Friday, August 16, 2013

More to See and Do at Jim Beam, and Across the Street

First, some news. I've long wanted to do a Chuck Cowdery-guided tour of bourbon country and it looks like that's going to happen. Imagine it: you, me, in a bus, with a couple of bottles. We'll hit some distilleries, but also a lot of other cool places nobody else gets to see. (You don't need me to do distillery tours.)

More details as they become available.

Meanwhile, the distillers continue to make their visitor experiences worth the trip. Jim Beam, which has spent millions over the last few years to create a world-class visitor experience at its Clermont distillery, has just made another major addition, an on-site restaurant called 'Fred's Smokehouse.'

Fred Noe is no stranger to smoked meat. There's a fine smokehouse out behind the house where he grew up with his dad, Booker Noe. It was built when Jim Beam, Fred's great-grandfather, lived there. Booker liked to make his own ham and sausage. He once freaked out a Fortune Magazine reporter by butchering a hog on the dining room table. (He put down papers first.) Fred Noe continues to stock the family smokehouse. I doubt they'll serve any of his meat at the new restaurant (a Louisville caterer is doing the food), but Fred genuinely knows his way around smoked meat. Just like he keeps an eye on the whiskey, I'm sure he'll pay close attention to what they're serving at his first (maybe not last?) namesake restaurant too.

The menu is inspired by the bold, rich flavor of some of Beam’s best-selling whiskies. It features items such as Devil’s Cut Pulled Pork BBQ on a Brioche Bun, Aunt Mimi’s mouthwatering bourbon baked beans, and a signature homemade chocolate bourbon pie with Graeter’s Jim Beam Bourbon ice cream. Most everything is from Kentucky. (Graeter's, technically, is from Cincinnati.) Menu prices range from $1.49 to $8.99.

It's a good thing they used Aunt Mimi's bean recipe and not the one Fred's mom used when she blew the door off the oven, not once but twice. It contained a little bit too much bourbon!

Fred’s Smokehouse is open daily 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Sunday (March 1 – November 1) and will have limited hours November through February. For more information, visit

Louisville Stoneware has created a commemorative Fred's Smokehouse Decanter that's available in the adjacent American Stillhouse gift shop.

You don't need to do a tour to stop in at Fred's for lunch.

If you're visiting Beam and you're a nature lover, allow some time to visit Bernheim Forest. It's right across the street from Beam. Bernheim is a 10,000 acre park and nature preserve. Some of it's landscaped, some of it's wild. There are several ponds with ducks and swans. There are hiking and bike trails. It's really a beautiful place.

Bernheim Forest is owned and operated by a private foundation, but is open to the public.

Bernheim Forest has a bourbon connection. It was a gift to the people of Kentucky from Issac Wolfe Bernheim, who was a successful 19th century distiller and whiskey merchant. Descendants of I. W. Bernheim still sit on the foundation board and help manage its endowment. Bernheim created the I. W. Harper bourbon brand (using his own first two initials for the name), which is sadly no longer sold in the USA, but is popular in Japan and other places. (It's owned by Diageo.)


Justin Victor said...


I have no idea if your tour will coincide with a time that is compatible with my schedule but I am very interested in hearing more about it. I look foreword to your updates.
If the heavens line up and shine on me, I'm in!

EllenJ said...

Fred Noe just might be the most dedicated ambassador Jim Beam ever had. Including his iconic father, the great Booker Noe in my opinion.

But whiskey was not the central interest in Fred's life before 2007 and it probably isn't today either, although you'd never know it from listening to him.

Young Freddie has come far from the guy who reluctantly took on the nearly impossible task of replacing his famous father. Unlike Craig Beam, Ed Russell, or Preston Van Winkle, Fred never had (nor wanted, it seemed) the chance to develop under his father's guidance. In fact, he really didn't have a Jim Beam "ambassadorship" in mind before he got drafted into it. I remember some of his earliest speaking events, and realizing just how impossible it was to fill those rather large shoes. Fred is not a big, blustery guy like his father. Booker was known for his barely restrained crudity and a simplicity of comment that made even his most ignorant listener feel culturally superior -- and perhaps a tad nervous.

Fred isn't like that at all. He has developed a very engaging persona that emphasizes his knowledge rather than his personal stature and good-ol'-country-boy attitude. He doesn't try to fool you into thinking that he makes every drop of Beam whiskey, or any for that matter. But he understands his products a lot better than most ambassadors and publicly-designated "master distillers". And it shows.

Most importantly, Fred had the good sense to realize that he isn't built for the part his father created. Indeed, probably no one could have taken on that role as Booker established it. Freddie chose a different direction, and over a half dozen years has honed that character into its own perfection. Today's Fred Noe walks into a tasting or a presentation with every bit as much authority as his father, but with no hint of trying to emulate that style. He has also developed a public image of one who is personally responsible for developing new brands and even for selecting which barrels will be selected. Most of us don't believe that, at face value, and Fred has never made such a claim as far as I know. Even his father was only credited with the brand under his own name (and somewhat for the other original Small Batch brands), although he probably had as much (or little) to do with brand development as any master distiller. Jimmy Russell and the late Elmer T. Lee come to mind as actual distillers who have influenced the brands of whiskey they produce, at least in the minds of consumers. Fred has managed to establish that same credibility, even without being an actual distiller, and he takes full advantage of it when speaking about Jim Beam products. And that means ALL Jim Beam products; it's hard to image Fred's illustrious father working to make one a fan of Red Stagg, but Fred will give it everything he's got. And he'll be successful most times, too.

Booker was fanatical about lots of things, and high on his list was smoked meat. It is said that he traveled nowhere without a ham or two in the trunk of his car. During Kentucky Bourbon Festivals, and probably lots of other occasions as little Freddie was growing up, he was known for inviting in strangers on the street when doing a family barbecue. Booker never established an actual restaurant to serve smoked meats, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Fred establishes a chain of such places. After all, good smoked meat, like good bourbon whiskey, isn't so difficult to make, once you know how. The trick to commercial success is in how you market it. So move it on over Smokey Jones. Look out, Famous Dave. Better get outta da' way, Lucille. I never met Smokey, or Dave, or Lucille, but my guess is that if Fred Noe wants to get into the smokehouse restaurant business, he's likely to blow everyone else away. And the next time I drive past the Beam distillery on my way to Bardstown, you can bet your sweet hammocks I'll be stopping in to pig out at Fred's place.

Anonymous said...

To Ellen J.

I assume you know Fred Noe well. Or else you have a writer's talent for concisely describing an interesting character. I'll assume the former (and, really, the latter, too). Like a lot of bourbon enthusiasts, I've spoken with Fred, in my case, once at the Bourbon Festival as he sat there in his rocking chair by the Jim Beam display. I quickly discovered that he's a very affable and unassuming guy. I've even read with interest his recent book. But your commentary adds an extra and nuanced dimension to the story of who Fred Noe really is. In short, Ellen, great comment!

Tom Troland

EllenJ said...

Aw shucks.
Thank you, Tom.