James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits - Grand Opening Celebration August 7, 2023

Let’s face it, you can’t rush the good stuff. Legally once a whiskey that meets all the other criteria to be bourbon touches a charred oak barrel it can be called bourbon. That doesn’t make it good bourbon, but it meets the minimum standard. Just like a good bourbon takes time to ferment, distill and then mature in a charred oak barrel over multiple seasons creating the country’s premier distilled spirits training facility takes time too.

University of Kentucky -Lexington, Kentucky
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The University of Kentucky is Kentucky’s official land-grant university. Land-grant universities were created when President Abraham Lincoln signed The Morrill Act on July 2, 1862. The Act provided funding from the federal government for affordable access to career-oriented higher education in the areas of agriculture, science and engineering, military science, and the liberal arts. The Act was bolstered a few years later with the passage of the Hatch Act of 1887 which provided federal appropriations to land-grant institutions for the establishment and support of agriculture experiment stations to advance research in the areas of farming, ranching, and food production.

Seeing how bourbon and rye whiskies are agricultural products that require soil, crops, water and wood, it makes perfect sense that the University of Kentucky (the state that is home to 95% of the world’s bourbon) is now home to one of the most complete hands-on teaching distilleries in the nation.

A Distillery That is ‘100 Years Overdue’

“Today, what you are looking at is honestly 10 years of effort and work that the whole team has put in,” said Director of Distillation, Wine, and Brewing Studies (DWBS) Certificate Professor Seth DeBolt. “And the whole industry has put in. 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. It’s exciting.”


The Dream of a Hands-on Distilling Classroom Becomes Reality at UK

The first course directly related to distilling was offered in 2012. The concept of a Distillation, Wine, and Brewing Studies (DWBS) Certificate was proposed in 2014, was approved in 2015 and classes began in the fall of 2015. Over the years, the program continued to mature, and an opportunity was identified to expand the program to include an on-campus teaching facility. The University worked closely with the Kentucky Winery Association, Kentucky Brewers Guild and Kentucky Distillers’ Association among others.

In April 2019 the Jim Beam Distillery, along with parent company Beam-Suntory, announced it would donate $5 million to the University of Kentucky 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.

11 months later the University announced that Independent Stave Company would donate $1 million to create the Independent Stave Company Boswell Family Barrel Warehouse. A barrel warehouse that would hold 660 barrels made at the James B. Beam Institute of Kentucky Spirits. The premium rick system which was engineered and milled offsite was provided by The Koetter Group.

“Today’s ceremony reinforces our commitment to investing in our students and Kentucky’s future,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “It also reinforces the importance of our essential partnerships that will help us advance Kentucky. This new facility will help leverage transdisciplinary work and show students that the distilling industry needs employees from a vast array of disciplines and majors.”

James B. Beam Institute of Kentucky Spirits Celebrates a Ribbon Cutting and Grand Opening

After 10 years, the James B. Beam Institute of Kentucky Spirits has become a reality. As we mentioned earlier, this is a concept that is probably 100 years overdo but it is now a reality. The distillery will take students through the entire process of prepping grains, cooking, fermentation, distilling, barreling, aging, filtering, and bottling.

“This is the largest teaching distillery in the United States and in the world,” said DeBolt. “It will allow us to train the next generation of distillers and researchers, and to conduct cutting-edge research on the science of spirits production.”


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The distillery includes a chemistry and sensory lab, a 500-gallon fermentation tank, a variety of 500-gallon open and closed top fermentation tanks, a 30-foot tall by 12 inch copper column still with 19 trays and a 50-gallon copper doubler. The doubler can be used as a primary pot still for distillation as well. It’s a very versatile setup. Once distillation is complete barrels will be filled and rolled 50 feet away to the rickhouse for aging. A whole other set of text barrels, chars, toasting levels and more can be accomplished in the barrel house.

Students in the program will get 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. There will be nearly 50 students per year that will take all 12 credit hours of classes while several hundred more will take a few classes related to the program.

“When Beam Suntory first partnered with the University of Kentucky to create the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits, we did so as an investment in the future of bourbon and the future of Kentucky’s workforce,” said Alex Alvarez, chief supply chain officer at Beam Suntory. “The institute has firmly established itself as a forum for continuing education and research, as well as collaboration across the industry to tackle some of our toughest challenges together. We’re proud to be an active partner in this work, pushing our industry toward a bright future.”

Classes in the new James B. Beam Institute of Kentucky Spirits will begin in the Fall of 2023.

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