Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Gary Ray Gayheart, January 20, 2011

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:02 - Educational and career path

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Partial Transcript: My name is Tom Troland and I'm here today interviewing Gary Gayheart.

Segment Synopsis: Gary Gayheart is introduced. He describes his education from high school through college. He talks about his first job at a distillery, the changes in ownership of the company, and being hired to replace retiring master distiller Al Geiser at the Schenley Distillery (now called Buffalo Trace Distillery).

Keywords: Al Geiser; Changes in ownership; Chemistry; Fleischmann Distilling Corporation; Master Distillers; Quality control; Retirement; Sazerac Company; Schenley Distillers Inc.; University of Louisville; Valley High School

Subjects: Buffalo Trace Distillery.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Education; Louisville (Ky.); Whiskey industry--Kentucky

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.25, -85.766667
00:03:43 - Family and childhood

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Partial Transcript: Let's back up just a little bit and talk, uh, a bit about your family before we get more into your time here at this distillery.

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about his father's career, and talks about his mother and brother. He talks briefly about his childhood and the jobs he held before graduating college.

Keywords: Accounting; Brothers; Business; Cars; Fathers; Fishing; Hunting; Jobs; Mothers; Nursing homes; Parents; Teachers; Water meters

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Families.; Floyd County (Ky.); Morgan County (Ky.)

00:07:34 - Degree in chemistry

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Partial Transcript: What got you interested in chemistry?

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about why he chose to pursue a degree in chemistry and how he became interested in the distilling industry.

Keywords: Bottling plants; Chemistry; Distilling; Engineering; Field trips; Fleischmann Distilling Corporation; Pappy Van Winkle; Quality control; Seagram's Distillery; University of Louisville

Subjects: Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Education; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:10:47 - Coming to work at the Schenley Distillery (now called Buffalo Trace Distillery)

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Partial Transcript: And so your goal was to get back to Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart discusses how he came to work at the Schenley Distillery (now called Buffalo Trace Distillery). He talks about the positions he held before becoming Master Distiller. He talks about the daily responsibilities of a Master Distiller and discusses his favorite and least favorite parts of the job.

Keywords: Aging; Al Geiser; Barrels; Byproducts; Departments; Elmer T. Lee; Fermenting; Grains; Hats; Hiring; Mash; Master Distillers; Ordering; Problems; Promotion techniques; Quality of products; Raw materials; Regional managers; Relationships; Responsibilities; Schenley Distillers Inc.; Shift foreman; Taste testing; Titles; Warehouse management; Warehouses; Yeast

Subjects: Buffalo Trace Distillery.; Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Quality control.; Quality of products.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:20:08 - Floods

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me, uh, are there any stories you can think of about unusual events that happened while you were here?

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart discusses the damage caused to the distillery by several floods that have hit the area over the years. He also talks about how droughts affect the distillery.

Keywords: Buildings; Damage; Dix River Dam; Droughts; Equipment; Motors; Preparation; Rivers; Shut down; Water sources

Subjects: Buffalo Trace Distillery.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Floods--Kentucky; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:24:45 - Master Distiller title / office

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Partial Transcript: Let's go back briefly to this, uh, topic of Master Distiller.

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart discusses the beginning of the use of the term "Master Distiller" and gives his opinion on the title. He describes his old office at the Schenley Distillery.

Keywords: Brown-Forman Corporation; Chris Morris; Desks; Heating; Master Distillers; Offices; Promotion techniques; Spokesman; Tasting lab; Terms; Titles

Subjects: Buffalo Trace Distillery.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Marketing.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:28:30 - Former distillery employees

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Partial Transcript: More recently this room has been named for Jimmy Johnson who as you well know was a long-term employee here at the distillery.

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about some of the people he worked with at the Schenley Distillery.

Keywords: Experience; Expertise; Jimmy Johnson; Knowledge; Leonard Riddle; Relationships; Ronnie Eddins; Warehouse management; Working foreman

Subjects: Buffalo Trace Distillery.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:31:18 - Sales trends

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Partial Transcript: Tell me a little bit about what I think is sometimes referred to as the, the "down years" here at this distillery.

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about the downturn in the market for bourbon during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Keywords: Production; Sales trends; Schenley Distillers Inc.; White goods

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Economic conditions.; Whiskey industry

00:33:32 - Development of the Blanton's brand and other single barrel bourbons

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Partial Transcript: Tell us a little bit about the development of the Blanton's brand.

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about how the Blanton's brand was developed and how it began the trend of single barrel bourbons throughout the industry. He gives his opinion on which warehouse produces the best bourbon at the distillery.

Keywords: "Sugar barrels"; Aging; Albert B. Blanton; Blanton's Single Barrel bourbon whiskey; Blanton's bourbon whiskey; Elmer T. Lee; Plant managers; Popularity; Premium bourbons; Premium brands; Single barrel bourbons; Tasting; Warehouse H; Warehouse I; Warehouse K

Subjects: Buffalo Trace Distillery.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Quality of products.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:37:59 - Hiring his replacement

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Partial Transcript: Tell me a little bit about some of the other people we've interviewed as a part of this project, uh, to the extent that you remember, your interactions with them.

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about another former coworker, Maxine Wiley. He talks about hiring his replacement as Master Distiller and discusses why he chose Harlen Wheatley.

Keywords: Degrees; Education; Friends; Harlen Wheatley; Hiring; Knowledge; Master Distillers; Maxine Wiley; Personality; Secretary

Subjects: Buffalo Trace Distillery.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:40:55 - Quality of products

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Partial Transcript: What would you say as you look back on your very long career here at this distillery, what one of your major accomplishments was?

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart says that his biggest accomplishment is maintaining the quality of the products throughout the years. He talks about how the quality of the distillery and its products changed as ownership of the distillery changed.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Changes in ownership; Fences; Funding; Maintenance; Mark Brown; Production; Sazerac Company; Schenley Distillers Inc.; Security

Subjects: Buffalo Trace Distillery.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Economic conditions.; Quality of products.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:44:26 - Changes in the workforce

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Partial Transcript: During your long period of employment here at the distillery did you notice any changes in the general nature of people who worked here?

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about the changes in opportunities at the distillery for women and African Americans. He talks about how the attitudes towards unions and the attitudes of workers have changed over the years.

Keywords: Attitudes; Bottling; Cooperation; Employees; Integration; Job opportunities; Management; Pride; Segregation; Unions

Subjects: African Americans in the whiskey industry; Buffalo Trace Distillery.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Women in the whiskey industry

00:47:14 - Future of the bourbon industry / role of distilleries in the community

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Partial Transcript: What about the future of the bourbon industry?

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about the future of the bourbon industry. He talks about how the target market for bourbon has changed over the years. He discusses the role of distilleries within the community.

Keywords: Bourbon market; Community; Future; Generations; Hiring; Jobs; Local people; Premium bourbons; Role of distilleries; Super premium bourbons; Women

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Consumers.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Economic conditions.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:50:27 - Hobbies / favorite bourbons

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Partial Transcript: Thinking about matters other than Buffalo Trace, as you look back on your life, what, uh, what has interested you in life other than your career here?

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart talks about what he does in his free time. He talks about what he would like people to say about his career at the distillery. He talks about which bourbons are his favorites.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Blanton's Single Barrel bourbon whiskey; Blanton's bourbon whiskey; Blanton's brand; Buffalo Trace bourbon whiskey; Farms; Fathers; Favorite bourbon; Fishing; Hunting; Retirement

Subjects: Alcoholic beverages.; Hobbies.; Quality of products.

00:52:27 - Family history / conclusion

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything else that I haven't asked you about that you might like to comment about?

Segment Synopsis: Gayheart discusses his family background as well as his children and grandchildren. He and the interviewer, Tom Troland, have a conversation about the interview and talk more about the term "Master Distiller." The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Brothers; Children; Elmer T. Lee; Grandchildren; Grandparents; Jobs; Master Distillers; Parents; Siblings; Sisters; Terms; Titles; Wife

Subjects: Distillers.; Families.; Genealogy.; Whiskey industry