The Beam name is an Anglicisation of Boehm, the family name of the German immigrants who settled in Kentucky in the latter half of the 18th Century.
The first of the Beam family to become a distiller in Kentucky was Johannes ‘Jacob’ Beam, who was born in 1770. Jacob’s distillery was called Old Tub and his whiskey, known as Old Jake Beam, was introduced in 1795. Remarkably, seven generations later, the business is still operated by Jacob Beam’s descendants, although ownership has now passed to Fortune Brands.
Jim Beam himself was a great-grandson of Jacob Beam, and ran the business from 1894 until 1946, selling the original distillery in 1920 shortly after the start of Prohibition, and building a new one in 1933 in Clermont, Kentucky, when the law was repealed - completing the task in just 120 days to get the company back in business. Jim Beam famously insisted on taking a jar of his yeast culture home with him on weekends in case any disaster befell the distillery in his absence, and this custom has continued to this day.
Following Jim Beam’s death in 1947 his son Jeremiah, who had taken over the company and was later to become the family’s fifth Master Distiller, expanded the business to cope with demand by building a second distillery near the town of Boston, Kentucky in 1954.
Jim Beam’s great-great-grandson Fred Noe is the current custodian of the brand, following the passing of the legendary Master Distiller Emeritus, Booker Noe, in 2004. It was Booker Noe who introduced the Small Batch Collection on which the distillery’s reputation for quality now rests.
Beginning in 1988 with his namesake bourbon Booker’s (claimed by the distillery to be the world’s first cask strength, straight-from-the-barrel bourbon), the Small Batch Collection was expanded in 1992 to include:
•Baker’s, a high-strength 7yo, which won Whisky of the Year from Whisky Magazine in 2007;
•Basil Hayden’s, a lighter-style high-rye-content 8yo bottled at 40%, and
•Knob Creek, a 50% abv 9yo claimed by the company to be the No.1-selling ultra-premium bourbon in the world.
As well as the iconic Jim Beam White Label, the world's best-selling bourbon, the distillery's core range comprises a longer-aged Black Label version, plus the charcoal-filtered Jim Beam Choice (Green Label), and Jim Beam Rye. Previous collector's editions such as the two Jim Beam Masterpiece editions are now highly sought-after by enthusiasts.
Character and Style of Jim Beam