The Cathedral of Bourbon
Stitzel-Weller was born out of the enactment of the 21st Amendment when spirits distributor W.L. Weller & Sons and distiller A. Ph. Stitzel created a new distillery. The partners leveraged a rare medicinal distilling license acquired during Prohibition to gain a head start on competitors, and opened their distillery on Derby Day in 1935. The partners rushed to meet growing consumer demand for Kentucky bourbon and the facility quickly gained reputability for its Old Fitzgerald brand.
However, decades later, consumer interest in “brown spirits” waned, Stitzel-Weller’s fortunes declined and the facility and brand were largely forgotten. Through a merger in 1997, Diageo acquired the property and eventually reopened the facility to consumers as home to the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience in 2014.
Challenge & Program
Stitzel-Weller was reopened to the public in 2014. Although the updated space provided the Bulleit brand with a home, there was still work to be done to create a compelling consumer experience that celebrated Stitzel-Weller’s storied past. Pencil & Paper Co.’s mandate for re-imagining the Stitzel-Weller facility was simple; with limited time and budget,
• Designate space to accommodate a growing number of visitors
• Create a facility that serves as a backdrop for multiple brands
• Communicate the history of the brand
• Grow profitability and guest conversion through a compelling retail experience—custom product, in-store marketing and visual merchandising.
In order to deliver a reimagined Stitzel-Weller on-time and on-budget, Pencil & Paper Co. utilized the facility’s existing heritage and charm—maintaining the overall layout and architectural detailing, while layering in new fixtures and finishes. Unused space was converted to functional square footage and the retail strategy was rethought from the ground up. All renovations at the facility were thoughtfully timed to avoid closure or disruption to consumers.
Following completion of Stitzel-Weller’s renovation and re-merchandising, Pencil & Paper Co. maintains an on-going presence—helping to evolve brand storytelling by growing the product assortment and providing visual merchandising direction and supporting retail operations.
In approaching the design of Stitzel-Weller, the Pencil & Paper Co. team were careful to respect the heritage of the site. The patina of the adjacent rick houses and the Georgian-style architecture of the Visitor’s Center were key reference points during the design process. Original architectural trim work and paneling sits seamlessly alongside the new complement of casework and furnishings. The historic backdrop was reinforced by a neutral color palette and bold graphics.
Product & Retail
Previously, the assortment of retail goods available at Stitzel-Weller consisted of product developed by multiple third-party manufacturers and lacked a comprehensive, overriding retail message. Pencil & Paper Co. has taken the approach of developing a distinctive product assortment for Stitzel-Weller and each of the sub brands housed there: Bulleit Bourbon, Blade and Bow, and I.W. Harper.
Pencil & Paper Co. manages Stitzel-Weller’s product assortment on an on-going basis, adding new goods seasonally. We focus on sourcing goods regionally to ensure the product assortment feels unique and reflects the region. Our ongoing partnership with the site General Manager ensures a clear merchandising strategy, a process for replenishment of goods, and a compelling in-store marketing package.
Archival images and artifacts became prominent features in Stitzel-Weller’s redesign. Large-scale installations of historic photos were given prominent placement throughout Stitzel-Weller and tell the story of the facility’s founding and evolution. The atrium space, with high ceilings and clearstory windows, became the designated home to a collection of glass museum cases which describe the influence of limestone, the Mississippi River and Prohibition on the evolution of the Kentucky Bourbon industry.
The bourbon tasting experience has been elevated to match the level of care and detail now found throughout the facility. A consistent tasting experience was defined, and Pencil & Paper Co. designed a tasting card for note taking that doubles as a keepsake take-away for guests.