Whiskey Nips: Heaven Hill Distillery
After the repeal of prohibition, many investors saw an opportunity to jump in the bourbon business. In 1935, a group of department store owners known as the Shapira brothers were some of these investors. The Shapira brothers, along with a few other investors, wanted to start a distillery, but they did not know the first thing about distilling. The first thing that they did was contact members of the Beam family because of the distilling lineage and hired them work in their distillery after it started it up.
They also realized that they had no ties to history and needed some sort of connection to Kentucky heritage. The land where they planned to build their distillery was once owned by a farmer distiller named William Heavenhill in the late 1700’s. His image was a good fit for the distillery with his big and bushy beard, so they decided to name it after him. It is rumored that when sending in the application for their distilling permit there was an accidental space in the name Heavenhill, making it into two words. They decided to keep that name, and not pay to file again with the correct spelling.
Upon opening the distillery, Heaven Hill did not source any of their bourbon. The first product released as called Bourbon Falls. It was a young bourbon at 2 years old, but helped pay the bills until they had older stock. They discontinued this product once they released their 4 year old bottled-in-bond bourbon, which they named Heaven Hill. It quickly became a success in the state of Kentucky.
In the 1940s, some of the investors outside of the Shapira family ran into financial problems unrelated to the distillery, and ended up selling all their shares to the Shapiras, making Heaven Hill 100% family owned. Throughout the years, they acquired many bourbon brands, as well as other spirits such as vodka, gin, and brandy, which helped them during whiskey’s down times in the 70s and 80s.
The Shapiras continued their family legacy at the distillery by bringing in their sons to run the business, as well as always having a Beam family member as Master Distiller, up until Denny Potter (now Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark as of late 2018) was named co-Master Distiller in 2014, and Master Distiller in 2017. This format has led to their success and they grew to be the largest family owned and operated distillery that we know today.