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Harlen Wheatley, distilling corn, rye, and barley

Kentucky Bourbon FestivalA recent trip to Bardstown for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival immersed me in all things bourbon. It only makes sense, then, to share the wealth here at the crazy, though highly esteemed, Blog of Funny Names. If you’ve been around for my monthly Funny Names in Food posts, you’re no stranger to bourbon. (Pappy was mentioned here and the ladies Rebecca and Ruth here.) Just the same, there’s always another funny name in the bourbon barrel.

Though I love bourbon enough to travel nearly 800 miles for an event that celebrates this American spirit, what excites me most is the process by which its made. Our recent trip, then, included visits to a half-dozen or so distilleries. More on the bourbon-making process can be found at food for fun, but a basic tenet of distilleries is that they all do things the same except for when they do them differently. One distillery may use a ratio of 60/30/10 for corn/rye/malted barley while another uses 55/37/8. Distillery A could char their barrels to level 4; distillery B to 2. These differences are what make each distillery’s bourbon uniquely its own. And the Grand Poo-Bah making those decisions is the Master Distiller.

a fine-looking man is Wheatly (photo credit: Bourbon & Beans)

a fine-looking man is Wheatley (photo credit: Bourbon & Beans)

While those Kentucky boys (bourbon trivia: 95% of all bourbons come from Kentucky) have not been gifted with overly funny names, Harlen Wheatley, Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace, stood out as a man whose name earns him a post here at BoFN.

Becoming a Master Distiller requires science smarts (a degree in Chemistry is required) as well as a palate refined enough to taste every nuance. Wheatley qualifies with both the degrees (Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and minor in math from Northern Kentucky University as well as another B.S. in Chemical Engineering from University of Kentucky) and the taste buds.

He’s one of the younger MDs, having been born as recently as 1969 in Mount Sterling, Kentucky. Wheatley started at Buffalo Trace as Distillery Supervisor in 1995, where he received intensive on-the-job training from then-MD Gary Gayheart. Additional responsibilities in bourbonesque departments such as powerhouse/boiler room, maintenance, and warehousing led to his promotion to Distillery Manager in 2000.

Gayheart’s (oh such a delightful name) retirement in 2005 made way for Wheatley to attain the MD throne, where he works with everything from incoming raw materials to barrel aging to final product. Should you have an extra eightish minutes, you can learn more about the life of a MD from Wheatley himself by watching him strut his stuff.

Until next time, thanks for hanging out here at BoFN’s FNiF! – LizSeal_LLC (2)

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About Liz

Owner of deLizious Food Communications. Projects include recipe development, editing, and formatting; food writing and editing; nutrition analysis; public speaking and cooking instruction. Past and present clients: General Mills, Green Giant Fresh, Hormel, Minnesota Beef Council, Minnesota Soybean, Minnesota Pork Producers, Norwood Promotional Products, Pillsbury, Tad Ware, and Weight Watchers Publishing. Mother of two young girls.
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20 Responses to Harlen Wheatley, distilling corn, rye, and barley

  1. ksbeth says:

    omg, the perfect name!

  2. So do you think it takes longer to become a master distiller type MD or the doctor type MD?

    Love the names, Buffalo Trace, Gary Gayheart (I bet he loved his job) and Harlan Wheatley.

  3. kerbey says:

    I love a Grand Poo Bah reference. And this sentence was remarkable: they all do things the same except for when they do them differently. Clearly. I like how Wheatley is touching barrels the color of wheat and wearing clothes the color of wheat. He is serious about grain.

    • Liz says:

      lol, I thought that about his wardrobe choice, too. The distillery itself is also done in those warm, bland beiges. Did (figurative) cartwheels when I found an occasion to use “Grand Poo-Bah” πŸ˜€ Clearly.

  4. A bourbon festival. I am so jealous.

  5. wdydfae says:

    I been out of the loop here, Liz but really enjoyed your latest! Your writing always gets better and you should have a syndicated column by now, golshdurnit.

    I’m glad you had a great trip and experience, too!

    I always went for bourbon over scotch, and used to do boilermakers in my younger days. But if I drank hard alcohol straight now I’d probably keel over, though not after a violent episode of vomiting.

    Whoa, hope I didn’t gross you out!

    • Liz says:

      Diddy! So happy to see you πŸ™‚ Er, I mean, you think you can just wander by and make comments willy nilly without having some sort of commitment around here? Oh, that’s right, you can. Never mind.

      Appreciate your kind words. Do you know anyone hiring a syndicated columnist? I love writing and it comes relatively easily, but haven’t made any efforts to making $$ off of it outside of the writing I do for my clients. Was thinking we should put together a funny names book. It would be awesome!

      You didn’t gross me out, but thanks for caring. There was no vomit involved because you said NOT after, so that means you didn’t vomit. Right? Right? I’m off to google boilermakers now. Ta-ta and come back again!!

  6. Dave says:

    That’s so awesome! I’ll have to hit up a bourbon festival one of these days. I loved this line: there’s always another funny name in the bourbon barrel. That should be my personal motto!

    I’m really impressed by how much education is required to become a master distiller. I had no idea! Great post, and great name, Liz!

    • Liz says:

      Thanks, Dave. You would have loved the festival. Friendly folk everywhere. Yep, let’s TM “always another funny name in the bourbon barrel” as the BoFN motto or tagline. Not going to let you steal it as your personal thing. Sorry.

      Master Distillers have to know a lot and I think I’d like to be one. Though we were told at one distillery that without the palate, all the degrees in the world won’t do a thing. You’re either born with the right taste buds or your not. There’s more bourbon at food for fun should you be interested. I know how you always like those alcohol posts πŸ˜‰

  7. Arto says:

    I wanna do a bourbon tour! With Mr. Wheatly of course. Mt. Sterling sounds like a good solid place to hail from. Nice job, Liz, hope you saved some bourbon for me!

    • Liz says:

      Kentucky seems a lovely state–thinking I was a Southern girl in a former life. Could live with grits for breakfast πŸ™‚ And bourbon, of course–at least after 10 a.m. We brought a few bottles home and I’m happy to share. *Liz hands over a glass of her favorite bourbon and a really big ice cube* Cheers!

  8. Pingback: distilling bourbon with the angels and mr. wheatley | food for fun

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