“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
There are some words, some achievements, that are worth celebrating, even if their modern iteration doesn’t live up to its ideals in the popular imagination. It’s hard to find a more iconic American brand than Jim Beam. It’s the #1 selling Bourbon in the world and in many ways the Beam story, both that of the family and of the whiskey, parallels the story of America.
The story begins with members of the Böhm family, German immigrants who would latter change the spelling of their name to “Beam,” settled in the Kentucky territory in the late 18th century. The family patriarch, Johannes “Reginald” Beam, was a farmer. And like many farmers of the time he started producing corn whiskey as a way of preserving crops. This side venture lead to the first Beam whiskey to start flowing from the Old Tub Distillery in 1795.
Known as Old Jake Beam Sour Mash, this whiskey proved successful enough that when David Beam took over the family business not only was he able to expand the distribution he was also able to construct a new distillery in Nelson County in 1854. This move came amidst an industrial boom in the country which allowed for modernization of production, and the move to Nelson County allowed for greater use of the massively expanding rail system in the States.
The eponymous James Beauregard Beam over saw the family business both before and after the Great Failed American Experiment of Prohibition. Prohibition interrupted the family production but James was able to rebuild the distillery in 1933 in Clermont, Kentucky in a mere 120 days. It was at this point where “Jim Beam” entered the international lexicon and a member of the Beam family has been at the still, and half the other whiskey stills in the country, ever since.
The Beam family has spearheaded this spirit for over 220 years now. However, the actual company hasn’t been owned by a Beam since 1945 when it was purchased by Harry Blum, a Chicago Spirits Merchant. It’s changed hands several times throughout the decades but currently it is a subsidiary of Suntory Holdings known as Beam Suntory. The most American of products is now owned by the second largest international beverage corporation in the world.
Flash back to the mid 90’s. Bourbon wasn’t the hip, award winning, auction breaking behemoth that its turned into today, yet it was still worth celebrating. In 1995 Beam released a 200th anniversary edition decanter and it’s like a little time capsule of Bourbon Past crossed with where Bourbon Future.
Decanters used to be the industry gimmick. When no one wanted to drink Bourbon you made the bottle so irresistible that you had to snatch it up. Compare that to the specialty releases of today where a warehouse surviving a tornado is cause for an award winning bottling.
It was a unique bottling. Bottled at 95 Proof and aged for 75 months, also known as 6.25 years. A higher than standard proof and emphasize on aging, albeit in an archaic ,confusing way. Yet ,the most interesting difference is that there is almost no information about this bottle online. No mashbill info, no tasting notes, and only a smattering of secondary market offerings.
We can assume this was the standard Beam mashbill, which puts us at something like a 76% Corn, 12% Rye, 10% Malted Barley with a #4 Barrel Char.
On the nose there is a farm house quality, along with a dusty oak and touch of sweet caramel. The palette gives way to a familiar barrel char, dark stone fruit, and a lively backbone. The liquid is still very much alive even after 20 years in the bottle. The finish is clean and lingers for just an extra moment and leaves the yeasty, dusty feel that, to me at least, is an indelible part of the Beam DNA. In the end this is a bottle that simply, and eloquently, celebrates the style of whiskey that Jim Beam made, makes, and continues to make.
The Declaration of Independence was a larger enough summer blockbuster that it will inevitably get a sequel. And I hope that this time we truly do mean all humankind are created equal, and that the casting is colorblind.
This is a whiskey made by a family of immigrants, who traveled to a new country, set down roots and became synonymous with one of the most iconic, and living, pieces of Americana to ever exist. A hometown hero on the international stage. I just returned from a trip to the Cook Islands which is in the middle of nowhere South Pacific and they had one bourbon: Jim Beam. Yet, this All American Bourbon isn’t even American owned. To me this doesn’t take away from it’s Americanness, in fact in just speaks to how tightly we are tied to the rest of the world. No matter how much we fight it, there is no “Us” and “Them” any more. We’re all in this together.
As I sit sipping this whiskey musing on the fireworks, hot dogs, and pool side celebrations I can’t help but think that the Declaration of Independence was a larger enough summer blockbuster that it will inevitably get a sequel. And I hope that this time we truly do mean all humankind are created equal, and that the casting is colorblind.