -- Rittenhouse Rye wins "North American Whiskey of the Year" at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition
2007 -- Heaven Hill introduces the first edition of Parker's Heritage Collection, a signature series of rare American Whiskeys
2008 -- Heaven Hill opens newly expanded Bernheim Distillery, increasing production capacity by 40%
2009 -- Parker's Heritage Collection second edition 27-year-old Bourbon becomes first American Whiskey to capture "Best of Show, Brown Spirits" at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition
2010 – WhiskyAndMore.co.nz launches in New Zealand
Elijah Craig 12 Year Old
All straight Bourbon whiskey must be distilled from a mash- a mixture of malt, raw grains (no less than 51 percent must be corn), yeast and water. It must be distilled at no more than 160 proof, put into barrels at no more than 125 proof, and bottled at no less than 80 proof - without the addition of any artificial coloring or flavor additives. It also must age for no less than two years in new, charred white oak barrels.
Unlike other distilled spirits, which can add ingredients to overcome "shortcomings" in the production process, Bourbon comes out as it went into the barrel. As a result, the distillation process is as much an art as it is a science
At 12 years old and 94 proof, Elijah Craig is bottled exclusively from a dumping of 70 barrels or less, all drawn from the middle to upper floors of the traditional metal clad rickhouses. It is the original Small Batch Bourbon, having been made available even before the term was invented.
Elijah Craig recently won Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and was named winner in the Premium Bourbon category in Whisky Magazine 's bi-annual Best of the Best tasting competition.
"Nose: About as complete a Bourbon aroma as you are likely to find...Near miraculous: one of the most beautiful noses found anywhere in the world today. Taste: A bourbon to keep in the mouth forever...Comments: Perhaps one of my favorite five or six bourbons and ... perhaps at its best just before bed. Brilliant."
-Jim Murray, Classic Bourbon, Tennessee, & Rye Whiskey
Colour: Melted sugar.
Nose: Thick and warming, vanilla, caramel, oak, very ripe fruit.
Palate: Thick and creaming, earthy, malty sweetness, caramel, vanilla, oak, touch of spice.
Rev. Elijah Craig
Rev. Elijah Craig (1738/1743 – May 18, 1808) was a Baptist preacher in Virginia, who became an educator and capitalist entrepreneur in the area of Virginia that later became the state of Kentucky. He has contentiously been credited with the invention of bourbon whiskey by improving the locally made distillate from an un-aged corn liquor to the familiar reddish-brown drink through barrel-aging in charred oak casks.
In approximately 1789, Craig founded a distillery. A fire on his property, and his then continued use of the damaged barrels, likely led to his subsequent reputation as the inventor of corn-based bourbon whiskey. Rev. Craig has been claimed to have been the first to age the distillation in charred oak casks, a process that gives the bourbon its reddish color and unique taste.
When he built it, Rev. Craig's distillery was in the territory of the original Fayette County, from which later Bourbon County was created, although the distillery was not located within the area that would become Bourbon County. Both Fayette County and Bourbon County were named in honor of the noted Revolutionary War Gen. Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette of the French nobility and its royal House of Bourbon.
Rev. Craig prospered, coming to own more than 4,000 acres (16 km2), and operating a retail store in Frankfort. He died in Georgetown in 1808.
As American whiskey authority Charles Kendrick Cowdery has observed, "By the time Bourbon County was formed in 1785, there were dozens if not hundreds of small farmer-distillers making whiskey throughout the region… Ultimately, most of the corn-based whiskey made west of the Alleghenies was called 'bourbon', to distinguish it from the rye-based whiskies that predominated in the East." Cowdery casts substantial doubt on the notion that Elijah Craig should be credited with the invention of Bourbon whiskey.
Sources: Wikipedia, whiskycritic.com, bardstownwhiskysociety.com, heaven-hill.com