Kentucky Bourbon Trail Part 11

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After the low key visit to Barton 1792, I headed back to Jim Beam for my 2:30 tour.

Wrong turn – back side of the Jim Beam property
Correct entrance
Long winding road
Finally found the visitor parking

I arrived with plenty of time to purchase a $15 cocktail (with the commemorative glass) and wandered up to where the drinks are prepared. The bartender served up a jalapeño cocktail that was really quite spicy and good. It left me thirsty, though… Probably as intended.

Visitor hours
Visitor’s Center
Plaque below Jim Beam’s statue
The great Jim Beam

Jim held onto the property during the prohibition but tried other industries, like mining limestone. He even tried his hand at growing fruit trees in Florida before prohibition ended and he heard the angels singing. He was over 70 years old when he threw up some warehouses and started churning out barrels and barrels of bourbon. Now his namesake booze is sold all over the world and is responsible for over half of all bourbon sold worldwide. And Maker’s Mark is part of the Beam team, too.

Warehouses
Old still? No, it’s an elevator in disguise
Jim Beam campus

The tour was really quite well done, as one would expect. It started on a small scale, showing all the details before seeing them on an industrial scale.

14 Square Feet of grain

On the floor was a representation of how much grain is required to make one barrel of bourbon. It’s less than I expected.

Yeast

Beam still uses the same strain of yeast that old Jim kept on his desk and took home with him on the weekends. And that bucket is part of the last batch fermented and will be used in the next, like sourdough bread. Hey, sourdough, sour mash…

Fermenting mash
Small beer still

The small scale operation looks a lot like what I saw at Barton only tiny.

Spirit still and try boxes
Try boxes

We went outside and moved some white dog (moonshine) into barrels. Of course we had a bit of at taste, just what we could get on our fingers. I didn’t find it as flavorful as Barton’s.

Milestones – The clear liquid is moonshine
More milestones

We made a mess filling that barrel.

Fermeting vats

Now that we had a sense of the operation, we were taken to one of the large volume fermenting buildings. The size is staggering.

Fermenting vats

There’s another room like this to keep up with the volume required.

Production try boxes

The alcohol is really flowing through those try boxes.

Barrels and barrels
Barrels
Special barrels

I’ve noticed there are always special signed barrels for the tour groups to photograph.

Warehouse depiction

Maker’s Mark spoke of how they move the barrels around in the warehouse to expose each  individual barrel to the different environmental conditions in the various locations within the warehouse. Jim Beam has a different theory. Since they’re looking for a consistent flavor, they take large numbers of barrels from all over the warehouse and mix them all together into one large batch. That way everything evens out. The orange circles above are the prime aging locations within the warehouse that are chosen for Knob Creek and the other single barrel higher end bourbons.

Barrel strength

The highlight of the Jim Beam tour was the Knob Creek Single Barrel bottling portion. We poured this glass straight from a barrel. Note the dark color. This is the good stuff. The guy who collected it got a handful and was licking it off. Grab a used bung on your way into the bottling station. The bourbon line is cool. Nice memento.

Bottling line

For $50, the retail price of a bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Small Batch 120 proof bourbon, you could bottle your own. We grabbed an empty bottle, labeled it with auto industry colored circle stickers, washed it with bourbon, and put it on the line.

Ready for filling

Everybody turned on their videos and jostled for position to see their special bottle go through the filling, capping, and labeling process. I will add my video later.

Labeling
My bottle. I washed it. Mine.

After bottling we took it to the waxing station and the helpful workers applied wax and branding and then had us put our thumbprints on our bottles. How much more personal can you make it. It’s mine. There are many like it but this one is mine. My thumbprint. No others is exactly the same. Truly personal. I don’t know if I can drink it…

Wax seal application

They boxed it and took them back to the visitor’s center whilst we went for our tasting. It was hard to say goodbye.

The tasting was actually tough. The number of products Jim Beam produces is vast, including a number of liqueurs. The law stipulates we could only have three 1.5 ounce pours. Naturally there’s a high tech version of this. We were gifted a shot glass, a credit card, and a menu.

Jim Beam products

Once you selected your choice, you have to find the machine that dispenses your selection. Each side of each machine has four possible bottles. You slide your card into the slot, hold up your shot glass, and press the button. You get 1.5 ounces. No more, no less. Choose wisely. I enjoyed the Jim Beam Double Oak quite a bit. The Devil’s Cut was good, and it was what the bartender used for my spicy cocktail. It’s a reference to the bourbon that has been soaked into the barrel staves when emptied. They add water and shake to get it out to add to normal bourbon, and it has a distinct flavor. I didn’t care for the high end Bookers, but that’s just me.

My personal bottle of Knob Creek. Can you tell?

I went to claim my bottle and was offered the opportunity to laser etch the bottle to personalize it further. $5? No brainer. What should I put on it? Ah, I know…

The motto of Jim Beam is “Come as a friend, leave as family“. They really do a good job of welcoming tourists into the fold. Corporate, measured, safe, professional, but really inclusive and educational. And I left with my thumbprint on a bottle with my blog address on it and I’ll probably never drink it. I’ll have to buy another just to enjoy. They really know how to separate a tourist from his cash…

Jim Beam American Stillhouse
526 Happy Hollow Rd
Clermont, KY 40110

Part 10 is here.

Part 12 is here.

~ Freddy

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Freddy

I’m an engineer, a veteran, and an avid traveler. I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson – “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

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