James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits - Beam Suntory Extends Strategic Partnership with $9.3 Million Donation

The University of Kentucky began offering a Distillation, Wine, and Brewing Studies (DWBS) certificate in 2014. The long-term goal was to build a hands-on working distillery on campus to teach the next generation of distillers on campus. That dream was advanced in 2019 when Beam Suntory, owners of Kentucky whiskey brands Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, announced a strategic investment of $5 million.

At the time University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said, “As the University for Kentucky, we are the engine of our state’s industry — the pulse of its economy. When we envisioned ways to prepare our workforce to meet the changing needs of our rapidly growing bourbon industry, a partnership with Jim Beam was a natural fit, and I can’t thank them enough for the generous gift that will help bring our vision to life.”

Five years later that investment, as well as several investments from other companies, paid off with the building of the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits, a full-size hands-on working distillery and a 660-barrel warehouse on campus. The ribbon was cut on the distillery in August 2023, and after receiving its official TTB certification the distillery celebrated the filling of its first barrel of Kentucky bourbon on March 13, 2024.

Beam-Suntory Extends Strategic Partnership with UK with Additional $9.3 Million Investment

James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits and Beam Suntory have renewed their strategic partnership to help strengthen Kentucky’s signature industry for generations to come. The continued partnership will ensure the Institute continues to offer unparalleled expertise for teaching and research.

Beam Suntory will donate $7.5 million to be paid over a 10-year period. An additional $1.875 million in funding for the Institute will be provided through the Commonwealth of Kentucky Research Challenge Trust Fund (RCTF) Endowment Match Program, subject to approval by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

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“This gift will continue to advance Kentucky’s signature industry by funding research to address systemic challenges facing the spirits industry globally, such as energy and water reduction, improving distilling, maturation and bottling techniques for greater efficiency and implementing scalable and sustainable agricultural practices,” said James B. Beam Institute Director and Professor Seth DeBolt.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to identify and share best practices with partners and distillers globally and show students the breadth of opportunities within the spirits industry.”

Beam Suntory’s investment provides funding for an endowed chair and professorships, which will further support the Institute’s mission to lead the global advancement of the American whiskey industry though workforce education, scientific discovery, environmental sustainability, community, and social responsibility.

The Institute will also work with industry partners to expand best-in-class responsibility programming, such as that offered at The Learning Bar, which can be used at other colleges and universities, and thereby broadening its expertise and reach beyond Kentucky.

James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits - At the University of Kentucky
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The endowed funding will allow the Institute to expand student enrollment by 50%, creating a robust pipeline of future leaders in the spirits industry.

“The ongoing partnership between the University of Kentucky and Beam Suntory reflects one of our core values – Growing for Good – by committing to investing in the future of bourbon and the professional and economic opportunities it provides,” said Beam Suntory President and CEO Greg Hughes.

“We’re proud to have such a strong partnership in not only advancing the industry today, but also in training the next generation of distillers, creating more opportunity and representation, in bourbon and beyond.”

Beam Suntory and UK established their strategic partnership in 2019 with the formation of the Institute. Since then, Beam Suntory has provided nearly $6 million in funding, which has helped fund numerous initiatives to support the future of distilling education, including:  

  • Establishing an annual conference, which has grown each year and now hosts more than 800 attendees to share research and best practices across the industry;
  • Constructing a 7,500 square-foot on-campus research and teaching distillery — the world’s largest;
  • Providing responsibility training to more than 1,600 students through the hands-on Learning Bar;
  • Expanding the popular Distillation, Wine and Brewing Studies Certificate (DWBS). To date, 225 students have completed the certificate, with many more participating in the courses as electives;
  • Focusing on workforce development through internship and distillery apprenticeship programs and university courses to support the next generation of leaders in the spirits industry.

“In extending our deepest gratitude to Beam Suntory for their generous contribution, we recognize not only their pivotal role in supporting the bourbon industry but also their unwavering commitment to our institute’s mission,” said Nancy Cox, Vice President of Land-Grant Engagement and Dean of Martin-Gatton CAFE. “This gift strengthens our ability to address industry challenges and reinforces our dedication to preparing future leaders who will drive the spirits industry forward.”

The James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits is a multidisciplinary effort of experts from the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, UK Stanley and Karen Pigman College of Engineering, UK College of Arts and Sciences and UK Gatton College for Business and Economics. In partnership with Beam Suntory, it continues to advance the next generation of distillers — ensuring the welfare and prosperity of Kentucky’s spirits industry and promoting Kentucky as the production and innovation capital of the bourbon industry.

The RCTF Endowment Match Program enhances private gifts such as Beam Suntory’s contribution aimed at STEM+H fields with an emphasis on economic development and creating new external research funding.

The Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is an Equal Opportunity Organization with respect to education and employment and authorization to provide research, education information and other services only to individuals and institutions.

Beam Suntory, a world leader in premium spirits, inspires the brilliance of life by delivering great consumer experiences through its world-class portfolio of brands. Known for its craftsmanship of premium whiskies, including Jim Beam®, Maker’s Mark®, Basil Hayden® and Knob Creek® bourbons; Japanese whiskies, including Yamazaki®, Hakushu®, Hibiki® and Toki™; and leading Scotch brands including Teacher’s, Laphroaig® and Bowmore®, Beam Suntory also produces leading brands such as Courvoisier® cognac, Tres Generaciones®, El Tesoro® and Hornitos® tequila, Roku™ and Sipsmith® gin, Canadian Club® whisky, and is a world leader in ready-to-drink cocktails, with brands like -196 and On The Rocks™ Premium Cocktails.

The 2022 Kentucky General Assembly allocated $20 million dollars in RCTF funding to support endowment growth in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math, and health sciences (STEM+H) at UK for qualifying gifts. UK has approved RCTF funding at a 2:1 ratio, enabling more funding for transformative research efforts in the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The RCTF program, administered by the Council on Postsecondary Education, provides Kentucky’s universities support with the goal of stimulating business development, generating increases in externally sponsored research, creating better jobs and a higher standard of living, and facilitating the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s transition to a knowledge-based economy.

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