The James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits at the University of Kentucky is standing by its commitment to educate the next generation of distillers. The institute is partnering with the James B. Beam Distilling Company to establish the James B. Beam Whiskey Apprenticeship program.
“This apprenticeship program is a first-of-its-kind, premier whiskey educational program certified by the Kentucky Department of Labor,” said Seth DeBolt, institute director and professor in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
Thirteen employees at the James B. Beam Distilling Company are pioneering the holistic program, which blends interactive training with UK coursework, as they stand up the Fred B. Noe Craft Distillery in Clermont, where production began in August 2021.
“The Beam Institute is all about educating our next generation of distillers, and this is an important part of that work that I’m honored to support,” said Eighth Generation Distiller Freddie Noe. “My grandfather always said that there was no substitute for real-world learning, and we’re proud to offer that at the Fred B. Noe Distillery.”
Freddie Noe developed the idea for the apprenticeship with Michael Voils, Fred B. Noe Distillery manager, after a visit to the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, Japan’s first and oldest malt whisky distillery. They had a hands-on approach in developing curriculum for the program with UK.
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Glenna Joyce is the institute’s distilling education coordinator. She’s been heavily involved in creating and delivering the curriculum to the first apprentices.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to coordinate this program and teach these individuals,” said Joyce. “They are excited to learn, and they have brought insightful questions.”
Joyce said apprentices benefit from a robust curriculum that includes safety, bourbon grains, bourbon engineering, fermentation, public speaking, customer relations, sensory, maturation and distillery science.
Jerry Cunningham has worked for Beam for 17 years. He’s part of the first apprenticeship class.
“My experience at Beam has helped me to take on the task of being a craft whiskey apprentice,” he said. “For 10 years, I held a distillery relief operator job, and for seven years, I was involved in boiler operations. As a relief operator, I was responsible for operating the still room as well as the dry house, granary, and water plant. This experience has been helpful and a catalyst for engaging in this apprenticeship.”
The whiskey apprenticeship entails 200 hours of customized technical content for James B. Beam Distilling Company operators. The first class of apprentices will finish their course work in July.
DeBolt said the institute is looking for ways to scale the program for other distillery partners in the future.
“This program is the first of its kind, but we hope it’s just the beginning for the bourbon industry,” he said. “Kentucky is simply a special place for distilling. As we grow this and other programs, the entire distilling community benefits as do the future generations.”
The James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits ensures the welfare and prosperity of Kentucky’s spirits industry. Through teaching, research and outreach, the institute promotes economic sustainability, environmental stewardship, and responsible consumption.