William Larue Weller
"Weller's Wisdom. . . . .Wheat!"
William Larue Weller was born in July of 1825, he was the grandson of German immigrants that moved to Central Kentucky on a flatboat in 1794. They first place his grandparents bought a home was in 1800 near Bardstown, Kentucky when his father Samuel Weller was just 13 years-old. His mother Phoebe Larue Weller, was the daughter of founder of Larue County, Kentucky, John Larue. Weller’s grandfather was a small distiller like many Kentucky farmers of the day. William was destined to build a name for himself and used the families whiskey making prowess as his foothold.
In 1840 Weller moved to Louisville, but left to serve in the Mexican-American War from 1846-1848 as part of the Louisville Brigade and advanced to the rank of Lieutenant. In late 1848 after the war, William and his younger brother Charles opened a trading company on Jefferson Street in Louisville, selling their own label called William Larue Weller & Brother. It was in the 1849 that Weller came up with the idea of replacing the second grain of Rye in a bourbon’s mash bill and invented wheated bourbon, producing a much richer and smoother flavor. Weller marketed his product with the slogan, “Honest Whiskey at an Honest Price.” Weller also met his soon to be wife Sarah B. Pence in 1849 married her shortly thereafter and proceeded to have eight children over the next 14 years.
The Weller family was split in the U. S. Civil War two of Weller brothers fought for the Confederacy of the south. In fact, William’s oldest brother John Weller rose to the rank of Captain and wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia. William and Charles stayed home in Louisville and tried to stay neutral to sell as much whiskey to the North and the South as they could. Charles who was intent on selling to both sides was murdered in 1862 while trying to collect on a business debt in Franklin, Tennessee.
It was in 1893 when William made his second truly significant move (after inventing Wheated Bourbon) in the history of American whiskey, when he hired Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle. Julian got his start in the whiskey trade working first as a salesman for Weller. A few years later, Weller retired, leaving the business to his brother John and his eldest son, George. William died in 1899 in Ocala, Florida.
In 1909 Weller’s namesake company eventually went on to merge with his former employee Van Winkle’s “A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery” to form the most famous distillery of all time in the ”Stitzel-Weller Distillery.” It became renowned for such brands as W.L. Weller, Pappy Van Winkle, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell and Cabin Still.
A true distilling pioneer, William Larue Weller is credited with being the first distiller to produce Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey using wheat instead of rye in the mash bill. Weller’s original “wheated bourbons” became extremely popular, with a softer, smoother taste. His bourbon was so popular, in fact, that it’s been said that Weller was forced to put a green thumbprint on his invoices and barrels to ensure that customers were receiving the real deal.