Monday, May 15, 2017

Hey, Look. They Repainted the Water Tower Again



Brown-Forman has repainted its water tower.

Ordinarily, not news. Even when the water tower is shaped like a whiskey bottle and the new paint job reflects new packaging for the company's flagship brand. Even when they throw an event for employees, press and other guests to unveil it. Still not really news.

But it is an excuse to write something about Brown-Forman, which is, after all. the point.

The Brown-Forman water tower is a Louisville landmark, an architectural novelty -- "the only one of its kind" -- but also a symbol of Louisville's history as not just a whiskey manufacturer, but also a whiskey merchant, shipper, and financier. Whiskey has been big business in Louisville almost since the city was founded in 1778. It has had its ups and downs, but is now big again.

Brown-Forman is the last of its breed, the only major international drinks company based in Louisville, still run by its founding family.


Campbell Brown is a 5th generation member of that family. He is president of Old Forester, a Brown-Forman subsidiary dedicated to the company's founding bourbon brand, which was created by his great-great-grandfather. Old Forester is enjoying a revival along with the rest of the bourbon industry. The company is building a new Old Forester distillery and visitor's center downtown. The water tower sits atop the company's corporate offices, bottling plant, and distribution center south and west of downtown.

The water tower hasn't always been painted like an Old Forester bottle. Early Times had a turn. It has been repainted at least 62 times. But it was Old Forester in 1936 when the tower went up, a confident statement in those tough, early years after Prohibition. The bottle sits 218 feet above ground and is 62 feet, 5 inches tall. Just how committed is Brown-Forman to preserving this bit of its heritage? The water tower is no longer used. It is empty.

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey was introduced in 1870. It was the first bourbon sold exclusively in bottles. It is the only American whiskey sold pre- and post-Prohibition still made by the company that started it. It is also a family of excellent whiskeys. That may not be news but it's good to know.

NOTE: (5/16/17) The fifth paragraph above originally read "Brown-Forman is the last of its breed, the only major international drinks company based in Kentucky, still run by its founding family." I had meant to say "Louisville." I changed it after it was pointed out to me that Heaven Hill is also a "major international drinks company based in Kentucky."

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