Heaven Hill Brands President Max L. Shapiro announced the sad news on the passing of longtime Master Distiller Parker Beam. Beam and his father before him have been a part of the Heaven Hill distilling family for more than 50 years.
Parker Beam was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 2010. The family kept the news of his disease private until a public announcement in early 2013.
In a statement Shapiro said, “All of us within the company, and the general public, watched with awe and admiration as Parker and Linda (his wife) waged a much publicized war against this terrible disease, using their courage, his standing as one of the industry’s great Master Distillers and his wide sphere of influence to generate international awareness, and millions of dollars, for ALS research and treatment.”
Just like Lou Gehrig earned his legendary status in Major League Baseball with the New York Yankees, Parker Beam earned his legendary status in the whiskey business as Master Distiller with Heaven Hill. Just like Lou Gehrig won an endless number of MLB awards like being named to the All-Star Team seven times, the American League’s Most Valuable Player twice, being part of six World Series championship teams and being inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Parker Beam was a winner in his own profession.
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In 2001, Parker was one of the seven person roster that was named to the first ever Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association – KDA and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. This inaugural class includes industry pioneers like Lincoln Wesley Henderson of Brown-Forman and later Angel’s Envy Distillery, Elmer T. Lee of Buffalo Trace Distillery, Fred McMillen, Frederick Booker Noe, Jr. of Jim Beam Distillery, Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey Distillery, Jim Rutledge of Four Roses Distillery, Bill Samuels, Jr. of Maker’s Mark Distillery and of course Parker Beam. That’s quite an All-Star team.
In 2015, Parker was honored to receive the first-ever Lifetime Achievement from the KDA. It is the highest honor given by the association. It’s an award that will forever bear his name. He’s also won prestigious awards like the Whiskey Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award and his induction into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame.
As Max Shapiro said, the awards, “go on and on—but what we will remember most about Parker was the leadership, the can-do attitude, and the kind and selfless mentoring he did to his son Craig and a whole new generation of Bourbon distillers. At this time, however, our thoughts and prayers first go out to his family.”
Parker’s Seen The Golden Age, The Decline and The Golden Age
Parker’s father, Earl Beam started at Heaven Hill Distillery in 1946. Parker joined his father at the distillery in 1960. Over the years, Parker worked his way up from sweeping floors to the role of Master Distiller in 1975, succeeding his father.
Shapiro said, “It was Parker who saw us through Bourbon’s first golden age in the 1960’s, its subsequent decline in the 1970’s and who led us to today’s new Golden Age, helping pioneer our first premium small batch and single barrel Bourbons, and paving the way for Heaven Hill to be the category leader we are today.”
Can We Retire His Uniform?
If distillers wore uniforms with numbers on their back like baseball players, Parker’s would be retired and waving in the breeze as it hangs near the top of the stadium.
We can all take solace in knowing that every ounce of the Angel’s Share that got away from those barrels he filled each year was actually just a part of paying it forward.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Beam and Heaven Hill family. If you would like to make a donation to the ALS Association in Parker Beams name, please visit the The Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund web site here or call (800) 406-7702.
We’ll share more as details as they become available.
In the meantime, let’s all raise a glass to an industry pioneer!