James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits - Distillery, Vendome Copper & Brass, Joseph & Joseph + Bravura Architects, Dr. Seth DeBolt

There are no distilled spirits without agriculture. They are inherently tied together.

The University of Kentucky (UK) in Lexington, Kentucky, has been about agriculture since its founding in the mid-1800s. According to historical marker No. 2289, “The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky (A&M) was established in 1865 as part of the private Kentucky University… Lexington donated a 52-acre park south of downtown for a new campus, which is the present site… In 1916, the legislature officially changed the name to University of Kentucky.”

UK Adds Distillation, Wine, and Brewing Studies

The UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has been engrained in the fabric of the school since day one. In 2014 the school began offering a Distillation, Wine, and Brewing Studies (DWBS) certificate. The certificate is tailored to allow students to obtain introductory education in three distinct tracks: distillation, wine, and brewing. The certificate complements students’ interest in another major field or provides training to supplement other work experience.

The DWBS program partners with local and regional stakeholders to optimize the impact of the certificate program, research, and other educational opportunities. This currently includes teaching and student interaction with local groups such as the Kentucky Winery Association, Kentucky Brewers Guild and Kentucky Distillers’ Association among others. This collaborative relationship provides a connection between the next generation of brewers, winemakers, and distillers to the industry at large.

In 2019 the University announced a major investment by Jim Beam of Clermont, Kentucky. Jim Beam Bourbon donated $5 million to UK to establish the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits. The institute was created to support a curriculum to educate the next generation of distillers with the skills needed to succeed in the distilled spirits industry at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels. The $5 million gift represents Beam Suntory’s largest single philanthropic or educational gift in the company’s history.

“Very few places in the world have a historic landmark product like bourbon,” said Director of DBWS Certificate and Professor Seth DeBolt. “The institute is a collaboration to increase the longevity and the economic development for the spirits industry in Kentucky. It is really driven from an interdependence that we see between the university and the industry, and of course, remembering UK’s land-grant mission is to serve the economy of Kentucky. It’s a win-win all the way around, and we’re really excited about it.”

Since receiving this donation and with great support by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, Kentucky distillers and related businesses, the distillation program and opportunities at UK have taken off like a rocket ship.


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Building a Fully Functioning Barrel-a-Day Distillery on the University of Kentucky Campus

The DWBS program is set to take distilling education to the next level as it nears the completion of a fully functioning distillery and barrel warehouse on campus. Construction began in mid-2022 on what will be a barrel-a-day distillery. The distillery will take students through the entire process of prepping grains, cooking, fermentation, distilling, barreling, aging, filtering and bottling.

“Today, what you are looking at, the still being put in, is honestly 10 years of effort and work that the whole team has put in,” said DeBolt. “And the whole industry has put it. It’s the James B. Beam Institute, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, all the members, all the major distilleries that have been at the conference, been doing research, pushing us to do this, and it’s probably 100 years overdue. Looking forward at where we are going, this will be open to the students in the fall of this year. So we’ll be commissioning through the summer and letting the students in here to get dirty and play in the fall of this year. So, it’s exciting.”

Column Still Delivery Day (Time-lapse Video)

Huge progress was achieved as Vendome Copper & Brass Works delivered and installed a 30’ tall by 12” copper and stainless-steel column still. Additional equipment which is set in place but still under shrink wrap includes a 500 gallon cooker, two new 500 gallon fermentation tanks and two refurbished 500 gallon fermentation tanks. Some of these tanks will be open top while others will be closed top to mirror what a future distiller might see in a real distillery. The column was repurposed from a Beam craft distillery. The still stands 30’ tall by 12” and holds 19 trays. Proof will be bumped up as the distillate travels through a 50 gallons doubler. Technically, this doubler could be used as a primary pot still for smaller runs.

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The distillery and barrel warehouse are expected to be complete this summer and ready for students for the 2023 fall semester.


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