Prohibition killed a lot of family distilleries. The Beam family was no exception. Prohibition put an end to a family business that had been around since 1795. The Beam’s were out of the distilled spirits business until the ratification of the 21st Amendment. After December 5, 1933 it was game on for 69 year old Jim Beam. It took Jim and his son T. Jeremiah just 120 days to rebuild the distillery in Clermont, Kentucky that would become what we know today as the Jim Beam American Stillhouse Distillery. In 1934, the first post-Prohibition Jim Beam Bourbon was sold (clearly, not aged as it is today.) From that point on, it took the distillery nearly 30 years to produce 1 Million barrels of bourbon.
Fast forward to today and the distillery just filled another million barrels, a feat that this time took a mere two years. Add them all up and the Jim Beam American Stillhouse just filled its 15 millionth barrel, an industry first.
Topping Off the 15,000,000th Barrel
This week, that 15 millionth barrel was set on a stage nearly full. It was up to 7th Generation Master Distiller Fred Noe and his son Freddie Noe, 8th Generation Beam Distiller to top it off with the final pours from a couple bottles of white dog. As they popped the cap from the unaged clear, Fred had to taste it to confirm it was the real deal before topping off the barrel. Fred said, “We’ve got some of the unaged (Takes a swig and does the Kentucky Chew.) Oh yeah, it ain’t water. We didn’t do this for the cameras you know, we make damn sure it’s the real thing.”
How Booker Noe Re-Kindled the Fire in the Bourbon Category
“Dad kind of rekindled the bourbon category in the 1980s when he released the small batch bourbons,” said Fred. “You guys think about it, the one’s of you that got a little age on you like myself. In the 70s bourbon was kind of your Dads drink, your Granddads drink. Young people weren’t drinking much bourbon. But you know with Dad releasing small batch bourbons, his buddy Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey, Parker Beam, our cousin at Heaven Hill, Elmer T. Lee up at Blantons. Those guys developed these super-premium bourbons and went out on the road and started promoting them. They re-kindled the fire under bourbon category. And today, we are all living off what those guys did. I mean look at bourbon today, everybody’s drinking it around the world, which is really cool. Ladies are drinking it now. Used to, when I would do tastings 20 years ago you would watch women slide their samples over to their significant others that brought them to the event. Now, you see as many bachelorette parties coming through here as you do bachelor parties. Which it ain’t bad bringing the girls in to drink a little bourbon.”
Watch as Fred Goes Off-Script to Tell the Tale of 15 Million Barrels
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Fred Explains that the “Angel’s Share” is Now “Booker’s Share”
It’s normal as bourbon ages in the barrel to lose 2% to 4% per year to evaporation, a process commonly called the Angel’s Share. As Fred and Freddie prepared to hammer the bung in the 15 millionth barrel, Fred explained that he now calls the Angel’s Share, Booker’s Share. “Now we gotta get it good and sealed up because you know, we don’t want the Angels to get too much. Well, since Dad passed away a few years ago I been calling what we lose to evaporation ‘Booker’s Share.’ I’m sure we’ve gone up from 4%, we are probably losing 6% or 8% now because I know as much he drank here on earth he’s getting all of his fair share out of here. Let’s seal it up good so your Grandfather and my Father can’t get too much out of this barrel.”
“Fifteen million is a big number, but we’re a big bourbon,” said Fred. “When Jim Beam, my great grandfather, filled his first barrel of whiskey at our Clermont distillery after Prohibition, I doubt he would have predicted that one day we would be a brand known and enjoyed the world over.”
“We’re reaching these milestones faster and faster,” said Craig Christenson, vice president global marketing, Jim Beam. “From Russia and Germany to Japan and China – not to mention the United States where Jim Beam is gaining substantial market share, bourbon has become the spirit of choice around the world and we’re happy to oblige them by making more. We’re the first to reach 15 million and we’re not slowing down.”
The 15 millionth barrel, signed by employees at the company’s Clermont, Boston and Frankfort plants, will join the nearly 2.3 million barrels of bourbon currently aging in Jim Beam’s rackhouses. It will be stored inside the distillery’s historic rackhouse D, a nine-story warehouse rebuilt by Jim Beam after Prohibition on the Clermont distillery grounds. The rackhouse is open to visitors as part of the Jim Beam® American Stillhouse tour.
At one time known for one primary product, the Jim Beam portfolio now offers a wide range of expressions including Jim Beam Black®, Jim Beam® Distillers Cut, Jim Beam® Double Oak, Jim Beam® Devil’s Cut®, Jim Beam® Single Barrel, Jim Beam® Bonded, Jim Beam® Rye and Jim Beam® Distiller’s Masterpiece.