The Bourbon Process
Start With Sweet, Sweet Water
Much has been said about Central Kentucky's water. It's famous for making fast horses, pretty women and good bourbon. (We've also heard it as:, pretty horses... but the good bourbon never changes.) Because we're sitting on top of a limestone shelf, our water has a natural filter. This creates an iron-free, calcium-rich water that's perfect for making bourbon. Perhaps that's why 98% of all bourbon distilleries are located here.
The Secret Is Yeast
Our jug yeast is a closely guarded family secret. It's the same strain of yeast we've used in our bourbon-making process since prohibition ended. It's more than 75 years old—and it ensures the same Jim Beam® bourbon consistency in every bottle. So the bottle of Beam® in your granddad's hand in that picture from his fishing trip in 1953? Same DNA as the bottle you can buy right now just about anywhere in the world. Our yeast is so important to us that Jim Beam used to take some of it home with him on the weekends, a tradition that continues today with Jim Beam's great-grandson and seventh generation Beam family distiller, Fred Noe. We put the jug yeast in a tank and feed it a hearty diet of ground up grains to create "dona yeast." We use this yeast in the fermentation process once we've cooked our mash.
Mix, Mash & Cook
Hammer mills grind our "mash spill"our top-secret mix of corn, rye and barley malt. Milling breaks it down for easier cooking.
The mash spill feeds into a 10,000-gallon mash cooker. Here we add some of that pure limestone-filtered Kentucky water, along with some "set back"—25% of the old mash from the last distillation. This is the "sour mash" part of our bourbon-making process—ensuring the same Jim Beam® Bourbon from batch to batch.
Fermenting Cooked Mash
From the cooker, the mash heads to the fermenter. We cool the mash down to 60-70°F and add our 75-year-old yeast strain to the mix.
And the yeast eats. And eats and eats and eats, feeding on sugars in the mash, heating the fermenter as it eats and multiplying as it goes. The upshot of all this activity? Carbon dioxide and more importantly for us, alcohol.
This transforms the mash into "distiller's beer." Because it looks, smells and tastes like a rich, light beer.
Distilled Twice. So Nice.
The beer travels into our 35-foot-tall column still. We heat it to about 205°F, which is hot enough that the alcohol turns into a vapor that rises up the still, but not so hot that the beer boils. As the vapor cools and falls, it turns back into a liquid. This "low wine" is 125 proof (62.5% alcohol) of strong-willed goodness.
From the column still, the low wine flows into the doubler for a second distillation in our pot still. It gets heated and condenses into "high wine"at a paint-peeling 135 proof (67.5% alcohol).
Barreling And Aging
After distilling the bourbon, we tap the high wine into brand new charred American oak barrels. We like our barrels to have what we call "alligator char"—that is, they're fired enough that the insides take on the scaly, bumpy look of a gator's skin. Each barrel holds about 53 gallons (more than 500 pounds) of what will be the the world's finest bourbon.
The loaded barrels are rolled to rest in one of our airy hilltop rackhouses. As the seasons change, Kentucky's climate expands and contracts the barrel wood, allowing bourbon to seep into the barrel. And the caramelized sugars from the gator-charred oak flavor and color the bourbon. Throughout the bourbon making process, a fair portion of the 53 gallons of bourbon escapes the barrel through evaporation or stays trapped in the wood of the barrel. We call this the "angel's share" or "Booker's share."
Jim Beam® bourbon ages for at least four years—twice as long as the U.S. government requires. And, over time, this aging produces a mellow, smooth bourbon flavor. The world's finest. Meant to be savored—sipped, mixed, enjoyed—by bourbon enthusiasts all over the world.