A family history of true passion.
A lot’s changed in the world over the past 220 years. But here at Jim Beam, we’re proud to say things have remained more or less the same. We’ve spent all that time perfecting Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Still not sure what bourbon is and how it is made? Scroll down and we’ll let you in on our secret.
Go with the grain.
We start with a secret mix of corn (at least 51%), rye and barley malt—our “Mash Bill”. It feeds into a 10,000-gallon cooker. Here we add limestone filtered Kentucky water, along with some “set back”—up to 40% of the old mash from the last distillation.
Just add the unique Kentucky water.
This is the “sour mash” part of our bourbon-making process, ensuring the same Jim Beam® bourbon from batch to batch. It gets its own special taste from our pure Kentucky water, famous for making a particularly good bourbon. 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 more than 95% of all bourbon comes from Kentucky.
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, so it’s more than 75 years old. And it ensures our Jim Beam® bourbon is consistent from bottle to bottle.
A family heirloom in every Bourbon.
So the bottle of Beam® in your granddad’s hand in that picture from his fishing trip in 1953? Same heritage 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 for safe-keeping, 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.
The fine art of fermentation.
From the cooker, the mash heads to the fermenter. We cool it down to 60-70°F and add our 75-year-old yeast strain to the mix. And yeast is hungry. It eats and eats, feeding on sugars in the mash, heating the fermenter as it eats and multiplying as it goes.
From beer to bourbon.
What’s the result of all this activity? Carbon dioxide and, more importantly for us, alcohol. This transforms the mash into “distiller’s beer,” so called because it looks, smells, and tastes like a rich beer.
Distilled twice for one smooth flavor.
The beer travels into a 65-foot-tall column still. We heat it to around 200°F—enough to turn the alcohol into a vapor but not so hot that the beer boils. The vapor then turns back into a liquid. This "low wine" is 125 proof (62.5% alcohol) of goodness.
Second time’s a charm.
From the column still, the low wine flows into the doubler, similar to a pot still, for a second distillation. When the vapor condenses into what's then called “high wine,” it's less than 160 proof (67.5% alcohol).
Use NEW charred oak barrels.
After distilling, we tap the high wine into brand new charred 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.
2 years gets you Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 4 years Jim Beam®.
Each barrel holds about 53 gallons (200 liters) of what will be the world’s finest straight bourbon whiskey. 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. We call this the “angel's share” or “Booker's share.”
Created according to family law.
Jim Beam® Kentucky Straight Bourbon is aged for at least 4 years, twice as long as the law requires. Over time, this aging produces a mellow, smooth bourbon flavor—the world’s finest, made to be enjoyed by bourbon enthusiasts all over the world.