10 Things You Didn’t Know About Jim Beam

This beloved bourbon has quite a fascinating story to tell

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Jim Beam

Even if you’re not a drinker, you’ve probably heard of Jim Beam. But who exactly was Jim Beam, and what’s the story behind one of the world’s most popular bourbon whiskeys?

It Wasn’t Always Called Jim Beam

Before it was renamed Jim Beam following Prohibition, the company was originally known as Old Tub, and its flagship whiskey was called Old Jake Beam. 

It Was Rebuilt From Scratch After Prohibition

Prohibition took its toll on Jim Beam just like it did on every other American liquor distillery. After Prohibition ended in 1933, Jim Beam (the man), who had run the company since before Prohibition, rebuilt the distillery from the ground up in Clermont, Kentucky. When the company finally got back up and running two years later, it was renamed in his honor. 

One Master Distiller Invented the Small-Batch Whiskey Market

Jim Beam’s grandson, Booker Noe, is a legend in the industry. He served as master distiller for more than 40 years, and in 1987, he inadvertently created an entire new market when he released Booker’s, the company’s first uncut, straight-from-the-barrel bourbon. Expensive, upscale, and seriously delicious, demand for it was so huge that it inspired many other distilleries to release small-batch bourbons of their own. 

It’s Been Owned by a Japanese Company Since 2014

In 2014, Beam was purchased by Suntory Holdings, a Japanese company best known for introducing Japan’s first whiskey. Also included in the sale were Maker’s Mark, Teacher’s Highland Cream, and Laphroaig Scotch whisky; the sale price was a whopping $13.62 billion. The parent company is today called Beam Suntory.

It’s Closely Tied to a Competitor, Heaven Hill

Heaven Hill is another major player in the bourbon scene, but it would most likely not be nearly as successful if not for the Beam family. The original master distiller at Heaven Hill was Jim Beam’s first cousin, Joseph Beam, and five generations later, Heaven Hill’s current master distillers are Parker Beam and his son Craig. 

The Formula Hasn’t Changed in Hundreds of Years

Jim Beam has been brewed with the same formula of corn, rye, and barley malt since its very earliest days, and the process (while modernized) has actually changed very little. The strain of yeast used in its creation is the same one that Jim Beam himself first used after the distillery came back online after Prohibition; Fred Noe keeps a jar of it in his fridge for safekeeping, in case of emergency. 

200 Jim Beam Workers Went on Strike in October 2016

Last year, Beam employees spent a week on strike after rejecting two contract proposals; their major complaints stemmed from 80-hour work weeks and the company’s use of part-time workers during spikes in demand instead of hiring more full-time workers year-round. 

Beam Produces Several Well-Known Small-Batch Bourbons

Booker’s isn’t the only small-batch bourbon Beam produces; other bourbons in the Small Batch Bourbon collection include Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s, and Knob Creek. 

The “Sour Mash” Process Has a Lot in Common With Bread Baking

You’ve probably seen the term “sour mash” on bourbon bottles (Jack Daniel’s also has it prominently displayed) and have been wondering what exactly sour mashing is. It’s actually closely related to the process used to make sourdough bread (hence the “sour”): In order to maintain consistency from batch to batch, a small amount of the previous batch of ground grains (called mash) is added to the current batch. Just like in making sourdough, when a small amount of the previous batch of dough is added to the current one. 

There’s a Whole Lot of Beam-Branded Food and Merchandise Out There

Merchandising, merchandising! There’s a whole line of Jim Beam-branded foods, including sunflower seeds, beef jerky, hot sauce, pancake syrup, marinated salmon, and pulled pork. And on the non-edible side, Beam merchandise includes pool tables, lighters, smokers made from Beam barrels, dartboards, and clothes.