Friday, October 3, 2014

Jim...hiccup....Beam Distillery

Down the road south of Louisville is one of the Kentucky Bourbon trail distilleries, the Jim Beam Distillery. We went to Jeffersonville, Indiana (just north, across the Ohio River, from Louisville) to visit our son, Philip and we dragged him down to take a tour (and some samples !).

The most frequent misconception about bourbon is that it has to come from Kentucky, or has to come from Bourbon County. Not the case; in fact there are currently no operating distilleries within the Bourbon County. (Consider that your trump card on the drunk guy at the bar, who thinks he knows more about spirits than you do.)

But Kentucky certainly produces the lion's share. 95% of the world's bourbon is made in the stateand more than half of Kentucky bourbon is made by Jim Beam.

The white-label bourbon is a fixture on bars the world over. But that's not all Beam makes; other recognizable names including Knob Creek, Booker's, and Basil Hayden are also made by the company. All told, they produce more than 90 million bottles annually from their operation in Clermont, Kentucky. That's a LOT of bourbon.

The tour takes you through the factory that produces the lesser known brands. The real Jim Beam label distillery is a few miles down the road.

The first stop along the tour is where they make one-barrel batches on a very small scale to try out recipes before taking those formulas to the larger areas.

As you turn off the highway, this is your first indication you're near.

Tour guide is describing the ingredients. 

This the distilled liquor coming out in two stages. Low Wine is the first distilling, the High Wine is what is after the second distillation. 

Time to turn that beer into something much stronger. It travels to the top of this 35-foot copper still, and as it falls down the 14 separate plates within the still, it's heated north of 200°F, at which the alcohol vaporizes. It then recondenses into a liquid (the "low wine," around 125 proof) and then goes through a round of pot distillation, at which point the "high wine" is up to 135 proof.

Small batches of the mash.

Tops of the barrels from 1935 and 1949.

You can see they've gotten up to 12 million barrels by 2011. 
...speaking of barrels, this is where they put them to be aged.

Compare the  small still we saw up above with this six-story one used for the large process.

The large distillation facility (in addition to a smaller facility that's snazzed up for tours, but is still a productive operation). 60 feet tall, five stories, turning out 45 gallons of high wine per minute.

...and here's the liquor gushing out behind the tour guide.

Bourbon must be aged in new charred barrels of American white oak. The "high wine" is diluted down to 125 proof (per regulations) before it's put into the barrels. Jim Beam's barrels come from the Independent Stave Company, at a char level of 4—meaning they're burnt for 35 to 45 seconds.

53 gallons go into each barrel, but due to evaporation, they will lose 6–8%—known as the "angel's share"—for every year they age

We got to put our finger in this...yummmmm. Kim was the first in line!

It looks like I'm sneaking a sip, huh? Nope...that comes the tasting room.

...and into the building it goes to be aged
Where the aging takes place. Beam has 72 houses, storing 1.8 million barrels at any one time. This is the oldest, built in 1933, just after the repeal of Prohibition. Beam family lore holds that they were in such a rush to get whiskey aging the moment it was once again legal, that barrels were rolled into the storehouse even before it had been fully built.
Beam's White Label (by far their best seller) ages for four years; other, pricier bourbons in their line age for up to 12.

From the inside, it's hard to even see the top. The temperature differences from the ground floor to the ceiling can be considerable—upper floors can reach 120 to 130°F in the summer—and the hotter it is, the more rapidly the bourbon permeates the wood. Other distilleries rotate barrels to compensate for this. Beam chooses not to, instead making a final product that's a blend of barrels from the top, middle, and bottom.

Ready to drink. More than 300 bottles a minute fly off the line.
We went into a large room that contained hundreds of decanters that have been used over the years. EVERY one of them still contain Jim Beam bourbon. Check out how unique some of them are.

A chain saw decanter !

The grounds are beautiful and the smell from the distillery, when you first drive up, is wonderful !
Me and Philip mimicking Jim Beam's pose.

We found it very interesting that this cemetery is right outside the facility ! No connection but kinda quirky.
Nice, nice tour and we got to sample two of anything we wanted. DELICIOUS ! 

Glad you...hiccup, followed...hiccup...along with us on our journey to Jim Beam....hiccup!

Steve and Kim


  1. Steve, I hope that you and Kim don't decide to stay too close to JIM BEAM's distillery. Too much of that stuff may be bad for your health. JK I know you guys are having fun. Enjoy your day!
    Rodney V. Cain

    1. Just smelling the aroma as we drove up and through the plant was intoxicating !