Long before there was a highly sought-after wheated whiskey named for him, William LaRue Weller was a whiskey rectifier who, ironically, didn’t even drink. He had fought in the Mexican War alongside Zachary Taylor after he was orphaned in a Typhus epidemic as a child that wiped out most of the Weller family in LaRue County, Kentucky. Typhus spread easily through the underground limestone aquifers where most people got their water.
As his business grew, Weller hired Alex T. Farnsley and Julian P. Van Winkle as salesmen for his rectified products. The pair would later buy the business from Weller’s sons after W.L.’s death in 1896.
Weller never sold a wheated bourbon- that’s a recipe that was developed after Prohibition nearly 30 years after his death. Instead he bought his whiskey from the Stitzel brothers, who later sold whiskey to Farnsley and Van Winkle after they bought W.L. Weller and Sons. Van Winkle, Farnsley, and the Stitzel brothers merged their businesses after Prohibition was over to form Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Shively. The trio developed the wheated whiskey because they thought it would taste better at a younger age.
Weller was never hugely successful, but he made some major contributions to the city of Louisville. He was one of the founding members of the Baptist Orphan Home, serving on the board for a significant portion of his life. He was the person who interviewed prospective adoptive parents to be sure the children would be going to a good home.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl