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A Toast to Max Shapira '65

Max Shapira, president of Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc. since 1996, has been named industry executive of the year by Market Watch, a drinks industry publication.

Over the last couple of years last year, Shapira’s company has added to its operations, building a $9.5 million distillery, tourist attraction and retail shop called The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience (named for its core bourbon brand) in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

Shapira, who graduated from W&L in 1965 and was a finalist in Business First’s Business of the Year awards program last year, was honored for taking the family-owned and operated company “beyond its traditional bourbon roots and transforming it into the nation’s sixth-largest spirits player, with a diversified portfolio of whiskies, liqueurs, vodkas, rums and other spirits,” according to a news release.

With the demand for bourbon exploding in the U.S. and around the world—sales of Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams rose 15.3 percent last year, and sales of Burnett’s Vodka rose 15.3 percent—the company is planning to invest $10.2 million to add two new barrel-aging warehouses and another $5.1 million to increase production capacity by 50 percent at its Bernheim Distillery.

“Heaven Hill is a great example of a family-run business,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distiller’s Association, in an article on the Louisville Business First website. He noted that what the Shapira family has been able to do—opening the distillery after prohibition and building it into a global icon—is nothing short of incredible.

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