Kentucky Distillers' Association - The Class of 2019 Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Inductees

A distillery’s master distiller is often the face of the bourbon brand but as industry insider’s know there are many, many people behind the still that a make it all possible. Beginning in 2001 the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival created the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame to recognize these distillers and the many behind the scenes people that have contributed to the success of America’s Native Spirit and today’s bourbon renaissance.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival - 2019 Kentucky Bourbon Festival Poster
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2019 Kentucky Bourbon Festival Poster (Click to enlarge.)

The 2019 Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame inductees will be recognized at a special event that takes place as a part of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival that takes place September 18-22, 2019.

“This year’s inductees have advanced many facets of Kentucky’s signature industry. From executive leadership, to production, to marketing and brand promotion; this year’s class truly represents a wide influence on Bourbon culture,” said Kentucky Bourbon Festival Chairman Josh Hollifield of Barton 1792 Distillery.

“This is a special year as six venerable professionals whose dedication, ingenuity and enthusiasm have contributed to Kentucky’s Bourbon boom will be so publicly recognized,” said Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “Each of these industry champions has found ways to influence and spur the growth of Kentucky’s beloved Bourbon industry, and it’s time we show our sincere appreciation for their vision and commitment to our timeless craft.”

The Complete List of 2019 Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Inductees

This year’s class includes six inductees including one that will receive the prestigious Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award. Inductees include:

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Candidates may be nominated each year by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, its member distilleries and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival from four categories including Industry, Journalism, Roll of Honor and Lifetime Achievement. Nominees are then sent to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association Board of Directors for final selection.

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The 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award to Even Kulsveen of Willett Distillery

Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame - Even G. Kulsveen Executive Director at Willett Distillery
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Even G. Kulsveen Executive Director at Willett Distillery.

Even G. Kulsveen will be honored with the prestigious Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award. Born in Norway, Kulsveen’s attention to detail served him well in the myriad of roles he has taken on throughout his life. He moved to America at the age of 14 and went to college in Gunnison, Colorado. He later served in the merchant marines where he worked as a chef.

“Kulsveen is an exemplary figure whose progressive strategy in the global market allowed him to position his family’s company as an influential brand at home and abroad, said Rick Robinson, Chairman of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s Board of Directors.

“Even has demonstrated disciplined leadership, strategic decision-making and bold forward-thinking ” said Robinson, who is Vice President of the Global Supply Chain for Campari. “He has built a family legacy that will last for generations to come, and we thank him for his significant contributions to Kentucky’s booming Bourbon industry.”

Kulsveen got to know Thompson Willett, owner of what is now Willett Distillery, while working as a glass decanter craftsman. He married Willett’s daughter, Martha, and together Even and Martha purchased the distillery property from her father in 1984.

His expertise in export markets became an immediate and imperative value. While popularity for brown spirits in the U.S. was on the decline, Asian markets demonstrated a thirst for whiskey and an appreciation for artistic packaging.

Kulsveen positioned Willett to provide the best of both. He even took Japanese language classes at night to better serve his clients. During the distillery’s dormant years (hard to believe today), Kulsveen sold premium-aged products overseas, marketing single barrel and small batch selections. He developed the heightened palate discretion of a Master Blender – a gift that has shaped Willett’s current boutique small batch collection.

Willett Distillery remains independently family owned and operated. Under the leadership of parents Even and Martha Willett Kulsveen, siblings Britt and Drew Kulsveen are continuing the family tradition of spirits excellence, generosity and southern hospitality.

Willett President Britt Kulsveen said, “Our father has lived several lifetimes with all of the career paths he has taken – from tending bar to having a glass factory that produced decanters and envisioning the kingdom we have built together as a family today.

“We have always said that he is lifetime’s ahead of his time with all of the innovative, genius creations he has imagined and brought to fruition,” she said. “This award is a long time coming.”

The award is named for Parker Beam, who joined Heaven Hill in 1960 as a sixth-generation distiller in his storied family. He became Master Distiller in 1975 and earned numerous awards for distilling, aging and selecting some of the world’s most acclaimed Bourbons. Beam was named Master Distiller Emeritus in 2013 shortly after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. His public advocacy for ALS research, care and awareness has generated millions for his “Promise of Hope” fund. Beam died in 2017 at the age of 75.

“We look forward to celebrating these six distinguished individuals by paying tribute to their hard work and life-long dedication to preserving and improving Kentucky’s distilling heritage,” Gregory said.

The induction ceremony will be held September 19th on the grounds of My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, the Bourbon Capital of the World as a part of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

View all Kentucky Distilleries.
View all Bardstown Distilleries.

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