Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's Beam Family Reunion Time, Too Bad You're Not Invited


The importance of the Beam family to the American whiskey tradition cannot be overstated. In addition to the Beam company and the Jim Beam family of bourbons, there are Beam distillers in the DNA of virtually every major-producer American whiskey sold today.

Every master distiller in Heaven Hill's history has been a Beam. The first distiller at Maker's Mark was a Beam. The master distiller at Stitzel-Weller in its Van Winkle-led heyday was Will McGill, Joseph L. Beam's brother-in-law and running buddy, who trained and employed many of his Beam nephews.

Beams are also active in the new generation of craft distillers. Limestone Branch in Lebanon, Kentucky is run by two brothers who are descended from Guy Beam. The new micro-distillery at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont is overseen by Jim Beam's great grandson and namesake, Jim Beam Noe. You'll see it (and possibly him) if you go there and take the tour.

The annual Beam Family Reunion will be held on the grounds of the Jim Beam Distillery at Clermont, Kentucky, on Saturday, Sept. 7th 2013. It has been going on for more than 60 years and all descendants of Jacob Beam are invited. Since most of Jacob's descendants had large families, with ten or more births common, that's a lot of people. But if you don't have the bona fides, stay away. It's not a show, it's an opportunity for relatives, often distant, to get together and get to know each other better, like any large scale family reunion.

This family just happens to be extremely important to fans of American whiskey.

It's very nice of Beam Inc. to host the event. In addition to use of the grounds, they provide much of the food and other refreshments. The reason this is to be commended is that most attendees will not be descended from Jim Beam, as neither he nor his offspring were typical Beam breeders. Many there will be descendants of Joseph B. Beam, through his distiller sons Minor Case and Joseph L. Minor gave us Guy, a prominent distiller. Joseph L. gave us seven of them, so his issue will probably be the best represented. Plus, although Beam emphasizes the descendants of Jim Beam, now through the Noe family (Jim's daughter, Margaret, married Booker Noe Sr.) many other family members have worked at the company's distilleries over the years in various capacities.

No branch of the family has a significant ownership interest in Beam Inc., but the company values the heritage and its long, unbroken connection with the family.

Since you can't attend the Beam Family Reunion, here by way of compensation, are two articles about the family history. The first, by Jim Beam Noe, is a really wonderful history of Jacob himself. What's so remarkable about it is that much of it was unknown when I wrote the second article, for Malt Advocate (now Whisky Advocate) in 2001. You won't find most of it in Paul Pacult's 2003 American Still Life, about the Beam family and corporate history, either.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Beam family is grateful to Chuck Cowdery for his historical accounts of our family's long and proud traditions. We are also grateful to Beam Inc. for their support of our family reunion and holding true to its strong ties to the Beam family for 7 generations. We're thankful to have a place in Kentucky's bourbon history. Although many like myself at the reunion are not distillers, all of the Jacob Beam family members attending are descendants of both past and current Master Distillers. My name is Joseph Harry Beam. My great-grandfather was Joseph L. Beam and his youngest of 7 sons (9 but 2 past early in life) was my grandfather Harry Beam. My dad Victor Beam was the oldest son of Harry and Josephine Beam's 9 children; Jean, Jo, Victor, Bettye, Hank, Johnny, Suzanne, Melvin & Mike. The Harry Beam family alone can bring over 40 descendants to our family reunion each year. That's a lot of fried chicken! My mom & dad, Victor & Iva Dean Beam, instilled the importance of our families heritage and traditions in their 6 children and we're doing our best to pass these traits down to the next generation of Beams. I guess there's no way to thank everyone who has helped the Beam family over the years, but we'd sure like to try.

Joseph Harry Beam

Colin said...

There's a Jim Beam micro-distillery in Frankfort?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Good catch. My bad. It's at Clermont. I fixed it.

Anonymous said...

Where are you? We are here drinking bourbon and talking about you!
Bettye Jo Boone
Industtrial Maintenance Tech
7th generation Jacob Beam
Great grandaughter of Joseph L. Beam first Master Distiller Heaven Hill Distilleries