Who Are We and Where Did We Come From?

Bill Welter, founder of Journeyman Distillery

My name is Bill Welter, I’m 35 years old, and grew up in Valparaiso, Indiana. This distillery probably should have never happened, but because of a multitude of circumstances, somehow, it has happened, and I’m thrilled that it has.

Going back a couple of generations, my grandfather sold his auto dealership in 1970, at the age of 56. Knowing almost nothing about banking, he decided to jump right in; he bought First National Bank of Valparaiso: a true entrepreneur!  However, a tough banking and economic environment, along with lack of experience, led the bank to the brink of bankruptcy.  My grandfather, in an effort to save the bank, asked my father to join him in business and turn things around.  Under my father’s leadership as president and CEO, some very lean years in the 80’s finally gave way to prosperity in the 90’s, and even better years in the 2000’s.  I joined my father at the bank on a full-time basis in 2001, and was as committed as he was to perpetuating the family business.  The rest of our family thought otherwise, and after several years of battles, FNB was sold against my father’s wishes and efforts. Forty years of Welters in banking had ended, and in 2006, upon the sale of the bank, I quit my job and began my new life.

It took me a while to get back on my feet.  It’s not every day that life plans are turned upside down. I had no plan B; banking was what our family did.  I was going to have to make my way and come up with my own journey.

Golf was the only other thing that had been a constant in my life. At one point, I had a goal to play professionally.  After playing D1 golf at Mo St. I didn’t have the same competitive fire that I once had, and upon graduating, I decided to take a year out and spent that time at the home of Golf, St. Andrews, Scotland.  I debated back and forth as to whether or not I should go.  I didn’t know anyone in St. Andrews, and quite frankly, I was just scared to venture out to a foreign place where I’d have to make my own way.  In the end, I decided to go, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was a decision that set in motion the events that led me to where I am today.  Scotland was a real learning and growing experience.  I learned more in that year than I did during my entire time at Mo St.  Also, St. Andrews is where I met Greg Ramsay, by chance.  He was working as a master bar man at the Old Course Hotel, pouring up some of world’s best Scotch from one of the largest collections in the world.  Little did I know that Greg would be instrumental in the development of Journeyman Distillery. In 2005, Greg consulted on the opening of Nant Distillery in Tasmania, AUS.  While I was working at the bank, Greg kept me abreast of the developments of the distillery; I was even one of the first supporters of the distillery when I bought cask of their single malt, which is still quietly sleeping at Nant.

After the bank was sold, I pursued that goal of playing professional golf and in 06-07, I toiled around on the Gateway tour in Arizona.  My heart and spirit weren’t in it, and needless to say it wasn’t paying the bills.  I had achieved my goal of competing, but it wasn’t what I needed to do.  My travels would continue, this time landing me in Chicago.  I wanted to explore the idea of the restaurant business but I had no experience and felt I should get some.  I started working at a local restaurant in Lincoln Park at a very well run restaurant.  I spent two years there and learned a lot but I also learned that I didn’t want to operate a restaurant.  All the twists and turns and bumps in the road.  I eventually left the restaurant to pursue Journeyman Distillery full time.

One thing I’ve learned from all of this is that life has a funny way of working out. Journeyman Distillery is a lot of things for me; it’s pursuing an idea even when you don’t quite know where it’s going to take you. It’s about taking a risk even though there are no guarantees. It’s about family and carrying on the entrepreneur spirit and a tribute to those that laid the groundwork.  It’s about traveling and opening eyes and minds to new ideas, new friends and new experiences.  But mostly, I think great whiskey starts with a great story, and we all have a story to tell. We all have the different paths that we have chosen and none of us ever really knows what will happen from one day to the next.  Perhaps our paths will cross one of these days and you can sit back, relax, and tell me how you ended up at Journeyman Distillery.  Thanks for letting me tell my story.  Stop by and tell us yours!

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2 Comments

  1. Todd
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    Very exciting stuff. Looking forward to my visit to Three Oaks…

  2. Charlotte
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    Bill, love your website! Very well done.

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