Jim Beam is not only one of the largest makers of American Bourbon, it is also one of the oldest. Seven generations of the Beam Family have been involved in its production since 1795 — more than two hundred years — starting with farmer and part-time distiller Johannes “Reginald” Beam.
That first retail Whiskey was branded “Old Jake Beam Sour Mash” and he affectionately called his first make-shift distillery “Old Tub.” The distillery has been rebuilt a few times and is now a model of modern production located in Clermont, Kentucky.
Sazerac owned the company for a while, but the entire liquor industry shook up and realigned. So in 2014 it was acquired by Suntory, who renamed their entire company as the combined Beam-Suntory. Beam makes eighteen variants -- an unusually large number of offerings -- for it’s core Jim Beam line.
In addition, the Jim Beam Distillery produces Red Stag, Jacob’s Ghost, and a selection of higher end “small batch” Bourbons, including Booker’s, Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and Knob Creek.
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Jim Beam Distillery
Interestingly, every master distiller at Heaven Hill Distillery since its founding, have also been members of the Beam Family.
Jim Beam Distillery
Perhaps because of the family ties, when there was a serious fire at the Heaven Hill Distillery that seriously damaged production capacity, Jim Beam was one of two distilleries that graciously let their “friendly competitor” use some of their excess capacity, until repairs were completed.
Jim Beam Distillery
Jim Beam has recently allowed its signature Whiskey to be used in several food products, including Bar-B-Q sauces, steak sauces, and an increasing number of specialty foods.
A transcript for non-audio situations
Benedict: Welcome to Whiskey.com, where fine spirits meet, and today, I'm at the Jim Bean distillery. The Jim Beam distillery was founded by Jacob Bohm, a German, who came to America and started making his own Whiskey here in the Bourbon county. The distillery is actually not named after Jacob Bohm which he renamed himself to Jacob Beam, but his grand-grand-grandson in the fourth generation, the James Beam. And this is actually he was called Jim, so it's called the Jim Beam distillery. Today, the distillery is in the hands of Fred Noe, who is the seventh generation in the family, and he runs the distillery in the old tradition with the old mash bill. And let's find out what this is all about.
I'm standing right next to the mash stop where all the grain is put in. On the far right we have the corn, and in the middle we have the malted barley, and on the left we have the rye. This is all being cooked at about 215 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. This is roughly, let's say, 101 to 105 degrees Celsius at a bit of over-pressure. After it's been cooked, so all the starch has split up, all the sugar that is being pumped over into the fermantis, the yeast is added and fermentation takes place.
I'm standing next to the big fermantis. The Jim Beam plant here has 19 fermantis with a capacity of 45,000 gallons, and out of these 45,000 gallons, we have 600 gallons of yeast. And the whole mash, during the fermentation process, is cooled down to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. That is roughly about 33 degrees Celsius, and that lets the yeast develop in a good way, so we get a nice 10% alcoholic beer that is then pumped into the Beer well and then ready for fermentation. I'm standing right next to the Jim Beam column still. This is the first still and the column still is six stories tall, and inside it is copper. The copper is very important, because there are catalytic reactions going on and making the Bourbon smoother. After the column still, you have a Spirit at 125 proof. That is 62.5 ABV. After this first distillation, the Spirit goes down into the basement where we have the doubler, and the doubler does a second distillation, again, with copper. And that takes it up to 135 proof, and that is 67.5 ABV. This is then called the high Wines of...yeah. This high Wines is White Whiskey. This is ready to be put into the barrels for maturation, so we get a good Bourbon out of it.
So, now we're at the Jim Beam warehouse. This warehouse here is nine stories tall. It's one of the many warehouses Jim Beam owns. They have, in total, 1.8 million barrels in the property of the Jim Beam company. If you look at one of these barrels, they're all labelled the right way. You have the company, James B. Beam Distilling Corporation. Then you have Bourbon Whiskey in it. This here's a bit scribbled up. It says that it's been bottled at the right strength, filled at the right strength, the cask. Then you have the distillery number which is 230, and the last here is the code for the date. It reads like that. You have 14, stands for 2014. D is the fourth letter in the alphabet, so it's the fourth month. This means it's April, and the 23rd, so it's 23rd of April, 2014.
The warehouse is not heated or not chilled, so they all mature in a very natural way. You don't have any warehouse rotation, so the different Whiskeys in different levels mature in a different way, because the heat rises up in the warehouse. So the Bourbon in the very top layers mature faster, and there is a so-called sweet spot. It's in the fifth layer, and they get the best Bourbons that are now being bottled in the small batches and the super premium Bourbons. So that's the secret behind the maturation in the warehouses. This is one really cool thing here.
This is the 13th million cask that has been filled at the Jim Beam distillery in 2014. It was signed by Fred Noe, the master distiller, by his son Freddie Noe, who is already working at the distillery and learning from his father and all the steps inside the distillery. Then Baker Beam is his cousin, and Jim Beam Noe is another cousin that works at the distillery. And this cask shows how strong the Beam brand actually is. If you have 13 million casks filled with your Whiskey, then you know you are a global brand.
We're now at the dumping floors, where all the barrels come in that are ready for bottling. These are, here, are Knob Creek barrels that are about nine years old, at least nine years old. What these guys here do is they drill the bung hole out, put in the breathing straw, and the barrels are then put on top, and the Whiskey runs out. While the Whiskey runs out, it's being filtered through a metal plate with small holes in it, and then all the charcoal that has loosened up during the maturation process also comes out and is being kept into these trays. The Whiskey now goes down to bottling and is being filled into the bottle, so this is your unfiltered Whiskey for you. Oh, yeah, a bit strong but also very strong with flavor. This is where the empty barrels are ending up. They get a new bung hole, and then they're being rolled into the truck, stored there, and then internationally shipped. The Beam Suntory Group is pretty big, so there are a lot of takers like Le Froid, Highland Park. They're really keen on the fresh barrels that just had the Bourbon in, and they still have a lot of vanilla and oak nodes in them.
So I'm here at at the Knob Creek single barrel line, and the cool thing is every visitor can bottle their own bottle, so let's do this. First step is to rinse the bottle. You rinse it, actually, with Whiskey, with Bourbon, so you don't dilute your Whiskey with anything. You also got a new, clean bottle, so I'm gonna label this here, so we can see my bottle being filled and labelled.
Man 1: Thank you, sir.
Benedict: Thank you.
Man 2: Did you enjoy that last bottle?
Benedict: Yeah, sure. So that's now dipping with wax, and you can even have your own signature on the bottle. You can do your fingerprint on the top.
Man 2: Okay, it's gonna be wet and warm when you take it off. Just press it and hold it for a moment. It should be good.
Benedict: Thank you very much. So this is your Knob Creek, single barrel, individually made for me, and I'm gonna take that home with me. Very nice. Here I'm standing in front of a quality storage house that stores two bottles for every bottling they make. That stores it for two years so the Jim Beam distillery can prove, yes, this batch was right, and they can pull a quality sample from every batch they made two years ago. This here is Fred Noe. He is the seventh generation of the family, and he is the master distiller right now at the distillery. He will talk us through the small batch Bourbons and... Yeah, thank you for having us.
Fred: Our pleasure,
Benedict. Glad for you to be here in Clermont with me today. Benedict: Yeah, I'm glad to be here. Kentucky is such a nice country.