Bourbon distillers have a long tradition of using imagery of Southern hospitality to sell their brands. Several brands have used versions of the Kentucky Colonel, pastoral scenes with horses grazing, race tracks and other romanticized images of Kentucky in their print advertisements. In the late 1950s, Stitzel-Weller ran a series of advertisements featuring prominent houses from estates in Kentucky. The theme of the advertising program was the slogan “Your Key to Hospitality”. 

The house featured in this advertisement is the Keen House at Keeneland Racetrack, near Lexington, Kentucky. The house was built in 1790 by the Keen family. Their estate and house was later sold to become Keeneland Racetrack, arguably the prettiest horse racing venue in the nation. Of course, the ad has a horse and rider in front of the house, even though in this case the rider is dressed for a fox hunt and has a dog striding beside him as he rides out to the hunt. In the foreground of the image is a silver tray with a bottle of Old Fitzgerald Bonded Bourbon, a couple of glasses and a key.

The “Your Key to Hospitality” campaign grew out of Stitzel-Weller’s use of the five keys to making Bourbon philosophy. Julian Van Winkle believed that the five keys to making a great Bourbon were 1) grains, 2) water, 3) fermentation, 4) distillation and 5) maturation. He would talk about the grains – finest quality corn, wheat and malted barley. The water is always Kentucky limestone water. Fermentation was good old sour mashing. Distillation is in copper stills and maturation is not rushing the process and bottling in bond. The distillery had five bronze keys on a bronze ring hanging on the door to the office building at the distillery. United Distillers decided to replace the door in the mid-1990s and the bronze keys disappeared at that time. Maybe Diageo will locate the keys and bring them back to the door of the office. 

The advertising campaign from the late 1950s featured several other historic homes. In the Taylor-Hay Family collection at the Filson Historical Society, there is a letter of July 1957, from Van Winkle answering Taylor Hay’s letter discussing the use of their home, “Scotland” in one of the advertisements. Van Winkle tells Hay that yes, he knew his great – grandfather, E.H. Taylor Jr., and his father Jacob Taylor, quite well and had great respect for the men. He was honored to use the image of Jacob’s house in the advertisement. Jacob Taylor had purchased the house and farm from the Scott family in the 1890s.

Images of Southern Hospitality and life are a common theme for Bourbon advertisements since the 19th century. This tradition carried forward into the 20th century and is still a popular theme in the 21st century. This Old Fitzgerald magazine advertisement is a typical use of the theme throughout the history of Bourbon advertising.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller