Known to his peers as “Dr. No” for his laser focus on quality and his steadfast refusal to release whiskey for bottling until he deemed it just right, Michter’s Distillery released a statement about the passing of Master Distiller Emeritus Willie Pratt on Sunday, December 27, 2020.
Pratt joined Michter’s Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky early on back in 2007 at the time when Michter’s was getting all its spirits from another distillery in the state. When Pratt started his tenure at the company he oversaw Michter’s offsite production program before Michter’s could afford its own brick and mortar facility. Eventually Willie oversaw the design and the building of the state-of-the-art Michter’s Shively Distillery.
Born in 1942 to a school teacher mother and a coal miner father living in the town of Hazard in Eastern Kentucky, Pratt set out to Louisville to seek employment at age 20. He joined the great distiller Brown-Forman, which paid for his education as he attended evening classes and earned his degree from University of Louisville. Pratt worked over four decades in a variety of positions at Brown-Forman, where he served for a period of years on the company’s committee studying distillation, cooperage, and aging conditions.
Pratt retired from Brown-Forman at the age of 65 but his passion for the bourbon industry led him back to work in 2007 when he joined Michter’s as its Master Distiller. When Willie decided to work a reduced schedule, he turned over the Michter’s Master Distiller position to Pam Heilmann, who was eventually succeeded by current Master Distiller Dan McKee. Willie continued to serve as the company’s Master Distiller Emeritus and remained actively involved in Michter’s production until his passing.
In 2017 Pratt was inducted into The Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame. “To work with Willie and to have him as a friend was a tremendous gift. When the challenges seemed overwhelming, that’s when Willie’s leadership would shine through. He was a paradigm of strength and courage,” said Michter’s President Joseph J. Magliocco.
“Laser focused on quality, Willie was good naturedly referred to as “Dr. No” by the Michter’s salespeople for his refusing to release whiskey for bottling until he deemed it just right, even though the whiskey may have been significantly older than the age statement on the label.”
“Times like this make me realize how fortunate I was to be able to learn from one of the greats in the industry. I’m going to miss standing back in the distillery with Willie, talking about making whiskey and listening to his life stories,” said Michter’s Master Distiller Dan McKee.
Michter’s Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson commented, “It is not often in your career you get to sit and listen to someone with over 50 years of experience in this industry who poured his heart and soul into every single detail. Making bourbon was not a job to Willie, it was pure joy.”
“It was my pleasure and the opportunity of a lifetime to work with Willie,” said Michter’s Master Distiller Emerita Pam Heilmann. “The years we had together enhanced my learning and grew my knowledge of the bourbon industry by virtue of his wisdom and tutelage.”
Willie’s hobbies included fishing in Florida, riding motorcycles, and flying his Cherokee four-seater. He is survived by his beloved wife Patsy, his children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren and his dog Sophie.
We hope you are collecting on all that Angel’s Share you sent up to heaven over the years Willie. Cheers!