Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
Please enjoy our James B Beam Distilling Tour Review
568 Happy Hollow Rd
Clermont, KY 40110
The Jim Beam Story
The clock never stops ticking with regards to history and its stories. The stories that comprise the life and livelihood of the Beam family and bourbon are many; the first began some two hundred and twenty-seven years ago when farmer, Jacob Beam, distilled his excess corn and sold his first barrel of sour mash whiskey. A seemingly simple decision gave rise to a family legacy and a business empire.
So how does one barrel sold in 1795 lead to today’s 17 million and counting? Answers to this and much more are waiting to be discovered at the James B. Beam Distilling Company’s recently renovated visitor center, the American Outpost. The Outpost reopened in October 2021 after closing to visitors back in March 2020; first because of Covid-19, then to implement and complete a long planned renovation of the entire campus.
The New Visitor Experience
The time off was worth the wait. Beam has created all new visitor experiences / tours. Bourbon enthusiasts can choose from tours, cocktail classes, tastings, warehouse education or a full distillery dive. For the Bourbon Obsessedsm, try the Behind the Beam with Fred and Freddie Noe. Once a month, this experience offers a VIP tour of the distillery, a guided tasting with the 7th and 8th generation of Beam master distillers, Fred Noe and son Freddie, and wraps up with lunch at the Beam Kitchen Table restaurant.
The James B. Beam American Outpost is open Wednesday-Saturday, 9am-5:30pm and Sunday, from 12-4:30pm. Winter months are less busy during the week, however weekend tours sell out regularly all year long. Online reservations are encouraged and can be made at beamdistilling.com. Tickets vary in price depending on the experience. The 1 1/2 hour Beam Made Bourbon tour including a tasting is $22 plus tax and fees. Military visitors gain free admission with their military ID and while visitors under 21 are welcome on tours, tastings are for those who are 21+ only.
Take A Walk Through Beam History
Whether you’re booked for a tour or not, arrive at least 15 minutes before tour time. This allows time to check-in or to secure a spot and time to check out the wonderfully spacious James B. Beam American Outpost. An introduction to the history of the Beam family and bourbon begins on the walls of the Outpost. Through the magic of its digital display, the Beam family tree highlights the succession of Beam family master distillers. Also interesting is that the display includes the many other Beam family members who worked at various other distilleries over the years as well as those that currently do so.
Opposite the digital wall display, visitors get another reminder that while Jim Beam is a brand and a company, it is also a family. Photos of generations past and present line the wall along the staircase, as though it’s the family home. In a sense it is; the Beam family wants everyone to feel not just welcome, but part of the family. So much so, that at the bottom of the staircase, the Beam Foto booth offers folks the opportunity to commemorate their visit to the distillery with a photograph of their own. Visitors are even provided the opportunity to add their photograph to the Beam family’s wall.
Following our own advice, we arrived early, first checking in for our scheduled tour. Arriving early gave us the opportunity to check out the new space and discover the impressive family lineage, courtesy of the digital wall. Shortly thereafter we met Megan Breier, Experiential Programming & Education Manager (who made our visit possible), and our guide, Justin, and immediately set out for our introduction to everything Beam.
The James B Beam Distillery Tour
Our tour started at the beginning of the Beam Made Bourbon Tour. As we stepped inside the heavy industrial looking black doors marked “Beam Made Bourbon”, an enormous man-made waterfall overtook our senses. Over the roar of the rushing water, Justin explained that this room was designed to highlight the importance of the ingredients that make up the Beam brands of bourbons. Water, grain, and yeast are all crucial pieces of the puzzle and each of these had life-sized representation to view as Justin covered them one by one.
For example, a 1935 vintage Cadillac parked inside represents Beam’s same yeast strain since 1935. Hmm? How so? It’s interesting, but wasn’t uncommon back in the day. Come take the tour to solve this piece of the puzzle. For those new to bourbon, the standards of bourbon are also on life-sized display. These visuals along with the guided explanations really help to clarify each topic at hand.
With some background information covered, we headed up the stairs past the grain hopper display to learn all about fermentation. Unfortunately the area was off limits for the day, so we spent a few moments staring through the glass window soaking in the view. Justin noted earlier that Beam supplies nearly 50% of the world’s supply of bourbon. This would explain 22 massive fermenters, each 45,000 gallons. Incredible, especially since this is their “small” distillery. The lion’s share of production takes place at the Booker Noe Plant, a few miles down the road in Boston, KY where the majority of the production is Jim Beam “White Label” Bourbon, the number one selling bourbon in the world.
Our next stop was the Big House, its slogan, “Hardest Working Still in America”, proudly displayed on the side of the building. So it came as no surprise that this 50 year old six story behemoth works 24/7. Every minute it distills 200 gallons of mash resulting in 30 gallons of white dog. Even more impressive is the fact that Beam uses this same still to make smaller batches of white dog that come off the still at different proofs. Another life-size display notes that Jim Beam is off the still at a final proof of 135, Knob Creek at 130, and Basil Hayden at 120. Monstrous, yet versatile.
Following Justin, we moved from the Big House to the Casehouse. This newly designed area covers barrels, barrels, and more barrels along with the nitty gritty of the distillation process. The introduction to barrels begins with a video from Independent Stave Company (ISC), the maker of Beam’s barrels. The video explains the life cycle of a barrel, from tree to char. The Knob Creek single barrel display is a hands on display showcasing the single barrel process along with a discussion of the small batch process.
Also of note in the Casehouse is the art of the distillation display. Here miniatures of each apparatus involved in the entire distillation process line the wall, with the still represented by a live digital display. From the grain hopper to the cistern tank, Justin took us through each step, and together with the assistance of the visual aids, the production of Beam bourbon became remarkably clear. Finally the new make (aka. white dog) is barreled. This is demonstrated by the Barrel Fill display. Another hands on display, it mimics the actual process. In one last barrel exhibit, Beam shares more information on the aforementioned bourbons. This time comparisons are made for barrel entry proof, time aged, and bottling proof. For example, Basil Hayden Bourbon enters the barrel at 115 proof, ages a minimum of 6 years, and then is bottled at 80 proof.
The Knob Creek Bottling Line
Before we headed off to see how Beam stores their barrels, we made a quick stop at the Knob Creek bottling line. Visitors have the opportunity to bottle their own Knob Creek single barrel bourbon on the tour. We took advantage of this option and enjoyed seeing the action of the workings of a high speed bottling line up close.
Barrel Warehouse F
While our Knob Creek Bourbon bottle would make its way to the the American Outpost Gift Shop for purchasing at the end of the tour, we were off to Warehouse F to learn about barrel storage. Even in the frigid temperatures, the sweet smell of the spiritous liquid wafted ever so slightly throughout the structure. The north/south facing warehouse F, built in 1948, houses just under twenty thousand barrels.
According to Justin, across its 550 acres, Beam’s current warehouse count stands at thirty-six. Their newest warehouse can be seen upon arrival or departure as it sits at the entrance to the campus. Warehouse F serves as the teaching warehouse. The barrel display here helps visitors learn about how barrels are aged at the James B. Beam Distillery. We also learned about the loss of whiskey volume due to evaporation, also known as, the “Angels’ share”. Justin wrapped up our warehouse time by pointing out a few other teaching tools and then it was time for a little tasting.
The Tasting Rooms
On the Beam Made Bourbon Tour visitors head back to the second floor of the James B. Beam Distilling Co. American Outpost for their tasting. Aptly named Kentucky Hug and Kentucky Chew are the 2 rooms which host the tastings for this tour, as well as the Meet The Family Tasting. The Beam Made Bourbon Tour finishes with a guided tasting of Jim Beam, Knob Creek and Basil Hayden. We however weren’t quite ready for our tasting as our final stop would be Jim Beam’s new experimental and educational space, the Fred B. Noe Distillery.
The Fred B. Noe Distillery
The Fred B. Noe Distillery is named in honor of 7th generation and current Master Distiller, Fred B. Noe. Innovation, experimentation, and education take precedence here. The distillery is under the well groomed leadership of the 8th generation Beam family member, Freddie Noe, son of Fred B. The building features a state of the art yeast propagation area and classroom as well as a hands-on blending lab. While the Beam brands of Booker’s, Baker’s, and Little Book continue life under this roof, creativity and exploration also have prominence. The distillery has everything that the next whiskey rooted generation would want, including its own tasting bar. Located on the lower level, the area is geared toward sampling the distillery’s creations and new releases for those in the spirits industry.
The Tasting Bar at the Fred B. Noe Distillery
While our enlightenment of everything Beam came to a conclusion, we were ready to try the finished product. Justin had our tasting set up right here at the Fred Noe Distillery bar, so we happily took our seats as he walked us through each of the samples. Justin encouraged us to take note of the color and nose each sample. We discussed flavors in the nose and those in the taste and finish. Before we knew it, our samples were empty and our time had come to a close.
We felt fortunate to have had a peek inside the new Fred B. Noe Distillery. Neither the family nor the company is content to rest on their respective laurels. The Fred B. Noe Distillery provides the optimum setting for the Beam family of distillers to continue their invaluable contributions while providing the James B. Beam Distilling Co. the crucial edge any company would need to stay at the top of their game.
The Gift Shop and The Kitchen Table Restaurant
We thanked Justin for a terrific tour as we headed back to the James B. Beam American Outpost. No visit is truly complete without a solid scouring of the gift shop, and the one at the Outpost has plenty to offer. One other new building on campus also had our interest; the new restaurant, The Kitchen Table. Since we were famished, that’s exactly where we headed next. The menu is compact and heavy on the smoked meats, which is something else the Beam family knows. There is a craft cocktail menus using Beam whiskeys, and beer and neat pours are also available. The food and cocktails were delicious. This is a restaurant deserving of many repeat visits.
Until Next Time
With our stomachs happily filled, we took our leave of The Kitchen Table and were ready to head home. Thanks to Justin and the walls of the Outpost, our insight into everything Beam had greatly improved. Jacob’s excess corn has led the Beam family down the whiskey path for over 200 years and the rest really is history. So whether history buff or bourbon nut, a stop at the Jame B. Beam Distilling Co. has plenty to offer both. The family gladly shares their stories while the company welcomes visitors to the many brands that are the James B. Beam Distilling Co.
We hope you have enjoyed our James B Beam Distilling Tour Review
Would you like to learn more about distilleries and bourbon? Are you planning a trip to Kentucky Distilleries? Maybe you would like to live the bourbon life vicariously through us?? If any of these are true, then check out BourbonObsessed.com today!
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