The Future Of Bulleit Bourbon Is Uncertain In the Midst of Allegations Of Sexual Assault
The number of sales is on the rise. Nonetheless, the Bulleit family is dealing with its own #MeToo moment in the shadows.
The history of whisk(e)y is rooted in tales of family recipes that have been passed down through the generations.
It’s all a little far-fetched, because the truth is often more nuanced and, on occasion, downright disturbing. A fascinating story is unfolding in the Bulleit case.
You may trace your lineage back to one of the oldest distilleries in the world, a great-great-grandfather who manufactured whiskey, and the great-great-grandson of that great-great-grandfather, who became a lawyer in Lexington but wanted to revive his family’s tradition.
When you visit a distillery, they’ll tell you that story, but it covers some sad fact.
The founder of Bulleit whiskey has recently stepped down as a spokesperson and public face of the brand following allegations of physical and sexual abuse by his daughter.
A global brand ambassador, Hollis Bulleit, daughter of founder Tom Bulleit, was reportedly sacked from the company two years prior, according to the Washington Post. The former family-owned business had been acquired by beverages giant Diageo.
Hollis said she was fired because of homophobia in a series of Facebook posts. Moreover, she accused Diageo, the business’s now-parent corporation, of failing to provide adequate protection or precautions. It appears that her Facebook post has been removed.)
The Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index gives Diageo a pristine 100/100 rating as an LGBT-friendly employer until then.
Diageo claimed to have offered Hollis a multi-year deal prior to her departure from the corporation.
While the Bulleit family looked to be eliminating their daughter Hollis from the brand’s history, at least according to the Post piece, Hollis was still considered by the beverages industry at large to be the public face of the whiskey (a role she had played for nearly two decades).
She was inducted into the Dame Hall of Fame at Tales of the Cocktail in 2014 for her contributions to the industry.
By reporting that a “mutually agreeable agreement” had been struck between Hollis and Diageo, the Lexington Herald Leader made it appear that the dispute had been resolved.
Then, this year, Hollis (who now goes as Hollis B Worth) started creating new Facebook posts referencing her father’s claimed domestic violence and sexual abuse of her.
It was on August 13th, that she provided a more full account of her family’s past, accusing her father of sexual assault and forcing her to pose for naked images as a youngster.
Diageo ordered the Bulleit founder to stand down from public representation of the brand before the public Facebook posts, possibly around July; this appeared to be a response to letters from Hollis and her lawyers to the corporation that set out more comprehensive claims.
Worth, on the other hand, told the spirits blog Neat Pour recently that she was ignorant of Diageo’s recent “benching” of her father and questioned why the company or Tom’s solicitors had not directly contacted her about the latest decision.
Hollis elaborated on this in a series of emails to InsideHook.
As far as I know, no one from [Diageo’s] internal investigation ever contacted me,” she stated in an email.
I find it hard to imagine that, after consulting with specialists in the field of sexual abuse, Diageo would think it was okay or respectful for me to hear about any movement in our issue first from a reporter after more than a month of not hearing anything from them.
While Tom Bulleit sits on the sidelines, I believe he will continue to get his consulting salary, as well as royalties on the sales of his cases.
It’s a safe bet that Diageo will continue to make money as a result. That doesn’t mean that just having Tom “walk away” doesn’t mean that the company’s internal policies or corporate climate have been changed.
In a post-#metoo culture, I believe that Diageo is misjudging the intellect of the customer and instead of offering actual solutions, they are distracting the public.
It was reported recently in the Herald-Leader that Hollis was advocating a boycott of Bulleit, which Hollis denied. (When we questioned if she had requested boycotts, she said, “No.”)
Several bartenders have voluntarily opted out of serving Bulleit bourbon on Facebook groups dedicated to beverages, bar professionals, and bar media (and will explain to customers their reasons, if asked).
Nevertheless, there are many who believe Diageo’s recent action is a “step in the right direction” for the brand and are willing to see the whiskey served in its current form in the future.
Tom Bulleit has vehemently denied any and all charges.
For now, he has “willingly agreed to step back from my ambassadorship role while we respect our promise to establish the untruth of Hollis’s charges in complete openness and good faith” in a recent statement.
He also said the abuse charges are “monetarily motivated.”
There’s received a statement from a Diageo spokesman claiming that the company “learned about charges of abuse, directed at her father, through a recent letter from Ms. Worth’s (née Bulleit) attorney.
Ms. Worth or anybody else had not previously brought these allegations to Diageo’s attention. Even if these accusations were true, we couldn’t verify them, therefore we determined that Mr. Bulleit should stand down as a brand ambassador.”
A long and equally troubling/detailed look at that procedure can be found here. Diageo also restated its preference to extend Hollis a contract and its commitment to a business culture that “supports diversity and does not discriminate on any grounds, including sexual orientation.”
Bulleit’s sales are up 8% this year, according to the Herald Leader, and the new $115 million distillery’s $10 million visitor centre just opened.
And for most people, that’s tragically where the tale ends.