Back in 1994 when nobody considered using Bourbon in food other than the occasional baked beans or chocolate dessert Lewis B. Shuckman of Shuckman’s Fish Co. started using Bourbon in smoking trout for a customer in Elizabethtown. It started him on a path that would lead to success in sales and opened the door for using Bourbon in many other food products. Matt Jamie and his Bourbon Barrel Foods and others like him are a success partly because Shuckman opened the door to the idea of Bourbon in food products.
The Shuckmans have been doing business in Louisville for almost a century. His grandfather Isa Shuckman lived in Chicago but married a lady from Louisville. As it happens so often in history when someone in another state marries a Kentuckian, they move back to Kentucky. In 1919 they moved to Louisville and opened Shuckman’s Meat Market and Grocery at 1601 West Kentucky Street. Isa purchased the building from Oertel’s Brewery. It had been one of their saloons but in 1919 that business was soon to come to an end with prohibition. In 1950 the family opened a fish market on the opposite corner from their Meat Market and Grocery. The separate Fish Market only lasted a few years, but fish became an important part of their business at this time. Isa’s son Alvin took over the business in 1954. His big innovation was the self-service meat market, the first in the country. Pre-cut steaks and such placed on disposable trays and wrapped in plastic wrap, with a price attached so the customer only had to come in and pick up what they wanted without waiting for a butcher to make the cut for them.
In 1974 Lewis became part of the family business. By the 1990s fish sales had been increasing while the other meats had declined so he made the decision to sell only fish. One of the things that was driving the sales of fish was in 1994 when he started selling Bourbon smoked trout to a customer in Elizabethtown, Ky. In 1996 he met Julian Van Winkle at a Bourbon event at the Seelbach Hotel and then later that year at the Bourbon Festival in Bardstown. Lewis had always liked Bourbon as a drink and he had told Julian about his Bourbon Smoked trout and invited Julian to come by and try some. Julian did that and loved the fish. The two together came up with the idea of smoked Salmon and trout using wood from barrels of Julian’s whiskey. The products have been a huge success. In 2001 Alvin passed away and Lewis became the owner of the family business. It has thrived under his leadership. Shuckman’s smoked salmon and trout are found in many markets in Louisville and elsewhere in Kentucky, and he has customers in every state of the United States. Lewis credits the fact that UPS has its hub here in Louisville for his success in other states. He can ship the product out the customer can have it the next day. Many of Shuckman’s products are also certified Kosher through Kentucky Kosher.
Lewis Shuckman is a great ambassador for Bourbon. His fish has caught the attention of people such as Emeril Lagasse who had his smoked trout at the Seelbach. Lewis happened to be eating there with a friend that evening and Lagasse asked to be introduced. Besides his use of Bourbon in his fish, Lewis is also very supportive of the industry as a whole, always saying great things about Bourbon and the Bourbon community. He is very humble about his role in all of this and very quick to give credit to other’s such as Julian Van Winkle and UPS for their role in his success, but he deserves a lot of credit for the idea of using Bourbon in other food products. He opened a door that has been used by many others to great success.
Photos Courtesy of Shuckman’s Fish Co.