Letterheads often have interesting images. They are often the only image available to a researcher of an old distillery. They can also be deceiving. In this case there is an image of a distillery on the W.L. Weller & Sons letterhead, but they did not own a distillery at that time or any prior time to this letterhead. It is an example of the kind of marketing tactics that are still in use today. The distillery depicted was probably the one they were using to contract distill their whiskey.
In the 19th century there was a lot of contract distilling in the industry. Many firms, such as W.L. Weller & Sons, did not own a distillery but sold whiskey and other spirits. The firm would go to a distillery and contract with them to make a whiskey to their specification. We know that this was what W.L. Weller & Sons did in the early 20th century because there is a contract with A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery to make whiskey for W.L. Weller & Sons in 1912 (it was not a wheated Bourbon). On the letterhead, W.L. Weller & Sons call themselves “Distillers and Wholesale Liquor Dealers”, but I have never seen a record of a Weller owned distillery in government records before the creation of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1935. They were practicing a marketing ploy used by many rectifiers to this day.
Contract distilling is a compromise between owning a distillery and purchasing whiskey on the bulk market. When contract distilling there is a certain amount of control over the flavor profile of the whiskey in the barrel. The mash bill, distillation proof, the type of cooperage used and barrel entry proof can all specified in the contract. When purchasing whiskey on the bulk market, there is less control of these factors and flavor profile. However, sourcing bulk whiskey was probably much cheaper.
The one fact I find most interesting on this letterhead is the address of the firm. They were located on the S.E. Corner of Main and Brook Sts., at 83 & 85 Brook Street in Louisville. This shows that whiskey row was also on the connecting streets between Main and Market. Weller was not the only firm along these connecting streets and as these companies grew and became more profitable, they would move to Main Street. This is what W.L. Weller & Sons did in 1899 when they purchased their new office from Bernheim Bros. on the north side of Main Street between 1st and 2nd Streets.
Images from the archives of Michael Veach