Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc was founded in Bardstown, Kentucky in 1934, not long after the abolition of Prohibition. Named for William Heavenhill, the company was established by a group of investors including Joseph L Beam and the brothers Shapira: David, Ed, George, Mose and Gary. It was a risky venture from the start; the company did not own whiskey stocks and the Great Depression had reached lofty heights. The business began with just twelve employees and the first barrel was filled on 13th December 1935 bearing the label Bourbon Falls. During the Second World War the distillery halted general whiskey production and instead focussed its efforts on producing alcohol for the war effort. It was in 1957 that the Evan Williams brand was launched by Heaven Hill, named for the man credited as Kentucky’s first distiller. The new brand quickly became a success.
In 1986, Heaven Hill launched the original small batch bourbon, named Elijah Craig for the so-called ‘Father of Bourbon’, a Virginia reverend whose barn caught fire and consequently a good number of his barrels were burnt. Rather than discarding them, Elijah filled the charred receptacles with new whiskey and found that both colour and flavour were greatly improved. Today, his namesake twelve year-old whiskey is the second best-selling bourbon in America. Bourbon is, by no measure, the sole drink that Heaven Hill distributed. In 1988, the company became the licensed agent for Invergordon Distillers, subsequently Whyte and Mackay, and they began importing Scotch whisky. A year later, Heaven Hill acquired the gin brand, Burnett, the bourbon brand Henry McKenna and a Canadian whisky called Harwood. Two years later, Heaven Hill launched Burnett’s Vodka.
During the 1990s the company became a prolific drinks brand with the acquisition of Dubonnet, Coronet VSQ, Copa De Oro Coffee Liqueur and several other liqueurs and spirits brands. Today, Heaven Hill is the seventh largest distributor of bourbon in the US and their massive storage facilities hold 750,000 barrels of maturing whiskey. The company remain independently owned.