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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Public Service Announcement. The Real Jack and Coke

It has been estimated that most Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey is consumed with Coca Cola, over ice, in a combination consisting of one part Jack to four or five parts Coke (or, if you prefer, Pepsi). A lime wedge might be included if you're fancy.

It isn't just Jack Daniel's, of course. A lot of Jim Beam is consumed the same way. Ditto Evan Williams, Wild Turkey, and most other popular bourbons. This is not a criticism of people who mix whiskey with soft drinks. It's a venerable practice and the way you drink your whiskey, or anything else, is up to you. Although if you mix Pappy 23 with Coke in public, expect tears.

The typical Jack and Coke is a form of highball. Although some people have fetishized the highball as whiskey and soda water, with a squeeze of citrus, and nothing else, any drink that combines one part whiskey with four or five parts sparkling soda in a tall glass over ice, with or without cola or other flavoring and sweetener, is a highball.

The public service part of this post is to tell you that in the American whiskey heartland of Kentucky and Tennessee, and quite probably some other parts of the South, Jack and Coke or Bourbon and Coke is decidedly not a highball.

I learned this in the region by attending private events that employ bartenders. In a public bar, even in the South, if you order Jack and Coke you get a highball, but at private parties where both the bartender and the guests know Southern traditions, it goes like this.

"Jack and Coke, please," or "Bourbon and Coke, please."

The bartender fills an on-the-rocks glass with ice and starts to pour in the whiskey, watching the guest for a signal. "There," the guest finally says, with the glass nearly full. The bartender then tops off the drink with Coke and adds a lemon or lime wedge. I have observed this scene countless times. The typical highball ratio is reversed. It's more like one part Coke and four or five parts whiskey, as it should be.

You're welcome.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Whatever Happened to Old Judge?

Otis Beam (right), one of the seven distiller sons of Joseph L. Beam.
Old Judge is a distillery, fairly important in its day, that seems to disappear from history almost as soon as it appears. Was it revived in some form after Prohibition? Not with that name, nor with its #1 brand. The distillery's pre-Prohibition best-seller, Old Fitzgerald, was owned by Louisville's Stitzel-Weller Distillery when Prohibition ended.

This picture, taken in 1961, may have been taken at the distillery once known as Old Judge. The man in the suit, on the right, is Otis Beam, one of the seven distiller sons of Joseph L. Beam. The distillery where this was taken was called 21 Brands. The picture comes from a neat little collection of 16 photos at the University of Louisville Library that can be found here.

21 Brands was owned by Francis T. Hunter, the gold medal winner in tennis at the 1924 Paris Olympics, who in 1933 founded 21 Brands, an importer and distributor of wine and liquor. In 1956, he bought what was then the Rocky Ford Distillery. According to the Dow Jones News Service, it had a production capacity of 40,000 barrels a year, about 2 million gallons. The purchase price was a little more than $1 million. Hunter sold it in the late 1960s to Sid Flashman, who changed the name to Double Springs. The final owner was Abe Schecter, formerly of Barton, who closed it for good in about 1978.

After consulting Sam Cecil's book as well as Trey Zoeller's, it would appear that 21 Brands was Old Judge, refurbished into a modern plant. According to Zoeller, it was also called Old Kennebec, whereas Cecil has those as two separate distilleries.

No one knows who established the original distillery on Benson Creek but it was owned by Charles Herbst, a major international wine and spirits dealer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Herbst always claimed it was established by John Fitzgerald, after whom Old Fitzgerald was named, but that turns out to be fiction. Herbst's Old Fitzgerald was, however, a very successful pre-Prohibition brand. A photo of the Old Judge Distillery, taken in 1906, was altered to serve as the Jno. E. Fitzgerald Distillery in advertising. Herbst's distillers at Old Judge were members of the Bixler family.

During Prohibition, Herbst sold the Old Fitzgerald brand but not the distillery to Pappy Van Winkle's Stitzel-Weller Distillery. What had been Old Judge was revived and modernized after Prohibition and went through a number of different owners and names, including Sam Clay and Benson Creek, before becoming Rocky Ford and then 21 Brands.

Distilleries like 21 Brands struggled to survive, even though bourbon was booming, because although they had a few small, regional brands they mostly sold bulk whiskey to non-distiller producers, a very competitive, low margin business. When sales began to trend downward at the end of the 1960s, everyone found themselves with too much inventory. Producers that had strong brands in their stables were able to continue but most commodity producers went out of business.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Jack Daniel's Isn't Big Enough

Brown-Forman Corporation announced today that it will expand the Jack Daniel Distillery in response to global demand for its world-famous Tennessee Whiskey. The more than $100 million investment will include the addition of stills, barrel warehouses, and related infrastructure to support the expanded operations.

The Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, is already the largest whiskey distillery in the United States.

The expansion will result in approximately 90 additional full-time jobs over the next five years. Construction will begin this fall and is expected to be completed within two years. All of the new facilities will be in the Lynchburg area and use the same water source as the current distillery, but won't necessarily be visible to the 250,000 people who tour Jack Daniel's annually.

The illusion of a small, rural distillery untouched by time will be carefully preserved.

Jack Daniel’s volume has grown for 21 consecutive years. The Jack Daniel’s family of brands grew global net sales by nine percent in the last fiscal year.

About a year ago, Brown-Forman announced construction of a new cooperage (barrel-making facility) in Lawrence County, Alabama, near Decatur, about 80 miles from Lynchburg.

Earlier this year, with the support of Governor Bill Haslam, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation requiring that any spirit labeled 'Tennessee Whiskey' must be charcoal mellowed and produced in the state, which Jack Daniel's claims creates a new spirit category similar to Kentucky Bourbon.

It doesn't, since Kentucky Bourbon isn't a category (bourbon is) and Tennessee Whiskey is still not recognized by the U.S. Treasury's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau, but it's a step in that direction and should effectively prevent distilleries who don't comply with the new law's specifications from using the Tennessee Whiskey designation.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Great Long Beach Island Shark Kill of 1982

I don't often devote this space to anything other than American whiskey, so I like to warn readers when I do. This is one of those times.

My family on my mother's side has a long relationship with Long Beach Island, New Jersey (LBI). I don't get out there as often as I'd like but I'm going in a few weeks. That and the recent shark-related media frenzy have me thinking about something I saw there 30 years ago.

A brief digression. The photograph above was taken at LBI in 1959, not 1982. My dad took it but I'm sure it was at the insistence of myself and my three brothers, who thought it was just about the coolest thing we'd ever seen, being as we lived in Ohio and were all younger than eight.

One nice feature of LBI is that its southern end is completely undeveloped and preserved in its natural state. You can walk on it--at least you could in 1982--but that's it. There are no roads, no buildings, nothing but ocean, sand, dune grass, some other plants, and whatever can live there.

The Jersey Shore is highly developed, so something like this is pretty rare and special. My wife and I planned to walk down to the inlet and back, a trek of about four miles. We expected a quiet, private, relaxing, and maybe romantic experience.

We were far enough for Holgate to be out of sight when we saw the first one, then the second, then another and another, every few feet for as far as we could see. Sharks. Hundreds of them, washed up onto the beach. Head first, every single one. Like sardines in a can. They were small, two-and-a-half to six feet in length, and a harmless species, based on what someone told us later. All dead, of course, and killed the same way. Each body had a deep slash at what I would call the throat, if sharks have throats, all on the right side.

It must have been done earlier that day. All of the shark bodies were whole, unmarked except for the slits, and none had started to decay. They didn't smell.

After the initial shock, they seemed more eerie than horrifying. They didn't go all the way to the inlet but we did. The boiling waters between the two islands had their own wild thrill. Then we back-tracked, walking past the sharks again, and that was it.

Later we asked around and no one could explain what we saw, though no one suggested it was normal or common. The consensus was that it was somebody killing sharks for sport. I have since read about the 'Jaws effect,' in which the movie allegedly inspired "legions of fishermen [who] piled into boats and killed thousands of the ocean predators in shark-fishing tournaments." Maybe we saw an example of that.

The dead sharks are long gone. So is the wife. But I'll always have this peculiar memory about a walk that didn't turn out quite as we expected.

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.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mr. Boston Rock & Rye Rolling Along to a Comeback

I rarely just reprint press releases but this one, from Sazerac, struck me as amazing. The heyday of Rock & Rye was before my time, and I'm old. I guess everything old really is new again, and I do mean everything, even me.

Here's the release:

Mr. Boston Rock & Rye, the venerable rye whiskey liqueur flavored with citrus, is making a strong comeback in the southern United States, as on- and off-premise consumers are re-discovering this sweet treat.

Believed, in the late 1800s, to be the cure for the common cold, this combination of rye whiskey sweetened with sugar and citrus fruits became so popular it found its way into pop culture, with references in books and songs from 1914 all the way up to 1948.

In 1939, Mr. Boston began bottling this famous concoction, and 74 years later, the rye whiskey liqueur is showing a resurgence, as consumers are flocking to bars and liquor stores and enjoying it either straight or on-the-rocks. With double digit growth in the past year in some markets, it’s clear the flavored whiskey craze has reignited the taste for some old classics too, such as Rock & Rye.

“Consumers who are of newly legal drinking age and older have been raised on soft drinks and other sweet beverages, and crave that taste as they get older and look for adult beverages,” said Lori Logan, brand director, Mr. Boston. “With the popularity of flavored whiskeys over the past few years, combined with the yearnings for classic cocktails, it’s no wonder we’ve seen an increase in sales both on- and off-premise for Rock & Rye.

Mr. Boston Rock & Rye is 54° proof (27% ABV) and is available in 200 ml, 375 ml and 750 ml. The 750 ml retails for a suggested price of $9.99.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

There's Still Summer Enough Left for a Good Punch

You may think punches are just cocktail recipes scaled up but it's the other way around. Punches were the first mixed drinks and many of the earliest cocktails were simply punch recipes recalculated for a single serving.

Most of what I know about punches I've learned from David Wondrich, a cocktail historian of some renown. Once, when I had grown cynical about cocktails, a weekend with Mr. Wondrich, at historic Mount Vernon no less, got the spark back.

A punch recipe typically has five ingredients, as do many classic cocktail recipes. They are alcohol, water, citrus fruit, sugar, and spice.

Punch is great for a party because the host can make it ahead of time and then join the party, rather than tending bar. Unfortunately, the 'jungle juice' most of us experienced in our youth has put us off punches.

Give them another chance.

Wondrich suggests the following punch recipe in the Summer 2013 issue of Whisky Advocate Magazine. He estimates it's enough for 50 people.

The main ingredient is three 1.75 liter bottles of Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (the standard black label expression), selected for its ready availability and superior value. You will also need about 40 lemons, three pounds of sugar, two gallons of water, and a two-gallon block of ice.

Now it gets a little complicated, but remember you're doing this the day before. Peel half of the lemons and muddle the peels with the sugar. Let that sit for at least three hours. Juice and strain all of the lemons and add the juice to the rested peel/sugar mixture. Stir until all of the sugar has dissolved.

Pour that into a five gallon cooler. Add the whiskey, water, and ice. Stir again until everything is well mixed and adjust the sweetness to taste.

In Wondrich's published version of this recipe he forgets to add the whiskey, an oversight corrected here.