Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Max Shapira, February 11, 2014

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

 

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00:00:00 - Personal background / growing up in the bourbon business

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Partial Transcript: I'm Dixie Hibbs and I'm interviewing Max Shapiro at Heaven Hills Distilleries in the conference room, February 11, 2014 as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Tales Oral History Project for the University of Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Max Shapira talks about being born into the bourbon business. He talks about his responsibilities at the distillery when he was a child. He talks about going away to college, working on Wall Street, then returning to Kentucky.

Keywords: Bourbon industry; Bourbon industry families; Education; First jobs; Guardhouses; MBA; Plant messenger; Trucks; Wall Street

Subjects: Childhood; Distilleries--Kentucky; Families.; Family-owned business enterprises.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

GPS: Heaven Hill Distilleries (Bardstown, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0487074, -84.499245
00:03:50 - Product expansion and growth of business

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Partial Transcript: When you came back, you had some mentors, or at least some family members, that you, uh, could, um, question and watch and listen and learn a little more about how they'd always done it and then you probably came back with new ideas about how maybe things could improve?

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about the status of the family business when he returned to Kentucky in the early 1970s, and its growth and expansion during that time.

Keywords: American whiskey; Bourbon market; Bourbon production; Brand acquisition; Distributors; Expanding; Family business; Growth; Loyal customers; Product development

Subjects: Family-owned business enterprises.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:06:04 - Family involvement at Heaven Hill Distilleries

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Partial Transcript: Do you have a family member that you consider your greatest mentor, someone that you truly, uh, wanted to, um, copy or?

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about how his father mentored him. After coming home from college, he had a desk beside his father is his office. His father also taught him the human side of the business. Shapira says the most important thing he's done in his business was involving his children. He talks about how his son and daughter were not forced into the family business, but left successful careers elsewhere by choice. He talks about how the family is passionately involved in their work.

Keywords: Bourbon business; Bourbon industry families; Career changes; Daughters; Experience; Family business; Family-owned businesses; Fathers; Friends; Generations; Mentors; Partnerships; Passion; Son-in-laws; Sons; Success; Tradition

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Families.; Family-owned business enterprises.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Women in the whiskey industry

GPS: Heaven Hill Distilleries (Bardstown, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0487074, -84.499245
00:10:34 - Heritage of Heaven Hill Distilleries

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Partial Transcript: Well I know that's very heartening, and, uh, the sense of satisfaction of watching the results of what you learned at your father's side, and you're now teaching your children and they, uh, hopefully, uh, will be examples for their children.

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about the success of Heaven Hill, and how being a family-owned business impacts long-term goals. He talks about the history of the distillery. He discusses his father's entry into the industry during the Depression.

Keywords: Bottling; Bourbon Falls; Brands; Elijah Craig; Elijah Craig bourbon whiskey; Evan Williams bourbon whiskey; Family business; Fathers; Great Depression; Heaven Hill Distilleries; Investments; Old Heaven HIll Bottled in Bond; Shapira family history

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Families.; Family-owned business enterprises.; Marketing.; Prohibition.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

GPS: Heaven Hill Distilleries (Bardstown, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0487074, -84.499245
00:18:39 - Trends in bourbon production

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Partial Transcript: Well one of--one of the things I always wanted to ask you, I think, uh, was the idea--we talked about your greatest success, what probably was the biggest, uh, not disaster, but problem that you had to overcome when you came back here and, and you actually took over the reigns completely and, and, uh, did you ever hit the wall, so to speak, with, with the idea I'm not sure I can do this?

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about the bourbon industry's low point in the 1960s. He talks about how Prohibition and WWII led to a gap in inventory throughout the industry, and how after WWII there was rampant overproduction. He discusses how new marketing methods have saved the industry.

Keywords: Attitude; Bourbon industry; Bourbon market; Competition; Flavored bourbons; History; Innovation; Inventory; Korean War; New products; Opportunities; Overproduction; Problems; Prohibition; Single barrel bourbons; Small batch bourbons; Supply and demand; WWII; Wartime efforts; World War Two

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Economic conditions.; Marketing.; Prohibition.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.

00:23:39 - Heaven Hill Distillery fire

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Partial Transcript: Um, when you started out as a young baby, going down the line, and you weren't aware of that, your parents took you down and the, uh, bottling house ladies and, uh, gentlemen were oohing and aahing over you.

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about moving forward after the fire at Heaven Hill Distilleries. The company received support from employees and the community. Interviewer shares story of volunteering at the fire department after the Heaven Hill Distillery fire. Shapira talks about receiving help from competitors.

Keywords: Bourbon industry; Brown-Forman Corporation; Camaraderie; Challenges; Community involvement; Competition; Distillers; Employees; Fires; Heaven Hill Distilleries; Help; Henry McKenna bourbon whiskey; Jim Beam Distillery; Normal production; Operating; Overcoming; Setbacks; Support; Whiskey industry; Working; Working together

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Distilling industries--Employees; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

GPS: Heaven Hill Distilleries (Bardstown, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0487074, -84.499245
00:31:16 - Future of Heaven HIll Distilleries

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Partial Transcript: What do you see for the future?

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about the future of Heaven HIll Distilleries, including the new products and new markets they are trying to reach, as well as the challenges they face.

Keywords: Aging; Challenges; Demand; Export market; Identity; Longterm planning; Mixed drinks; New consumers; New products; Opportunities; Patience; Prospects; Suppliers; Women

Subjects: Advertising.; Alcoholic beverages.; Cocktails.; Consumers.; Marketing.; Target marketing.; Whiskey.

00:36:19 - Naming Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, and the Heaven Hill Distillery

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Partial Transcript: Iconic product. Now that--that, uh, that's definitely marketing right there.

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about how bourbon cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world. He talks about a unique bottle of Evan Williams whiskey which was unsuccessful. After it was given a different bottle and a new label it became more successful. He talks about where the names for the products Evan Williams and Elijah Craig came from. He explains that Heaven Hill was named after the farmer, William Heavenhill.

Keywords: American icon; Bourbon industry; Bourbon whiskey; Heritage; History; Tradition

Subjects: Branding (Marketing); Distilleries--Kentucky; Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.

GPS: Heaven Hill Distilleries (Bardstown, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0487074, -84.499245
00:45:24 - Bourbon Heritage Center and Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

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Partial Transcript: One of the things that, uh, we, uh, I'm always interested in, and I worked with, uh, your cousin Harry over at the Heritage Center.

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about the development of the Bourbon Heritage Center, and how they used Napa Valley as an inspiration. He discusses how the success of the Bourbon Heritage Center led to the opening of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. He talks about the benefits of the Bourbon Trail to the state of Kentucky. He talks about Harry Shapira's involvement in developing the visitor's center and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Keywords: American industry; Architecture; Bourbon Heritage Center; Bourbon industry; Consumers; Education; Evan Williams Bourbon Experience; Harry Shapira; Heaven Hill Distilleries; Kentucky Bourbon Trail; Kentucky tourism; Napa Valley; Opportunities; Outreach; Visitors centers

Subjects: Branding (Marketing); Consumers.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Tourism.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Word-of-mouth advertising.

GPS: Evan Williams Experience (Louisville, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.256525, -85.759476
00:52:06 - Grandparents' immigration to America

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Partial Transcript: And speaking of legacy, we're in a room with seven portraits on the walls.

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about his grandfather coming to America from Lithuania in the late 1800's. His five sons opened retail stores in small towns throughout Kentucky. The brothers were equal partners and were the initial stockholders of Heaven Hill Distilleries.

Keywords: Brothers; Family business; Family histories; Family legacies; Fathers; Generations; Grandfathers; Grandmothers; Heaven Hill Distilleries; Immigration; Peddlers; Portraits; Shapira family; Sons; Stores

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Families.; Family-owned business enterprises.; Genealogy.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.

GPS: Heaven Hill Distilleries (Bardstown, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0487074, -84.499245
00:54:26 - Drinking bourbon

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Partial Transcript: Um, I also--who else in the industry do you, do you consider, um--

Segment Synopsis: Shapira shares his favorite mixed drinks, which vary by season. He gives his favorite recipe for a bourbon sour. He describes the newly introduced Larceny bourbon. He talks about his hobbies.

Keywords: Bourbon sour; Children; Drinking bourbon; Elijah Craig 12 Year bourbon Whiskey; Gardening; Ginger ale; Grandchildren; Hobbies; Honey; Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon; Mixed drinks; On the rocks; Recipes; Relaxation; Water; Wheated bourbons

Subjects: Cocktails.; Drinking of alcoholic beverages.; Whiskey.

00:58:57 - Samuels family

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Partial Transcript: She's ready.

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about growing up with Bill Samuels. He talks about why people are interested in the bourbon business. He talks about his father's relationship with Bill Samuels, Sr.

Keywords: American whiskey; Bill Samuels; Bourbon business; Bourbon industry families; Camaraderie; Distilling; Friendships; Interest; Parents; Progress; Questions; Uncles; Wall Street

Subjects: Childhood; Distillers.; Families.; Family-owned business enterprises.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky.

01:04:32 - Bourbon marketing

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Partial Transcript: It's 10:25.

Segment Synopsis: Shapira talks about the "cowboy" image of bourbon. He talks about advertising bourbon as a mixable spirit to make it more attractive to consumers, and about striving to give consumers a broad range of tastes. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Beam family; Bourbon; Bourbon tastings; Cocktail culture; Craig Beam; Enhancing flavors; Image; Mixed drinks; Mixologists; On premise business; Parker Beam; Tastes

Subjects: Advertising.; Marketing.; Sales promotion.; Target marketing.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Whiskey.