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A History
As Spirited

As Bourbon Itself

The story of the Beam family is one of seven generations, more than 200 years, countless challenges and one goal; to make the best bourbon in the world. So settle in, pour yourself a bourbon and prepare to travel back in time with the First Family of Bourbon.
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  1. OUR STORY STARTS BEFORE KENTUCKY.

    HECK, BEFORE THERE WERE ANY STATES AT ALL.

    In 1740, when the United States was still the Thirteen Colonies, the Boehm family first arrived in America, determined to live the colonial dream. Forty-eight years later, they’d relocated to where central Kentucky currently is and Americanized their German name to “Beam.” The hot summers, mild winters and nearby limestone spring made their new home ideal for … you guessed it … growing corn. Not what you were thinking? Don’t worry, the bourbon part is coming soon.

    THE BIRTH OF BOURBON.

    By the late 1700s, German, Scotch and Irish settlers were already making rye whiskey in Western Pennsylvania with recipes they brought over from their homelands. But when the U.S. government began offering incentives to move west and grow corn, many packed up their families and relocated to the Kentucky region of Virginia(strange times, we know). Among these farmers was Jacob Beam who, like others, used his father's whiskey recipe to distill his excess corn into a new, sweeter kind of whiskey-bourbon was born.

    Jacob Beam

    FROM CORN FARMER
    TO MASTER DISTILLER.

    Perhaps the best decision Jacob Beam ever made was to sell his bourbon. He sold his first barrel of Old Jake Beam Sour Mash in 1795, just three years after Kentucky became a state. His bourbon quickly became a local favourite-no small accomplishment considering that, by the early 1800s, Kentucky was home to about 2,000 distillers.

  2. t. jeremiah beam

    LONG LIVE THE BEAM.

    After losing the Old Tub name and seeing many other bourbon brands become casualties of history during Prohibition, Jim Beam took great care to ensure his bourbon’s future. Knowing that future relied on his bourbon’s signature flavor, he even brought a jug of his yeast strain home every weekend, just in case. To this day, we still use that same strain of yeast, and Jim Beam’s great grandson still brings some home every weekend. With all that Colonel James B. Beam accomplished in his time, it was only fitting that, later in 1935, his son T. Jeremiah re-founded the distillery as the Jim B. Beam Distilling Company and dubbed our bourbon Jim Beam® in honor of his father.

    BRING ON THE WORLD.

    While T. Jeremiah “Jere” Beam had been helping his father to run the family business since opening the new distillery, he officially took over in 1946, just as WWII came to a close. Soon after, not wanting any of his countrymen to be without bourbon, he began shipping cases of Jim Beam to American servicemen stationed overseas. Though he didn’t know it yet, this would introduce Jim Beam to the globe, setting the stage for it to become the world’s best-selling bourbon under his watch.

    LET’S MAKE IT OFFICIAL.

    Like Jim Beam, bourbon was beginning to pick up where it had left off before Prohibition. In 1938, the mint julep was introduced as the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, further fanning the flames. In that same year, the Jim Beam Distillery released its second ever product—Jim Beam® Rye—a drier, spicier version of its sweeter bourbon brother. In 1954, Jim Beam Distilling Company opened a second distillery 10 miles down the road in Boston, KY to meet the growing demand for bourbon. And in 1964, bourbon’s rise to fame culminated with President Lyndon B. Johnson declaring it “America’s Native Spirit.”

  3. fred booker noe ii

    FROM BEAM TO NOE.

    Remember when we mentioned that Jim Beam’s daughter Margaret had married into the Noe family during Prohibition? Great. Now, fast forward back to 1960. While T. Jeremiah’s brother, Carl Beam, is Master Distiller of the Clermont distillery, Margaret’s son Frederick Booker Noe II is named Master Distiller at the Boston, KY distillery. Five years later, Booker would fill Beam’s one-millionth barrel. Despite this tremendous milestone, however, bourbon was in the midst of a downturn in favor of clearer spirits like vodka, gin and the dreaded wine spritzer. Refusing to give in, Booker opted to innovate.

    THE DAWN OF
    SMALL BATCH

    In 1978, Booker introduced Jim Beam Black®, a bourbon with extra character and flavor. But this was just a prequel for what was to come. Booker began crafting bourbon the way it was originally made: in small batches. And in 1987, he flipped the bourbon game on its head with the release of Booker’s®—the first small-batch bourbon from Jim Beam. Unfiltered, uncut and straight from the barrel, it was unlike anything people were used to. And at $35/bottle (equal to about $73 today), it had a price tag to match.

    A COLLECTION WORTH
    COLLECTING

    With the release of Booker’s, Booker Noe was far from done. In 1992, he released the Small Batch Bourbon Collection®, adding on to his first small-batch bourbon with Baker's®, Basil Hayden's® and Knob Creek®. This streak of innovation effectively revitalized the bourbon category, propelling Knob Creek® to become the world's top-selling super-premium bourbon.

  4. Fred Noe

    ADDING A LITTLE FLAVOR

    In 1992, Booker was succeeded by his son and our current Master Distiller, Frederick Booker Noe III. With this changing of the guard, Fred Noe became the seventh-generation Beam Family Master Distiller, and in 2005, he filled the ten-millionth barrel of Jim Beam. But Fred would do much more than fill record numbers of barrels. Like his father, he had a penchant for innovation, and in 2009, he released Red Stag by Jim Beam®. This black cherry liqueur infused with Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey caught the bourbon world by surprise. And in doing so, it threw open the gates to a new realm of bourbon-inspired possibilities.

    MORE BEAM TO GO AROUND

    Building off the success of Red Stag, Fred released Jim Beam® Devil’s Cut® in 2011—a slightly sinister bourbon made from the liquid that becomes trapped within the wood of the barrel during aging. As if egging him on, Devil's Cut® and Jim Beam Black® both earned gold medals at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Following this, Fred created a flurry of new liquids and limited-edition bottles.

    STOCKING THE
    LIQUOR CABINET.

    In 2013, Fred Noe released Jim Beam® Signature Craft 12-Year and Jim Beam® Distiller’s Masterpiece—a re-release of his father’s crowning small-batch achievement. Then, in 2015, he unveiled Jim Beam® Apple, which would soon become the world’s best-selling flavored whiskey.* And finally, in 2016, Fred brought innovation to the bourbon world once again with Jim Beam® Double Oak—a bourbon aged a second time in a second newly charred oak barrel. Needless to say, Fred has been busy. But he isn’t done yet. To this day, he continues to cement Jim Beam’s place in history as both a pioneer and a classic.

     

    *“#1 Flavored Bourbon” - 1. Nielsen xAOC+, $ Sales, 52 WE 12/2/17.

    MEANWHILE, IN OTHER
    BOURBON NEWS…

    While Fred Noe was busy invigorating the bourbon world with new techniques, flavors and finishings, Congress declared September “National Bourbon Heritage Month” in 2007. And on October 3, 2012, we transformed bourbon tourism by opening the doors to the Jim Beam American Stillhouse—a replica of a 1940s-era stillhouse that both reinvented and expanded our visitor experience. This quickly turned our Clermont distillery into one of Kentucky’s most visited destinations.

  5. ONCE A PIONEER. ALWAYS A PIONEER.

    As the First Family of Bourbon, we were there when it all began. But we’ve never been the type to rest on our laurels. Always innovating, always taking bourbon to new heights—this is the Jim Beam way. And as we approach our 225-year anniversary, we have no intention of doing things any differently. Even as we sit here writing our history, the next generation is busy following in the footsteps of all those who came before them—learning the ropes from the ground up. But, more importantly, learning to redefine them in new and innovative ways.
    For a taste of the what the next generation will bring, we invite you to give Little Book® a try, that is, if you can get your hands on a bottle. Blended by Fred Noe’s son, Freddie, both iterations of this limited-edition whiskey have sold out soon after their release.

    CRAVING MORE OF OUR HISTORY

    For more complete recount of the Jim Beam history, the "American Still Life" offers stories from our master distillers, the tales behind each of our bourbon and much more.