Harlen Wheatley, BSChE 1994
Inducted in 2021
Born in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, Harlen Wheatley has spent nearly his entire life in the Bluegrass State. After relocating and spending much of his youth in Florence, Kentucky, Wheatley attended Northern Kentucky University, where he attained his degree in chemistry. He then migrated to full-time work at a chemical company in central Kentucky while completing a chemical engineering degree at the University of Kentucky. Wheatley’s education at UK enabled him to gain formal training in distillation and separation techniques, which has served him well throughout his famed career in the bourbon industry.
Wheatley joined the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, as a supervisor in 1995. Not long after, it was rechristened Buffalo Trace Distillery, whereupon it introduced its flagship Buffalo Trace Bourbon. It marked a new era in the distillery’s esteemed history, and Wheatley continued to make his mark as he was promoted to distillery manager in 2000.
Wheatley was named master distiller of Buffalo Trace Distillery in 2005, becoming Buffalo Trace’s sixth master distiller since the Civil War. Since then, he has become synonymous with Buffalo Trace and helped it become one of the most decorated brands in the bourbon industry. An innovator in his field, Wheatley oversees all distilling operations for Sazerac Company, many of which he has developed for the distillery’s family of products.
Having worked in every aspect of production from raw materials to barrel aging as master distiller, Wheatley has driven many initiatives, including solidifying standards and consistency, promoting quality and increasing efficiency. While leading and directing all distilling and barrel aging for the Sazerac Company, he also educates the public on some of the world’s finest bourbon whiskeys. Wheatley has spoken at multiple conferences, including the James B. Beam Institute Industry Conference. He has a patent pending for a fermentation process, and he led the effort to create his namesake vodka, “Wheatley Vodka.”
Wheatley is a four-time James Beard Award nominee in the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional category. In 2015 and 2016, he was named Distillery Manager/Master Distiller of the Year at Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky America Awards. In 2019, NKU named Wheatley among its Distinguished Alumni in Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Wheatley and his wife, Heather, who graduated from UK with an accounting degree, live in Frankfort, Kentucky. They have two sons.