For more than 200 years, the Beam family has been in the business of making the world's best-selling bourbon.
In 1788, the same year that the Constitution of the United States was ratified and took effect, Jacob Beam, the great grandfather of the legendary Jim Beam, decided to go west to seek a better life. He loaded up all of his belongings, strapped his copper still to the back of his second-hand wagon and traveled west, settling in Kentucky shortly before it was admitted to the Union as the 15th state in 1792.
A farmer but also a miller by trade, Jacob built a water-driven mill where he would grind people's corn for a percentage of their crop. Extra grain was difficult to store in those days, and even tougher to get to market. Beam knew that whiskey provided the safest and most economical way to use surplus corn. It wasn't subject to mildew, was easy to transport and was considered even more valuable than unstable Continental currency.
Using his own still, Jacob began to produce an amber-colored whiskey made from a fermented mash of corn, rye and malt. The product -- which used more corn than any other ingredient -- was called bourbon, after Kentucky's Bourbon County. Beam sold his first barrel of bourbon in 1795.
Jacob passed the family bourbon-making traditions on to his son, David, in 1820. During David's tenure as Master Distiller, the nation was embarking on the industrial age. As the discovery of California gold brought hundreds of Americans west, new immigrants were pouring into America in search of freedom and fortune. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and navigation on the Mississippi made the shipping of goods, like bourbon, easier and more accessible than ever.
David M. Beam, son of David and grandson of Jacob, took over the distillery and the family's bourbon-making secrets in 1850, a few years before the Civil War began. Soon after his father died in 1854, David moved the distillery to Nelson County, KY, closer to the state's first railroad. He called his new home the Clear Spring Distillery, after the clear, spring water found in a nearby river
David M. brought his son, the legendary James "Jim" Beauregard Beam, into the business when he was 16. David taught him the same skills and knowledge of bourbon making that his father handed down to him. Jim took over the family distillery in 1894 at the age of 30, and for the next 52 years, continued to oversee the distillation process.
Jim Beam's company continued to grow and prosper during the early 1900s until it was forced to shut down during Prohibition in 1919. During the 14 years of Prohibition, Beam sold all of his liquor holdings to take up citrus growing in Florida, then coal mining and running a limestone quarry.
With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the 70-year-old Jim Beam returned to distilling and incorporated The James B. Beam Distilling Co., in Clermont, KY, on August 14, 1934. Eleven years later, in 1946, Jim Beam's son, T. Jeremiah Beam, became President and Treasurer of the James B. Beam Distilling Co. Jim Beam died one year later at the age of 83.
Jeremiah saw that his sister's son, F. Booker Noe, Jr., had the family passion and talent for bourbon making. Jeremiah brought his nephew into the family distillery when he was 21. At Jeremiah's side, Booker learned the family bourbon-making traditions and secrets.
Under Booker's watchful eye, the Jim Beam distillery still uses
the same vintage yeast strain created by Jim Beam in 1934. Today, as Jim Beam
Bourbon celebrates 203 years of family history, Booker serves as master distiller
emeritus of Jim Beam Bourbon.