Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Even Kulsveen, April 8, 2018

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

 

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00:00:00 - Early life

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Partial Transcript: --and anytime.

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen briefly discusses his life prior to beginning the lifetime of work he is so well-known for.

Keywords: Airplanes; Altitude; Colleges; Hotels; Pilot's licenses; Power run; Ski teams; Small towns; Thompson Willett; Tom Burny; Virginia Willett; Western State College; Western State University of Colorado

Subjects: Childhood; Denver (Colo.); Education

00:05:44 - Career and businesses

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Partial Transcript: Now, not too long after--unless my timeline is incorrect and it very well could be--um, you served in the Merchant Marines.

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen discusses the jobs that he held before opening up his own businesses, such as being a cook, bartending, and brokering for distilleries. He also talks briefly about the glass factory that he opened.

Keywords: Bars; Bartenders; Brokers; Cars; Colleges; Cooks; Customers; Decanters; Distribution; Fire engines; Hiram Walker; Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery; Jack Daniel Distillery; Jim Beam; KahlĂșa; Lancers; Mateus; Mistala; Pacesetter; Placements; Porcelain bottles; Products; Rocky Mountain states; Rolling stock; Smirnoff; Test markets; United States Merchant Marines

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Brokers.; Businesspeople.; Distillers.; Distributors (Commerce); Jobs & careers

00:13:59 - Meeting the Willett family

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Partial Transcript: And, so, now, that's how you got to know the Willetts, right?

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen discusses how he came into contact with members of the Willett family and how he eventually married John David Willett's sister.

Keywords: Brokers; Distilleries; Ireland; John David Willett; London (England); Monte Carlo; Norway

Subjects: Families.; Kentucky.; Marriage

00:17:57 - Buying and remodeling the Willett Distillery

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Partial Transcript: And so, at what point did you buy the distillery from Grandfather?

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen discusses the process of buying the old Willett Distilling Company from companies that had bought different parts of it at auction, as well as remodeling the distillery after generating enough income from bottling other people's products. He also talks about Old Bardstown Bourbon and what made people enjoy the flavor of it, as well as his son coming aboard and helping with the distillery.

Keywords: Auctions; Bottle houses; Bottled-in-Bond 100 Proof Whiskey; Bottles; Bottling; Drew Kulsveen; Equipment; Flavor profiles; Fuel alcohol; Income; Inventories; Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD); Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.; Liquor; Malted barley; Marketing; Old Bardstown Bourbon; Production; Products; Red Horse; Remodeling; Restoring; Warehousing; Whiskey; Willett Distillery; Willett Distilling Company

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Businesspeople.; Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Family businesses; Family-owned business enterprises.; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.

00:27:11 - The Kulsveen pot still

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Partial Transcript: Now, I know that when you first started out you primarily, uh, did most of our business overseas because the States, they just weren't ready for premium, small batch, single barrel, aged product.

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen discusses the equipment used at the distillery. He talks about designing his own pot still and how he got what he wanted out of it in terms of distilling.

Keywords: Bourbon whiskey; Copper; Designs; Drew Kulsveen; Equipment; Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD); Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.; Knowledge; Pot stills; Products; Versatility; Vindum Engineering; Willett Distillery; Willett Distilling Company; Willett doubler

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Business enterprises, Foreign.; Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Family businesses; Family-owned business enterprises.; Whiskey industry

00:30:39 - Running a family business

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Partial Transcript: I know that you said that being in a family business is the hardest kind of business there is.

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen discusses the life that he provided for his children when they were little and them coming to work for him at the distillery. He talks about the struggles that coincide with running a family business.

Keywords: Attorney; Bourbon whiskey; Children; Doctors; Drew Kulsveen; Fate; Floor displays; Karate; Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD); Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.; Liquor stores; Louisiana State University; Meal worms; Siblings; Vacation; Willett Distillery; Willett Distilling Company

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Businesspeople.; Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Family businesses; Family-owned business enterprises.

00:34:18 - His goals for the distillery

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Partial Transcript: Um, is there anything that you haven't accomplished that you want to accomplish with our business and where we are today?

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen discusses some of the goals that he has for his family's distillery in the future. Some of his most famous brands of bourbon are also listed.

Keywords: Bourbon whiskey; Cars; Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD); Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.; Kentucky Vintage Bourbon; Labels; Noah's Mill Bourbon; Perfectionists; Products; Property; Pure Kentucky Bourbon; Rowan's Creek Bourbon; Willett Distillery; Willett Distilling Company

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Family businesses; Family-owned business enterprises.; Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.; Whiskey industry; Willett Distilling Company

00:36:46 - His advice for his grandchildren

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Partial Transcript: So, now, if, you know, Scout, uh, who's seven today--my daughter--and then Drew's children, Barron who's eight and Bridgett who is six...

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen shares some advice that he has for his grandchildren when or if they decide to go into the family business.

Keywords: Agreements; Barron Kulsveen; Bourbon whiskey; Bridgett Kulsveen; Contracts; Drew Kulsveen; Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD); Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.; Scout Chavanne; Willett Distillery; Willett Distilling Company

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Family businesses; Family-owned business enterprises.

00:38:56 - His favorite memories of the Thompson and Virginia Willett house

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Partial Transcript: So, I'm going to ask you one last question as we're sitting here in Grandmother and Grandfather's house in the bar--

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen talks about his favorite memories of his in-laws' house and how he likes to remember times with his family.

Keywords: Bad times; Drinks; Food; Good times; Parties; Thompson Willett; Virginia Willett

Subjects: Families.; Memories.

00:41:04 - Leaving home at fifteen

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Partial Transcript: Could you comment on what you imagined your life would have been--was going to be when you left home at fifteen...

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen discusses what it was like leaving home when he was fifteen, joining the Norwegian Merchant Marines, and how he came to move to the United States of America, specifically in Kentucky.

Keywords: Adventurous; Charming; Curious; Norwegian Merchant Marines

Subjects: Europe.; Kentucky.; Norway; Travel.

00:43:47 - The column still

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Partial Transcript: I've got one too, if that's okay.

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen briefly talks about the expectations he had when buying the distillery. He also tells the story of the column still that he bought from Schenley Industries as well as the connections that Thompson Willett had throughout the alcohol industry.

Keywords: Bill Samuels Jr.; Bill Samuels Sr.; Booker Noe; Bourbon whiskey; Column stills; Equipment; Fears; Frederick Booker Noe II; Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD); Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.; Lakes; Lewis Rosenstiel; Maker's Mark Distillery; Schenley Distillers Corporation; Schenley Distillers Inc.; Schenley Industries; Thompson Willett; Vision; Whiskey Row; Willett Distillery; Willett Distilling Company

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Family businesses; Family-owned business enterprises.

00:49:09 - Marketing strategies / International sales

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Partial Transcript: Could you talk about like the, the pivotal business, um, moves or marketing things that happened or markets that happened for Willett...

Segment Synopsis: Kulsveen discusses the marketing strategies of Willett Distilling Company, as well as where most of their business came from prior to the demand for bourbon in the United States.

Keywords: Advertising; Bourbon whiskey; Efforts; Germany; International sales; Japan; Jim Beam; Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD); Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.; Marketing; Markets; Products; Wholesalers; Willett Distillery; Willett Distilling Company

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Business enterprises, Foreign.; Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Family businesses; Family-owned business enterprises.