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    Touring Cave Hill's Bourbon History
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    “Louisville is the center of the bourbon universe,” says Filson Bourbon Historian Mike Veach.  Even companies that distil their bourbon outside the city have some sort of presence here.  One type of presence that you might not think about is a family memorial at Cave Hill Cemetery.  Twice a year Veach leads a tour of the historical bourbon families buried at Cave Hill, and yesterday I was in attendance.

    Unfortunately I had missed the spring tour, so I was ecstatic to be able to make it this time.  There were plenty of locals in attendance as well as some folks from Mint Julep Tours and Master Distiller Colin Spoelman from Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn, New York.  Michael Higgs of the Cave Hill Heritage Foundation provided general information about the cemetery during the tour.

    Veach led us through the who’s who of bourbon families buried at Cave Hill.  It’s always interesting to hear the stories of who partnered with whom in business or who married into which family, or, in the case of George Forman, who was adopted by a prominent bourbon family.

    Our first stop on the tour was the grave of George Garvin Brown of Brown Forman fame.  He was the first to sell bourbon only by the bottle.  Before that you could buy it by the barrel or you could take your jug to the tavern to get it filled.  Brown only sold Old Forrester by the bottle, and it was the first bourbon you could only buy in the bottle.

    We stopped by George Weller’s grave site, who was president of Weller until 1920.  Then we stopped by Phil Hollenbach’s grave site and talked about his many business ventures, including his purchase of the Stitzel Distillery.

    Our next stop was the grave of William Larue Weller.  Weller was a rectifier, not a distiller, though according to Mike Veach they did have a still in their office to re-distill what they had purchased if they needed to.

    Then we stopped by the mausoleum of Paul Jones.  Jones founded the Paul Jones Company which started the Four Roses brand.  The legend says Jones proposed to his girlfriend and she was supposed to answer yes by wearing a corsage with four roses to the dance and that is where the name Four Roses is supposed to have come from.  Not only did Jones die a bachelor, but according to Veach the name actually came from blending four different whiskies from the Rose Distillery.  Apparently marketing legends are nothing new.

    We made many stops at names like J.T.S. Brown and J.T.S. Brown, Jr., and Frederick Stitzel, who patented the rick system still in use today in bourbon warehouses.  We talked about John Atherton, who was the only bourbon distiller to ever have a school named after him.  We talked about James and Frank Thompson and George Forman, as well as the fact that T. Jeremiah Beam is buried in Louisville instead of Bardstown with the rest of his family.


    Then we came to the grave of Julian P. Van Winkle, better known to the world as Pappy.  Pappy started out as a salesman for W.L. Weller, eventually buying it.  They sold medicinal whiskey during prohibition, which allowed them to stay in business.  He later formed Stitzel Weller.  And, of course, he is the namesake for Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.


    There’s an amazing amount of bourbon history and heritage to learn about in Louisville.  In many respects, bourbon families are a lot like royal families in that they all intermarry and it’s hard to keep them all straight.  When you dig through enough layers, you eventually find that almost everyone from Kentucky can trace their lineage back to a bourbon distiller.  After all, we invented bourbon.

    This tour, like many others offered at Cave Hill Cemetery, is intended to raise money for preservation.  Click here to learn more.

    Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

    Maggie Kimberl's picture

    About Maggie Kimberl

    I'm a Louisville native with a passion for traveling and homegrown tomatoes. I write the bourbon news, which keeps me plenty busy since Louisville is the center of the bourbon universe. See bourbon news happening? Contact me on Twitter @LouGirl502!

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