HOLLIS B: Whiskey ICON
I did not always think of myself as a co-founder of Bulleit, but after time away from my abuser and with greater self worth I realized that I was with the company since day one, the only employee of the Bulleit Distilling Company, and the only other family brand ambassador for DIAGEO.. My participation was integral, critical, and pivotal in the creation of one of the liquor industry's most successful brands in the 21st century. The Bulleit brand was built on my passion for innovation and raising bourbon to a higher art form and transforming its "good ol' boy" culture to one that was all inclusive. I reached and inspired an audience within the whiskey community that Tom Bulleit never could have nor wanted to: and I did it by being my authentic self while my father built his reputation on manipulation and lies.
I grew up with ready access to alcohol and surrounded by people who over imbibed or as Diageo puts it "innovated the way we drink today": but I did not grow up with ready access to art. Therefore the Sunday New York Times was my escape from my pickled surroundings and served as my local MOMA. I used to collect the full page ads and I display the Absolut™ ads on my walls. When my father began discussing bourbon as a career change he liked the generic name "Thoroughbred Kentucky Bourbon." I urged him to use our last name instead. I pitched the idea of a bourbon that was "as cool and innovative as the Absolut™ vodka campaign." I discussed with him at length what I felt that would entail including a marketing campaign that went beyond typical Kentucky imagery. Tom Bulleit did not have the mind or the manners to launch a respectable campaign: he still talks about and shows people the misogynist Bulleit print campaign of scandally dressed women sitting in men's laps.
I attended universities and obtained the necessary degrees to help hone my natural born art skills and intelligence to be applied to what is known today as Bulleit bourbon. I graduated with a BA from Smith College with an Art major and Women Studies minor and later I obtained an MA from New York University with a 4.0 average. While at college, I continued to consult on the Bulleit brand closely with my father, and after graduation I was the first and only employee of the Bulleit Distilling Company prior to it being acquired by Seagrams. I commuted to work, I was paid under the table, and I rented the attic apartment of a nearby house.
I worked for our first marketing agency, Meridian Communications, that came up with the original labels. I was involved in all of our secondary partnerships after either through Tom Bulleit or directly. I met and socialized with potential buyers in Kentucky and New York City including knowing the attorneys that were in charge of the acquisition of the brand well enough to stay in their NYC and Washington D.C. homes while we were traveling. My input throughout the years changed the direction of the brand through numerous strategy meetings within and without of the family home, with various corporate partners, and changeovers of PR and marketing firms (French West Vaughn, Colangelo, Taylor). When there were problems with Tom Bulleit's authenticity, his direct lineage, and his limited knowledge about master distilling: I was the person to come up with calling him "an entrepreneur" as a new campaign. My father's response in internal meetings to this strategy was that he did not feel comfortable or deserve the title of being called an entrepreneur: I did.
As one of only two Bulleit family members ever hired directly by Diageo North Americas, I helped change the face of bourbon to be more inclusive of women and LGBTQ2IA+. I did this through sourcing, creating, running and participating in several mixology and women's groups and events. I was on call 365 days a year all hours of the day. My involvement went beyond "brand ambassador" duties as I was integral in many facets of the Bulleiit Rye. I worked with several teams: innovation, design, marketing, and tasting. My most publicly noticeableinput was on the color scheme and the additive "circle 95" of the current Bulleit Rye label.
I trained with the Masters of Whiskey and I received the same degrees as those in that elite sales and educational work force. I was the only Bulleit family employee that could taste the product and attest to its consistency or it as a component in a cocktail. I completed the same liquor business and liquid training as Tom Bulleit only a few years after he did, known as "The Bulleit Bourbon Roundup."
When my contributions were minimized or when I did not have the same access to support and infrastructure as my counterparts and Tom Bulleit: I created my own brand and fostered independent support. I was the girl who wasn't afraid to get dirty - the one who washed over 2,500 glasses prior to whiskeyfest and then got yelled at afterwards for no reason other than bullying. Even while ostracized from my immediate and extended family and the corporation that I worked for, both rife with broken promises, abuse, bullying, and sexual harassment: I still managed to be successful and inventive in my job.
I began, designed, and produced swag campaigns and I was known for my hand painted bottles: helping to entice established artists to work with the brand on projects that spawned the likes of "frontier works". Through my personal presentation and style I brought pizzaz and joy to liquor events nationally on a very restricted budget. I did all of this without a secretary, PR agency, publicist, accountant, travel agent, consistent boss, HR, health care, bonuses, or a royalty.
I created a unique asset and legacy for the whiskey community with only the help and consistent support of my wife, Cher: and today that legacy has been perverted, discounted, and erased by both my family and my former employers. Neither I nor my wife have ever set foot on the Bulleit Distillery property. I have been legally banned from representing Bulleit in any form, leading to me having to legally change my surname. My name is not mentioned as part of any of the history, nor have my contributions been noted, not even in the form of the single commemorative brick that Diageo and its affiliates have awarded complete strangers and one time visitors. I gave most of my life to my family and my brand; and both parties to date seem to think that my life is worth 2% of Diageo's "founder" Tom Bulleit's.
Hollis at The Center's LAWN (Los Angeles Women's Network) inaugural event, done without Diageo's approval.
Hollis training with the Masters of Whiskey in Scotland 2007