Friday 15 December 2017

Kentucky whiskey king Parker Beam dies at 75

Parker Beam at the Bardstown distillery in 2006 (AP)
Parker Beam at the Bardstown distillery in 2006 (AP)

Parker Beam, one of the world's most famous whiskey makers, has died at 75.

Mr Beam, who carried on his family's historic bourbon-making tradition as long-time master distiller for Kentucky-based Heaven Hill Distilleries, died on Monday after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

His career as a whiskey maker spanned more than 50 years at Heaven Hill, based in Bardstown, a family-owned and operated distilled spirits company and maker of the popular Evan Williams brand.

Mr Beam, a grandnephew of Jim Beam, was responsible for distilling and ageing Evan Williams - the world's number two-selling bourbon - and other Heaven Hill whiskeys.

"He was a true industry giant long before the current bourbon renaissance," said Max Shapira, president of Heaven Hill Brands.

"Without question, he was committed to our industry and possessed a real passion for the craft of distilling."

Mr Beam's pedigree as a bourbon maker was impeccable; he was born into a family that traces its whiskey-making roots in Kentucky to 1795, when Jacob Beam set up his first still.

Park Beam, Parker's grandfather and namesake, was Jim Beam's brother.

"If you were a Beam, you sort of were destined to follow in the footsteps of either your father, grandfathers, cousins or uncles," Parker Beam said in 2007 interview.

Another industry patriarch, Bill Samuels, described his long-time friend "one of the good guys".

For some people, living up to a legendary family name could be a burden, but not so for Parker Beam, Mr Samuels said.

"In his case, he lived up to and exceeded the burden of having the most famous name in bourbon," said Mr Samuels, who retired after a long career as the top executive at Maker's Mark.

During his years-long battle with Lou Gehrig's disease, Mr Beam raised funds in the hope of helping to find a cure.

He was among a small fraternity of master distillers who oversaw production at various Kentucky distilleries during bourbon's revival.

Mr Beam began his career at Heaven Hill in 1960 and learned the craft by working alongside his father Earl.

The job of master distiller shifted from father to son in 1975 when Parker Beam assumed the role. He developed the company's first premium small batch and single barrel bourbons.

That father-son partnership extended into another generation when Parker Beam's son Craig, started working at Heaven Hill in 1983.

For years, the Beams shared duties as co-master distillers and Parker Beam had the title of master distiller emeritus at Heaven Hill at the time of this death.

"Parker Beam wasn't just a name on a bottle - he was the living embodiment of the whiskey inside - authentic, classic, well-seasoned and distilled from old-fashioned hard work and gentleman integrity," said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers' Association.

Craig Beam had his own humble start - on one school summer holiday he cleaned pigeon droppings in a vacant warehouse purchased by Heaven Hill and later drove a lorry for the distillery and worked in the bottling operation.

"I've got a whole lot to live up to with my father and grandfather," Craig Beam said in 2007.

"I've got a lot of weight on my shoulders."

AP

Press Association

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