Willie Pratt, master distiller emeritus of Kentucky-based whiskey producer Michter’s, has died at the age of 78.
American whiskey producer Michter’s announced Pratt’s death on 28 December.
Pratt was born in 1942 and grew up in the Kentucky city of Hazard. At the age of 20, he headed to Louisville to look for a job, ending up at Jack Daniel’s producer Brown-Forman.
The company paid for his education at the University of Louisville and he then spent more than 40 years at Brown-Forman, studying distillation, cooperage, and ageing conditions as part of the firm’s committee.
Pratt retired from Brown-Forman when he was 65 years old, but soon returned to the industry to join Michter’s as its master distiller in 2007.
Pratt oversaw Michter’s production process while it was conducted at another Kentucky distillery before the brand could afford its own site. He then managed the design and construction of Michter’s Shively Distillery in Louisville. Michter’s opened a second distillery in Louisville in 2019.
After deciding to reduce his working hours, Pratt’s master distiller position was taken over by Pam Heilmann, who eventually retired in 2019. The master distiller role was filled by Dan McKee.
McKee said: “Times like this make me realise how fortunate I was to be able to learn from one of the greats in the industry. I’m going to miss standing back in the distillery with Willie, talking about making whiskey and listening to his life stories.”
Pratt continued to serve as the company’s master distiller emeritus and remained actively involved in Michter’s production until his death.
“To work with Willie and to have him as a friend was a tremendous gift,” said Michter’s president Joseph J Magliocco. “When the challenges seemed overwhelming, that’s when Willie’s leadership would shine through. He was a paradigm of strength and courage.”
Pratt was known as ‘Dr No’ by the Michter’s sales team for his refusal to release whiskey for bottling until he deemed it ready, even though the liquid could have been significantly older than the age statement on the label.
Michter’s master of maturation Andrea Wilson added: “It is not often in your career you get to sit and listen to someone with over 50 years of experience in this industry who poured his heart and soul into every single detail. Making Bourbon was not a job to Willie, it was pure joy.”
Pratt was inducted into the Whisky Magazine‘s Hall of Fame in 2017. In addition to whisky, he enjoyed fishing in Florida, riding motorcycles and flying his Cherokee four-seater plane.
Pratt is survived by his wife Patsy, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and his dog Sophie.
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Author: Nicola Carruthers