UNKNOWN MALE: ----------(??)
JIM KORKORUS: Okay, let's start off, uh, with a basic question. Can you tell
us your name and, um, your, your, your job title or function here at, at the distillery?
FRED NOE: I'm Fred Noe. I'm the Master Distiller here at Jim Beam.
KORKORUS: And we're sitting in a beautiful setting here. Can you describe that
here on the distillery grounds?
NOE: We are in the Knob Creek Guest House on the distillery grounds, here, in Clermont.
NOE: Uh, we acquired this house. Uh, when we bought this property, and we use
it for letting customers stay here if they come visit, and, uh, meetings, and
lunches, and interviews like we're doing right now.
KORKORUS: And we're only a few miles from Bardstown, Kentucky. Uh, can you
tell us, um, a little bit about the town, and is that where you were born?
NOE: Yeah. I was born and raised in Bardstown, Kentucky, the bourbon capital
of the world. Bardstown's about fifteen miles from where we're sitting right
now. Uh, it's, uh, was the home for many, many distilleries before Prohibition.
00:01:00Uh, several came back after Prohibition. Now there's just a couple that are
still up and running there, but that was the main industry in Bardstown back in
the old days. The main street, North Third Street, uh, was known as
"Distiller's Row" because of the master distillers that lived along the main
street of Bardstown. Now, I guess I'm the only master distiller that's still
living on Third Street in Bardstown, but.
KORKORUS: What was it like growing up in Bardstown, in that environment, in
that bourbon environment? Did, what, did the bourbon families intermingle? Did
they associate with each other? Were they friends? Were they competitors?
NOE: Oh, you know, growing up in Bardstown when I was a kid, there was many,
many families involved in the bourbon industry, and we were all friends. I
mean, Charlie DeSpain, who was, at the time, was the plant manager at Heaven
Hill. He lived about a half a block from our house. And every year at the
00:02:00Bourbon Open golf tournament, Charlie hosted a, a huge cocktail party in his
backyard. And I can remember being, as a kid, watching the people come and go
from his house that, that night. And everybody was friendly. I mean, you know,
it was a, you know, a lot of families were touching bourbon. And it wasn't, you
know, that was a big industry, so everybody's families worked in different distilleries--
NOE: --and that was just what your, your, uh, folks did, was, that's what, like
my dad was at Jim Beam. Uh, friend of mine down the street, his mom worked at
Heaven Hill, and there was Barton and Schenley and Double Springs and all these
other distilleries right there in Nelson County. So, yeah, it was very common.
KORKORUS: You are, um, tell us your relationship to, uh, Jim Beam.
NOE: Jim Beam was my great-grandfather. Uh, I'm the seventh generation of
Beams to be involved in the bourbon industry, here, in Kentucky.
KORKORUS: Um-hm. And growing up, were you aware that you were part of this,
um, um, established, and albeit, famous distilling family? Were you aware of that?
NOE: Well, you know, growing up, you know, in the family, my dad was the boss
at Jim Beam. That was all I knew as a boy and I went with him to the
distillery. You know, and that's where I learned to hunt, where I learned to
fish. You know, I rode on the trucks. The train that came in that delivered
goods, grain, and other, uh, products they used, I would ride on the train. I
mean, it was just a place where my dad worked. Then a lot of my friends'
fathers worked there, too. So, that's just where our parents worked. And you
didn't really think about it, what it was all about until later in life when--
NOE: --you know, I was away at military school and my father would bring
bottles to the, all the teachers. That's probably what kept me in school. But
00:04:00for Christmas gifts, he would bring bottles of bourbon down. And then it kind
of, I became aware that, you know, my family was pretty special because we made
bourbon and a lot of people like bourbon. But when you're a kid growing up,
it's just another job, I mean, for your, your parents did it.
KORKORUS: When you were young, younger, uh, maybe as a boy, did you always
think you would just, was it assumed that you would go into the family business?
NOE: No, my dad, to be honest, Booker, he, he did a lot to try to discourage--
NOE: --me from coming into the bourbon business to where it was my decision. He
never wanted me to feel any pressure that I was expected to come to work at Jim
Beam. I mean, he wanted it to be my call and the decision that I wanted to do.
So, I mean, he would try to paint a bad picture. And, you know, get your
00:05:00college education where you can do anything you want to do. You don't want to
work at the distillery. You want to do something better, something different.
So, but in the back of his mind that's what he wanted me to do. But in his way,
that was his way of making it be my decision and not him dragging me into it.
KORKORUS: And when did you make that decision?
NOE: After I got out of college, I was, uh, that was Dad's one rule for me was,
uh, finish college and then we'll talk about giving you a job, if that's what
you want to do. Since he didn't finish college, you know, his thing for me was
to make sure I had my college education. So, when I got finished with college,
I considered going on the road with, uh, Hank Williams Jr. That was a, a
country music band that Jim Beam was sponsoring at the time, and I was pretty
friendly with Hank and the band. And, and, you know, I'd been to a lot of
concerts, and I thought about going on the road, being the road manager for him.
00:06:00And my father saw that if they didn't have a job for me, I might go down that
path. And they quickly found me a job here at Jim Beam. I think Booker knew
that if I went--(laughs)--down that path, I might not of had a very long life
with all the, the fun and games on the road with a country music band, but, uh--
KORKORUS: --what was your very first job here at the distillery?
NOE: Um, bottling supervisor. Bottling-line supervisor. Night shift. Uh, Dad
wanted to start me at pretty much at the ground-up, and night shift,
bottling-line supervisor is about as close to the ground as I think you can find
here at the plant. But really, my job was, you know, relief supervisor, because
when they weren't running a bottling line on night shift, they would stick me in
whatever department needed a supervisor. I've pretty much worked in every
department--well, have worked in every department here at Beam from watching the
00:07:00guys cut grass, to the warehouse, to the distillery, dry house.
KORKORUS: How long have you worked here at, at Beam?
NOE: This, uh, is my twenty-ninth year here at Jim Beam.
KORKORUS: And, and over the years, have you ever thought of leaving the
industry and, or the distillery and doing something else?
NOE: No, I've never thought about leaving since I got here. You know, I,
that's been(??), once I got here, I think I've took to it pretty well. You
know, I had a good bunch of people I worked with on the night shift. You know,
they took me under their wing. Once they figured out that I wasn't a spy--you
know, being Jim Beam's great grandson and Booker's son, uh, when I first came to
work, I know they kind of looked at me funny and thought, Well, we can't do
anything around Fred. Uh, he'll tell his dad and we'll all get fired if we
happen to take a drink or if we do anything. Well, after a little while, they
figured out that I wasn't--(laughs)--a spy. Long as they got the work done, I
00:08:00didn't really care what went on. I was part of the, the crew. And they took me
under, like I said, took me under their wing and I learned a lot. I think now
looking back on it a lot of them respect me because I was who I was and I
wouldn't a, you know, I didn't try to make the, I didn't know how to do the
stuff. They had to teach me a lot of the, the ropes. You know, that's the way
it was. They'd been doing these jobs a lot longer than me. I was brand new
right out of college, you know. So, it was a, a good relationship.
KORKORUS: For twenty-nine years here, you've gotten to know the distillery
pretty well. I imagine it's something of a second home for you. Um, what is
your special, do you have a special place or spot at the distillery?
NOE: Oh, I like walking through, you know, the, the distillery, walking through
the fermenting room to see the mash fermenting, and then stand by the, the
tail-box where the white whiskies coming out, where you can see the whiskey
coming out. And there's a little, little, little valve there, if you got a
glass you can get a little taste. I always like sample the white whiskey right
00:09:00off the still to make sure everything's, uh, going like it should.
KORKORUS: Uh, and once again, close to thirty years in the business, have you
seen many changes in the, how bourbon is made?
NOE: Well, you know, the way it's made has not changed much. Now, the process,
you know, we have computer systems now that control the process. But all it
allows us to do is control temperatures, measurements of ingredients going into
the batch, so we can make it more consistently, cooking times. But as far as
the basic process, it's the same as it was when I was a kid, fifty years ago
when I was following Dad around. I mean, you still have the grain unloading,
the grain grinding, the mash cooker, the fermentation, the still, the barrel
aging, and the bottling. You know, technology has improved some of the machines
00:10:00used to do this, but the basic process is exactly the same as it was when I was
KORKORUS: Um-hm. So the process is the same but the industry has changed. Um,
twenty, thirty years ago, bourbon was somewhat of a stagnant industry. Uh,
bourbon, uh, was known, um, was something of your grandfather's drink. But that
all changed in the, the late eighties and early nineties.
KORKORUS: Can you describe what happened, why bourbon suddenly became a much
more popular spirit?
NOE: Well, bourbon, I think experienced kind of a renaissance in the late
eighties when my father, Booker, developed the Small Batch Bourbon Collection.
And his good friend, Elmer T. Lee up in Frankfort developed Blanton's Single
Barrel Bourbon, and Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey, he came up with Russell's
Reserve and more premium marks of the bourbons. They started developing
00:11:00super-premium bourbons. And those guys went out on the road and promoted
bourbon. You know, sure, they promoted our, they had promoted our brands; Jimmy
did Wild Turkey. But them being out on the road promoted the whole bourbon
category. And really, they laid the groundwork for the success and the
popularity of bourbon today. Makes it a lot easier for all of us that are out
there traveling around now, promoting bourbon, because they got it started,
developing new products, and like I say, introducing people to bourbon and
showing them that bourbon is more than a shot.
NOE: You know, cocktails. And that's what I think has made the bourbon
industry grow and become so popular today.
KORKORUS: Describe what's the difference between a, a standard, um,
bourbon--and I'll use Jim Beam as an example, a premium bourbon if you will, and
a super-premium--what makes a super-premium bourbon a super-premium bourbon?
NOE: Well, you know, you've got different aging techniques, you know, where you
put the barrels in the rack house, the length of time you age the bourbon, the
strength that you bottle it at. You know, you, you start aging bourbon longer,
maybe bottling at higher strengths. That's considered more super premium. Or
you put a little more tender loving care into what you do. We do Jim Beam, you
know, millions of cases a year of Jim Beam White Label. That's the number one
selling bourbon in the world? But like Booker's, for example, our
super-premium, you know, it's thousands of cases. Fancier packaging. You know,
put a little more age to the product, put the barrels in special spots in the
aging rack houses, you know, to make it taste a little different and give it
different taste profiles.
KORKORUS: If you had a--and I know there's many different steps made, uh,
involved in the making of, of --------(??) bourbon or super-premium bourbon--um,
if you were to say what's the one part of the process that can distinguish a
00:13:00bourbon from another bourbon? Is it the aging? Is it the ingredients? Is it
NOE: Well, I mean, when you start looking at, you know, there's pretty strict
laws that we all have to follow to classify our bourbon as bourbon. You know,
it's got to be made here in the United States; it's got to be corn based; uh, we
have to use new barrels. Well, those things, you know, make it, we all have to
follow the same rules. But now when you start talking about super-premiums or
what makes it better, you know, each one of those factors, you know, your
distillation proof, uh, the length of time you age it, where you put the barrel
in the rack house, the strength you bottle at, all of those are your variables
that you can create new products. You know, and there's so many different
bourbons on the market. You know, what I do here at Jim Beam, what I think is
premium may be something different, you know, at Wild Turkey with Jimmy Russell,
or right down the road at Heaven Hill with Parker and Craig Beam. You know,
00:14:00each one's got their own opinions on what they do. I think the aging and the
strength, strength at bottling, uh, has a big effect on what makes the finished product.
KORKORUS: Now, let's(??) switch gears for a second. Um, people enjoy their
bourbons in different ways. How would you recommend enj-, enjoying a, a bourbon?
NOE: Oh, I think people should enjoy bourbon any damn way they want to. I
mean, uh, if you want to mix it with Coke, that's fine. If you want to mix it
with water, ice, uh, and I kind of got that from my dad. You know, there's no
set rules for enjoying a bourbon. Some people like it neat. Some people like a
splash of soda in it. Cocktails, the Manhattans, the Old Fashioned, it's
whatever you like. You know, there's no rule that says you have to drink it a
certain way. Hell, you can drink it right out of the bottle if you want to. I
mean, that's the thing about bourbon. I mean, the scotch guys have so many
00:15:00rules on how to do scotch. I think us bourbon guys, we don't like rules, so we
do it any way you want to drink it. It's your, it's your call on that.
KORKORUS: Um, what would you, what would you think your great-grandfather would
think about the bourbon industry today?
NOE: Oh, I know Jim beam would be very, very proud of, you know, the industry
that he brought back from the ashes. You know, when Prohibition was repealed,
Jim Beam, at the age of seventy, got this plant back up and running where we're
located today in one-hundred-twenty days. You know, heck, that's, that's a hell
of a deal for a guy seventy-years-old. I'm fifty-six. And if I can get the
grass cut at my house, I'm tickled to death. And you know, think to start a
distillery back, but he did it to get our family back in this business. And to
see how much it, it's grown. I'm sure he'd be very, very proud because, you
00:16:00know, he's the one who put us back on the map and got us started again.
KORKORUS: Um, Jim Beam had passed away well before you were born, but do you
have any stories, um, favorite stories that were passed down through the family
about your great grandfather?
NOE: Oh, I, you know, grew up right next door to Jim Beam's house. And, you
know, I did, his wife, Mamaw Beam, was still alive when I was a little boy. And
then I lived with Jim Beam's daughter, Aunt Mimi, you know, when I was in
college. So I heard a lot of stories. But, you know, the one that really,
really, I guess, or pictures that I've seen of him. He was a very formal man.
He was always in a three-piece suit. I mean, I saw pictures of him fishing in
Canada in a boat in a three-piece suit. And I guess I fell way far from that
tree, because I'm the--(laughs)--if there's a three-, if I'm in a three-piece
suit, there's probably a dead body in the room. Uh, you know, that's, I'm not
00:17:00as formal. I kind of got that from my dad. (laughs) You know, Booker dressed
up a little bit, and I dressed up even less. So, but that was kind of wild to
see, no matter where he was, at the distillery, any picture you see of my
great-grandfather, he was always in a three-piece suit with a vest. And like I
said, fishing in Canada was the one that took the cake, the old family photos.
But I know he was a very, uh, loyal person, and what he did, he wanted to make
the best bourbon in the world. And carrying that tradition on is something I'm
very proud to do.
KORKORUS: Staying on the subject of your family, um, keeping on the subject of
your family, if you'd just basically describe your, your father, Booker. We
know he had a, a, a major impact on the bourbon industry.
NOE: Oh, Dad, I mean, bourbon was his life. I mean, Mom always said I was his
second child; the first child was the distillery. And I was his second child,
because, you know, when I was a little boy growing up, if there was any problem
00:18:00at the distillery, my father jumped in the car and drove down there. It didn't
matter if a valve broke, if a pump went out, he wanted to make sure that he was
right there seeing what was going on. And he wanted to make the world's finest
bourbon. And he did for years and years and years. And it was his life. He
went on the road to promote it. And when he got to be seventy-years old, he was
tired of traveling. I mean, I think he would of still done it if they could
have gotten him from point A to point B, kinda like Star Trek with a
transporter, and not have to go through airports and take off his shoes and go
through the x-ray machines--(laughs)--he would of traveled until the day he
died. But all the stuff in the airports, and the traveling, and the airline
seats didn't fit him; he was a big guy. He finally hung it up and put me out
there on the road, but he still entertained at the house almost up until he
passed away. And it was his life. I mean, Dad loved making bourbon, enjoyed
00:19:00tasting bourbon with people around the world, and promoting it. He promoted the
whole bourbon industry, not just the Beam products.
KORKORUS: Um, tell, he had a major impact on the reshaping of the bourbon
industry back in the late eighties and early nineties. Tell us about how that
came about, his special bourbon, how he created it and how he ended up bringing
it to market.
NOE: Well, Dad, we have two distilleries here at Jim Beam, one here at
Clermont--(coughs)--excuse me, and another one over in Boston, Kentucky, the
Booker Noe Plant, we call it today. And Dad was at that other plant, and he
could kind of do things nobody knew what was going on. So he started making
small batches of bourbon his way, putting the barrels in certain sweet spots in
the aging rack houses, and sampling, and then fooling with it. And--(laughs)--he
developed this product. Well, one of our vice presidents from our corporate
00:20:00headquarters in Chicago came down, and asked Dad, he said, "Well, we'd like for
you to start looking at, to make a premium bourbon, super-premium style
bourbon." And his quote was, "If you all came out of the house of knowledge in
Chicago a little more and down here to Kentucky, where the work's being done,
you'd know I already had it made!" And he said, "What do you mean?" And he
said, "Come on. We'll go get in my truck." Took him up to one of the aging
rack houses. They took the bung out of the barrel, dropped in the thief, pulled
out some whiskey out of the barrel, sampled it, and said, "Now this is how we're
gonna sell this bourbon: right out of the barrel." And that's how Booker's
Bourbon was made. Dad did it all on his own. He let, during the development,
he would let friends and family sample some of what he was making up at holiday
seasons; he'd bring it out at Christmastime. And let my uncles and aunts and
00:21:00all of the kinfolk of age and all his friends that came by the house during the
holidays, get a little taste of it, and he would watch their, uh, emotions to
see if their eyes lit up or if they grimace. And that's how he worked on his
Booker's Bourbon. And in 1987, we bottled up a few cases of it and was given to
our distributor friends around the country to see if there was a market for
fifty-dollar bottles of bourbon at that time. And that kind of, as they say,
the rest is history. Uh, the small-batch bourbon category was, uh, launched
twenty-, now to be well, at twenty-five years ago. And Dad kind of started the
whole super-premium, uh, industry of our, uh, bourbon industry. You know, his
buddy, Elmer T. Lee, was doing Blanton's up at Frankfort about that same time
frame. So I guess Elmer and Booker were the guys that really brought
00:22:00super-premium bourbon to the world. You know, and so, that was kinda Dad's
baby. And it bore his name. So that was kind of cool to see a bourbon with his
name on it. He hand-wrote the first labels. Uh, it was a, it was a heck of a
project and it was really cool. And he went on the road to promote it, too, so
it was good.
KORKORUS: Um, your family is so synonymous with bourbon. Uh, can you tell us,
and in, uh, outside of the Beam, Beam Company, uh, the impact your family's had
on other distilleries?
NOE: Well, there's been a lot of Beams work at other distilleries. I mean, go
right down the road to Heaven Hill. You know, Parker and Craig Beam are the
master distillers there today. But if you go back, Jim Beam's brother, Park, he
went to work at Heaven Hill. And his family lineage, which that's Parker and
Craig's grandfather and great-grandfather, that's, you know, was the, the Beam
family. Elmo Beam was the first master distiller at Maker's Mark. So I mean,
00:23:00there were several Beams, from going back to old Jacob, if you look at the
family tree, spread out all through the bourbon industry. And I remember
hearing a story when I was a kid that, an old timer said, "If it wasn't a Beam
making your whiskey at the distillery, the whiskey couldn't be any good,"
because all the good distilleries had Beams making the whiskey, so.
KORKORUS: I mean, that's an extremely unique situation, to have one family so
involved in an industry. Not so much a company, but an entire industry. Why,
why, in your opinion, why are the Beams so good and so interested in making whiskey--
KORKORUS: --over the generations--
NOE: --I think our family, you know, the Beams, we do one thing: we make
whiskey. And I mean, that's what we're good at. I remember hearing Parker and,
uh, my dad saying you know, "That's what we do." You, and they named off some
of our ancestors who tried their hands at other, uh, industries and failed
00:24:00miserably. But when they came back to the bourbon part, they did okay. You
know, that's kind of what, I guess that's how we're all built. You know, our
genes, or whatever's in us, uh, we're built to make bourbon. And being here
from this part of Kentucky, this is, uh, what we do. We make bourbon. And we
try doing anything else; we don't do very well in anything else.
KORKORUS: Uh, speaking of that, uh, during Prohibition, which was, um,
thirteen-, fourteen-year period? I'm not sure.
KORKORUS: Um, what did the Beams do?
NOE: Well, Jim Beam, just kinda shows you, he was making bourbon. Uh, the
distillery was shut down when Prohibition came about. He tried citrus farming
in Florida. Uh--(laughs)--Aunt Mimi, his daughter, said he failed miserably at
that. Uh, he tried some coal mining up in eastern Kentucky. That didn't go so
well either. But he did some rock quarry business right here in central
Kentucky. Uh, and he made enough money to keep food on the table and keep the
00:25:00family surviving during Prohibition. But the day Prohibition was repealed, at
the age of seventy, Jim Beam applied for a license and opened up the old Murphy
Barber Distillery where we're located, located today, here, in Clermont.
KORKORUS: Um, okay, switch-, switching gears, bourbon in its early days was a
regional spirit. Then it gradual, gradually became a national spirit. Uh,
would you classify it now as a global spirit?
NOE: Oh yeah, bourbon's very much a global spirit. I mean, there's very few
places in the world that beverage alcohol is consumed that you cannot get a
taste of bourbon. I've touched just about every country in the world where
bourbon is, uh, being sold. I mean, you know, in some Middle Eastern countries
where alcohol is not legal, you're not going to see it. I'm sure they're
00:26:00sneaking some around there, too. But I mean, uh, you get into Australia, for
example, Jim Beam White Label is the number one spirit sold in Australia. Uh,
you get into Germany. Last year, we did one million cases of Jim Beam alone in
Germany. Uh, bourbon is the number one whiskey, Jim Beam is the number one
whiskey sold in Germany. And it's growing, everywhere. I mean, you go into the
UK, I mean, bourbon is growing by leaps and bounds. Uh, you pick any part of
the world. Japan, you know? It's, uh, bourbon is all over the world and
growing every year.
KORKORUS: Uh, and part of the, would you agree that the statement that part of
the success of bourbon, uh, has been those promotional efforts, and the, uh, the
raising, you know, the profile of master distillers like yourself. Um, do you,
00:27:00and your father, Booker, really became the "first celebrity master distiller."
Um, do you remember the--A) how's it like to be, how's it feel to be somewhat of
a celebrity in the industry, and B) do you remember the first time someone ever
asked you for your autograph?
NOE: Hmm, well, I mean, you know, everybody, we tease and they talk about
celebrity, this and that. I don't think any of us really, any of the master
distillers, we don't see ourselves as celebrity. I was just, I mean, we just
make bourbon. Jimmy Russell and myself, we laugh about it. You know, people
make a big deal about us at different events. In New York at the WhiskeyFest,
people are coming up, asking for autographs, and want to take pictures with us.
And we kind of laugh about it. But it's our lives. I mean, it's not really
something that you, you think about as being a celebrity. It's just, it's just
00:28:00what we do. And, uh, I, I guess the, the first time I asked for an autograph, I
was probably a kid with my dad. And Dad would sign bottles. And a lot of
people would say, "Would you sign this bottle, too?" So, I kind of, I guess
when I did it at first, I was just, I wasn't even working at Jim Beam. It was
kind of a, and I didn't, he, I was kind of thinking about it and said, "Why they
want my autograph?" You know. But now it is kinda funny. People want you to
sign bottles and things, and they'll say, "Uh, I'm never gonna open this
bottle." And I'll say, "Well, I'm not gonna sign it!" I'll say, "This stuff's
for drinking; it's not for saving" And, uh, that kind of come from my dad,
but, you know, it's, I think people make you a bigger celebrity than you really
think yourself is, you know.
KORKORUS: Well, your likeness is now on the label of, of Jim Beam, which is the
best-selling bourbon in the world. Tell us a little bit about what that must
feel like, when you first saw your, your, your face on the bottle.
NOE: I got a little bit choked up when we unveiled the label. Uh, we had a
00:29:00little, uh, promotion here at the, uh, the plant, a celebration during Bourbon
Festival when they unveiled it. And they kind of, they kind of got me, because
they had seven rocking chairs lined up on the porch of, uh, the Beam house, and
starting with Jacob and going to me. And we went down through there, and I was
looking at them. When I saw my dad's empty chair, and then mine beside it, it
kind of got me a little emotional, thinking, Oh, this is kind of cool. And you
know, it, my friends and our sales folks have a lot more fun with my picture
being on the label than I do. You know, when you go into an establishment, and
they say, "You're Jim Beam's great-grandson," and his picture's on the label,
and they kind of thinking, What? And they get the bottle. When they get the
bottle and point out the picture, and then they kind of look at me and look at
it, "Boy, it is you, isn't it?" I'm, "Well, yeah, it's supposed to be." So,
we're, you know, but that end up costing you a little bit cause you end up
having to buy a round. You know, when your picture's on the bottle, everybody
00:30:00expects you to buy them a drink of Beam. But that's no problem; we do that anyway.
KORKORUS: Now your, your post-, in your position of master distiller, uh, you
have to leave the distillery more and more to help promote the brands. Um, in,
have you traveled extensively overseas, and if so, what is your favorite country?
NOE: Oh, I'm traveled pretty much all over the world. I mean, I've set foot in
Russia, which I never dreamed I would. You know, growing up, you know, in the
sixties and seventies, Russia, man, that was the other side of the world. You
didn't go over there. That's where those communists were. And I remember
landing in there. I thought, What am I--(laughs)--doing here? But they enjoy
the bourbon. And it's all, it's all good. It's been, uh, it's been, it's been
a good ride for me. I've seen probably every country around it that, you know,
probably I'm sure there was a few more I've got yet to visit. But probably my
favorite one of all is Australia. You know, one thing, the language barrier,
00:31:00you know, we speak English. Our accents are very dissimilar, but I can
understand what they're saying, they can understand what I'm saying. And if I
have to go to the bathroom, we can, uh, we can figure it out. But when we were
in Russia, or, uh, France, or some of these, I have, I've, I have a hard enough
time with English. (laughs) You get me outside of that, uh, you can't do much
talking. You know, and I'm not real good with translators, because you say
something and the translator speaks, and people laugh, and you didn't say
something funny, then you wonder, "Well, what did they really translate?"
KORKORUS: And over the years, you've obviously had occasion to drink with, um,
or actually share a drink with many, many people.
KORKORUS: Uh, can you tell us some of the more notable folks you've, you've,
uh, sipped some bourbon with?
NOE: Well, probably the most memorable person was in, uh, Los Angeles, an actor
who's no longer with us, uh, Chris Penn. Was a huge fan of my father's bourbon, Booker's.
KORKORUS: It's, I'm sorry, it's?
NOE: Chris Penn. He, uh, he, he came to an event we did. And, uh, we went to
dinner and proceeded to see how much of, uh, Booker's Bourbon the two of us
could consume, and there was a audience watching this contest. But we had a lot
of fun. It was, uh, he had, he was a really good guy. It's a shame he's not,
no longer with us, but.
KORKORUS: Um, bourbon industry has, has had its share of characters. Uh, your,
not including your father, who we know was quite a character, can you name some
the other, your favorite bourbon characters?
NOE: Oh, Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey, Parker Beam at Heaven Hill. Always
enjoyed hanging around with Elmer T. Lee. You know, that's the thing; when you
go to these WhiskeyFests in Chicago or New York, we're all there together. You
00:33:00know, Bill Samuels from Maker's Mark. You know, Bill can, uh, can get you in
trouble, too. You know, you start listening to some of his stories, he has a
lot of stories about the Beam Family, and we all, we all have a lot of fun when
we're together cause it's, uh, it's more like a fraternity.
KORKORUS: Now, the, the Samuels actually grew up next door to you, is that
correct? The Samuels Family of Maker's Mark?
NOE: Yeah, Bill Samuels's grandfather, his house was next door to Jim Beam's
house in Bardstown. He was one of the distillers on Distillers' Row there on,
uh, Third Street of Bardstown. So, the Samuels Family and the Beam Family were
pretty close back in the old days. So that, it was, uh, Bill's got some stories
that he heard from his family that, you know, about mine; I've got some stories
about his family from mine. So it's always good we get, you know, get on each
other. And we tend to embroider on the truth just a little bit, you know.
Doesn't necessarily have to be a whole lot of truth. Can be just a kernel of
truth in the story.
KORKORUS: (laughs) Um, we're closing on some, the future of bourbon. Um, can
you tell us about some trends in the bourbon industry?
NOE: Well, probably one of the newest trends are infused bourbons, you know,
where you're taking natural flavors and infuse the bourbon. Uh, it's something
new and I'm sure some of the purest and some of the old timers, I'm sure my
father would, uh, grimace, you know, at the thought of taking black cherry and
infusing the Jim Beam Bourbon. But it has brought a lot of new people to the
bourbon industry. And, you know, so be it. I mean, uh, it's a little sweet for
me. But it is bringing new consumers to the bourbon industry and they enjoy it.
And so, so be it.
KORKORUS: What, what have been some of Beam's more recent and more successful
product innovations in the last couple years?
NOE: Well, we have, uh, Devil's Cut, which is a product where we sweat the
00:35:00barrels after we get, dump the bourbon out of the barrel, we put water in it,
pulling more of the bourbon out of the wood, then using that water to bring the
bourbon down to the bottling strength. Uh, you know, with all the super-premium
bourbons, you know, the Knob Creek, Knob Creek Rye, Knob Creek Single Barrel,
you know, all these are new products that we've developed over the years that
have been very, very successful. And, uh, you know, the sky's the limit. They
will continue to grow with people looking for super premium products. We tend
to, uh, fill that void and always coming up with new innovations for all of our
loyal fans around the world.
KORKORUS: Um, you're the seventh-generation distiller. Is, are there plans for
an eighth generation of Beam, a Beam family member to be involved in the business?
NOE: There is an eighth generation of Beams that has started working. My son,
00:36:00Frederick Booker Noe IV, uh, he finished college in December of, uh, 2012, and
he started to work in January of 2013. He's in a training mode right now,
learning the industry like I did. And then he'll select what part of the
industry he wants to work in, whether it's distilling. Who knows? He may want
to go into marketing or sales or, uh, who knows. So, I mean, so we're gonna
give him the freedom to pick what he wants to do and not say he's destined to be
the very next master distiller. Who knows? You know, maybe one of my cousins,
you know, might have, even a girl that wants to come into the business. Who
knows? Doesn't have to always be guys. That question comes up all the time.
So, sure, as I said, I don't got a problem with a Beam family member who's a
female coming in and making the liquor. Long as she does good, it'd be all right.
KORKORUS: Um, take a break? Is that okay, to stop here?
UNKNOWN MALE: Sure.
KORKORUS: Thanks. You did great, Fred.
[Pause in recording.]
UNKNOWN MALE: I'm ready to roll again.
KORKORUS: We'll start with a process question first.
KORKORUS: I'll just walk you through, if you can walk us through. Uh, just
tell me when.
UNKNOWN MALE: We're good. We're ready(??).
KORKORUS: Um, can you tell us a little bit, step-by-step, about the process of
NOE: Oh yeah, the process of making bourbon is pretty simple, and, you know, I
can give you the Bourbon 101 class. I mean, we bring in grains, whole kernel,
uh, here to the plant at Beam.
KORKORUS: What kind of grains?
NOE: We use corn, rye and malted barley. That's our three grains. We bring
them in here to the plant. We grind those grains. Uh, we put them in a mash
cooker, which is similar to a pressure cooker that's holds ten thousand gallons.
We cook the grains, or mash it, as we call it. During this mashing or cooking
process, we are converting the starches in those grains to sugar. We take the
00:38:00mash, cool it down, add the yeast. Uh, the yeast that we use here at Jim Beam
was started by my great-grandfather, Jim Beam, right after Prohibition. And
every time we make a new batch of yeast, we inoculate the new batch with some of
the old batch. So we're using the same strain of yeast today that Jim Beam
started right after Prohibition. You know, this yeast, during the fermentation
process, it eats up the sugar that was made during the mashing. As it eats up
that sugar, it makes two things: C02, a colorless gas and alcohol. We don't
worry about the gas; we're looking for that alcohol. After about four days of
fermentation, depending on the temperature we started the fermentation process
at, it would go from three to five days. But about a four-day process, all of
00:39:00the sugar has been eaten up, and we call the mash, distiller's beer. We take
this distiller's beer, which has an alcohol content about like a bottle of beer
and run it through the beer still. We use a column still for our first
distillation. A column still, you feed the beer in about to--it's shaped like a
silo. It's a cylinder. Ours is about sixty feet tall. We feed the beer in
about two-thirds of the way up the still. The still is built with dykes and
weirs and plates to where the beer stair steps its way down through the still.
As it comes down through the still, we're heating it up with steam. As we heat
that beer up, the alcohol turns into a vapor. The vapors go out the top. We
catch those vapors, condense them back into a liquid. That's called the White
Dog; that's the new whiskey. Uh, we distill the whiskey twice, we run it down
00:40:00through a pot still called a doubler, or a thumper, where we, it's full of this
clear whiskey. We heat it, turning it into a vapor for a second time. Catch
those vapors, condense them back into a liquid. Take that liquid, put it in the
charred White Oak barrels, put it away in the aging rack houses here in
Kentucky, and let nature take over. Hot summers, the whiskey expands going into
the wood, passing through the caramelized layer of sugar that was set up in that
barrel when the barrel was built and charred at the cooperage. In the
wintertime, when the weather gets cold, the whiskey contracts and comes out. So,
during the change of seasons here in Kentucky, you get an inward and outward
flow of whiskey through the caramelized layer of sugar that was set up during
that charring. That's where we get 100 percent of the color and probably 70
percent of the flavor in the bourbon. Also during the aging, we lose 4 percent
00:41:00a year to evaporation. That's always been called the angel's share. Losing the
angel's share during the aging concentrates the flavor in what's left behind in
the barrel. That's why you see these extra aged bourbons have much more flavor
than younger bourbons. After we bring the bourbon out of the barrel, uh, it's
chill-filtered, reduced down to the bottling strength, goes into the bottle, and
then it goes on the shelf to be purchased by a consumer.
KORKORUS: The barrel's such an important part of the process. Could you tell
us what kind of barrels you use and how you, um, char them?
NOE: Well, the barrels, we get them from the cooperage. They're built from
American White Oak. They're charred inside up to, uh, a number 4 char. I think
it's the heaviest char in the industry.
KORKORUS: You mean burned.
NOE: Burned. They set the barrel on fire before they put the ends in it. And
00:42:00it burns that barrel. And when it does, all the natural sugar that's in that
American White Oak comes to the charred area. The wood is trying to heal itself
from being set on fire. When they put the fire out, a caramelized layer of
sugar sets up right where the char ends and the wood begins. And then we get
those barrels, put the white clear whiskey in them, and let nature take over.
And like I say, the inward and outward flow during the change of seasons picks
up all the color and a lot of the flavor that's in bourbon.
KORKORUS: And the rack houses that the barrels are aged in, are, play a
critical role in the development of bourbon. Can you tell us a little bit about
what type of rack houses are, you use?
NOE: Well, our, we have several different kinds of rack houses but the old ones
that my great-grandfather built, Jim Beam, they're nine stories high. There's
three tiers of barrels in a floor. So it's twenty-seven barrels tall. You put
00:43:00those barrels away in that rack house. The barrels you put at the top where
it's hot and dry, you see that that the during aging, more of the water will
escape from the barrel and they'll drive the proof up. You'll see the barrel
strength go from 125 proof at entry up to as high as 140 because that hot, dry
area where you put it. Flip side of that coin, you put that barrel on the
bottom floor where it's cool and moist, you'll see the proof go from 125 at
entry down to maybe 110 because it's a cool, moist area and water will penetrate
that barrel and you'll see the strength go down. So, you know, you get that big
difference from top and bottom. We scatter the barrels out from top to bottom,
left to right, and do what we call a "vertical cross-section" of that warehouse.
So after aging, when you pull those barrels back out, you take some from the
00:44:00top, some from the middle, some from the bottom, mingle them back together to
get a good, consistent flavor. That's how we get the flavor without having to
physically move barrels around. And that's how we get, uh, the product to be
the same every time.
KORKORUS: Are the rack houses heated and air conditioned? Are they temperature-controlled?
NOE: No, the rack houses are just barns outside. We don't control them. I
kind of laugh and say, "If it's raining outside, the humidity's up." The good
Lord controls the environment in that rack house. We don't, we want the change
of seasons. We don't want it to be heated or cooled. We want, you know, the
environment that we have here in Kentucky. This is the perfect climate to age
bourbon. We want hot summers; we want cold winters. Too much of either one of
the two, you won't get a nice inward and outward flow. So you want those extremes.
KORKORUS: Um, talking, speaking about the climate, why is Kentucky, um, the
00:45:00home of bourbon?
NOE: Oh Kentucky, you know, this is the perfect place to make bourbon for a
couple reasons. Number one is the clean, iron-free limestone water that comes
from the ground here in Kentucky. That makes great whiskey. If there's iron in
the water, it will turn the bourbon black. Uh, you know, it's great, clean,
good, pristine water. And that's just from the, where we live here, the
geographic, uh, location of Kentucky. The change of seasons that we have, for
the aging, is perfect. So I mean, if, if, I guess God made Kentucky to make
bourbon. And that's why we make bourbon right here in Kentucky. And we make
the world's best bourbon right here.
KORKORUS: Can bourbon only be made in Kentucky?
NOE: No, bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States. But, you know, I
think the best bourbon is made right here in Kentucky. Ninety-five percent of
00:46:00the world's bourbon I think is made here in Kentucky. I don't really know where
that other 5 percent comes from but I wouldn't drink it.
KORKORUS: Alright, Jimmy Russell is a, a master distiller at another, um,
distillery. And in a, in an, in theory, he should be a competitor, but he's not
in any way, shape, or form a competitor of yours. In fact, he's, over the
years, has served as something of a mentor. Could you describe your, your
relationship with, uh, Jimmy Russell?
NOE: Oh, Jimmy Russell is my dad on the road. And it kind of became a story
that Jimmy and my dad and me put together years ago. You know, when Dad did
quit traveling and put me out on the road, you know, that was, we were out, I
think, I want to say it was maybe Houston, Texas, maybe, one of the first
interactions I had with Jimmy away from here in Kentucky. And I was talking to
a group of people, and there was, you know, several people there. And Jimmy
00:47:00eased over and acted like he was writing on his hand. And I looked at him, and
I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm taking notes." He said, "I'm gonna
tell Booker what you're doing out here on the road when I get back home." I
said, "Now, wait a minute. I don't need a dad on the road and a dad at home,
too!" And that kind of became our joke that I had two dads: one in Kentucky, my
father, Booker, and one on the road, Jimmy, because we'd be at different events
and, uh, he's a great guy. I mean, Jimmy is like a second father to me. I
mean, we, when Dad passed away, uh, me and Jimmy shared a lot of cocktails in
bars and told stories and shed a lot of tears. My dad was Jimmy's best buddy. I
mean, they were like brothers. I've always laughed and said, "If you put them
both in a bag and pulled one out, you wouldn't know which one you got." I mean,
because they're so much alike. And I see a lot of my dad in Jimmy and a lot of
Jimmy in Booker. I mean, but they, they grew up in this industry. You know,
00:48:00and that's, that was their lives. I mean, Dad did it until he passed away, and
Jimmy'll be doing it until he passes away. And he's a great guy. I mean, you
don't get any better than Jimmy Russell.
KORKORUS: Um, your father, Booker, obviously was a character, uh, as well. Um,
what's the one or two things that he passed down to you, uh, in, in regards to
how to make bourbon?
NOE: My dad's big thing was make sure you have good grain. That's one of the
first things he'd check when he'd come in. He'd walk over to where they're
unloading the grain, get a handful of corn, and smell it. You know, if you
don't have good ingredients going in to start with, what's coming out ain't
gonna be any good either. So, you know, he always stressed that: make sure your
grain's good. And be consistent. You know, and don't lie! You know, that was
one thing he always said, "Don't lie to the customer just to sell a bottle. Tell
the truth. Let the chips fall where they may." And I've found over the years,
00:49:00you know, just be straight up and people appreciate it. And nowadays, there's
so much information out there on the Internet and stuff, when people ask you a
question, you'd better give them the right answer because somebody in the crowd
probably knows the right answer. And I've seen some people get tripped up
trying to kind of change--you know, if you don't know the answer, it's not a sin
to say you don't know and I'll get back to you. But I've seen some folks get in
a little trouble by trying to answer something they didn't really know.
KORKORUS: Now, uh, speaking, staying on the subject again of Booker and the
making of bourbon and passing on of knowledge, um, your, the, the, your father's
kitchen table has played a role in the, in, in, in the development of the
bourbon industry. Can you tell us a little bit about the kitchen table at your
house in Bardstown?
NOE: Well, Dad, you know, we have fancy tasting labs here at Jim Beam, but Dad
did most of his research and development sitting at the table in Mom's kitchen
00:50:00there in Bardstown. He'd bring samples home and have his friends over and
people within the industry: "Come by the house. I want you to look at
something." And he did a lot of his R&D, or research and development, right
there in Bardstown at the kitchen. Every batch of Booker's Bourbon that Dad
selected for, to be bottled was done at that kitchen table. There was no,
uh--(laughs)--it was funny, it was funny, he did it right there! If you
happened to stop by the night he was selecting, you were involved. Now, he
would ask your opinion. But it didn't matter. Your vote didn't count. Because
it was Booker's Bourbon; it wasn't Fred's or yours or whoever.
KORKORUS: And if I, tell us a little about the story when Booker was, was
ailing and, and, and, um, well, dying, and his last, uh, batch of bourbon that
he, he tasted and your, I believe it involved a family friend, uh, Toogie Dick.
NOE: Well, when Dad was, I guess, on his last, last, uh, weeks of life, we
00:51:00needed to do another batch of Booker's. And, you know, he'd, I was, been
involved with him doing several batches over the years. And he was tasting it,
and he said, "It just," said, "All this medicine," he said, "The liquor's not
tasting right." He said, "You pick it out. And then let me know." I said,
"Well, okay." So I went back out to the kitchen table and he stayed there in
his bedroom. I selected the barrels and put them together and made up my
composite sample, just like he did. I was pretty nervous. I remember carrying
it into the bedroom. He got up, tasted it and said, "Well, you done pretty
good, boy." Well, for Dad, that was a hell of a compliment from him. He wasn't
big on compliments for me too much, but you know, that's kind of a father's way
of keeping their son in check. So I went on back out into the kitchen, and sat
down, and was looking at the newspaper. And his good friend, Toogie Dick, who
00:52:00owns a restaurant in Bardstown, came by the house. And she was having a bad day
at the restaurant. And whenever she had a bad day at the restaurant, she would
come to our house, and get her little drink, and get away from the business, so
she didn't fire one of her kids who worked for her. I'm sure, she has her, her
children worked for her at the restaurant. Instead of running one of them off,
she'd come to our house and have a little taste, relax, talk to Dad and Mom, or
whatever, and then go back and everything was okay. Well, she came in the
house, obviously having a bad afternoon, and said, "Can I get a drink?" And I
remember telling her, "If you can't get a drink here--(laughs)--something's
wrong." She said, "Well, what've you got?" And she saw the stuff on the table
where she knew that a, a batch of Booker's was being selected because she had
seen my dad do it. And I said, "Well, this is the latest batch of Booker's."
She said, "Really!" So she picked up her highball glass and put her little
drink in there and got a little ginger ale, just like my mother. She took her a
00:53:00little drink, "Oooh!" And she said, "Boy, it's good!" And she took off into
the front part of the house to see Dad. We had an intercom system set up where
if Dad needed anything he could just say, "Fred, some ------(??)." And you
could hear them and you could go in there. Well, she--(laughs)--she goes in
there and said, "Ah! This batch of Booker's, I'll believe it's the best you've
ever done!" I'm sure she was trying to build his spirits up. He said, "Well,
I'm glad you like it." And so she left, and then I went in and got him later
for dinner and brought him out in the wheelchair. And he said, "Well," said,
"Toogie liked what you did. Said it was the best batch of Booker's I'd ever
done!" Said, "I didn't have the heart to tell her that you did it." But, uh,
he said, "I guess you're going to be okay, boy. Just keep doing it like you
did." And that's kinda how I became the one doing Booker's today, you know. It
was the last batch before Dad passed away.
KORKORUS: Uh, the kitchen at the, at the Beam house on, uh, Third Street in
Bardstown also was the site of uh, some, uh, varied forms of, uh, calamities,
00:54:00uh--(Noe laughs)--with the, uh, the use of over-, over-proof bourbon, or
high-proof bourbon while cooking. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
NOE: Well, Mom, she, she cooked a pork roast in a little granite roaster. And,
uh, when the roast was about finished, she would take Jim Beam and pour it over
her little roast, put the top back on the blue granite roaster, and put it back
in the oven. And let it finish out and it would make a nice gravy. And when
Dad came out with Booker's Bourbon, uh, there was a bottle of that sitting on
the cabinet. Well, Mom grabbed the bottle of Booker's just like she would have
her bottle of Jim Beam. You know, Jim Beam is 80 proof; Booker's is 127 [proof]
128 [proof]. She did the same technique; uh, put the top back on the roaster,
stuck it back into the oven. Uh, when the oven came on, I guess there was a
spark. Boom! It blew the oven door open. Uh, so my dad kind of told that
00:55:00story on my mother. And it happened to her twice. And his story was it took
two kicks of the mule before she ever figured out what was going on. But she
didn't realize that using that high-proof bourbon, when you heat it up, the
flash point drops. So. it makes it a lot more volatile than 80 proof, when you
start using 125 proof, uh, it changes the game. Mom didn't really know that.
She just saw bourbon as another ingredient to cook with. So that became one of
our, uh, recipes called "Pork and Beam," where Mom blew the stove up and, uh,
the oven open twice.
KORKORUS: And the kitchen table, yet again, served another role, and just in,
uh, sitting around after dinner and, and sipping bourbon. What was
your--Booker's favorite way to drink bourbon?
NOE: Well, Dad took his bourbon a couple fingers. He always said good thing he
00:56:00had big fingers cause he liked a big, a big stout drink. He would add a little,
a splash of water. And in the summertime, maybe add one or two cubes of ice,
not much ice. And, and he just enjoyed it. He'd like to get, as he called it,
"a big slug of it." He would take a big drink and get it in his mouth and chew
on it! And a reporter one time coined his tasting technique, "The Kentucky
Chew." And it wasn't, uh, doesn't sound good, doesn't look good, but that was
Dad's way of drinking bourbon. So you know, he'd get this, different parts of
the mouth pick up different flavors. So he wanted to get it all through his
mouth to pick up all the flavor in the bourbon.
KORKORUS: Is there, um, can you demonstrate "The Kentucky Chew"?
NOE: Well, if I had a little drink of bourbon, I probably--(Korkorus
laughs)--could but--(tasting sounds)--that's pretty much the sound that you
would hear when Dad would. He popped them lips pretty good and he just worked
it around his mouth.
KORKORUS: Um, what's your favorite way to drink bourbon?
NOE: I like a little, little more ice than my father, but same way, with water.
And, uh, sip on it. And I chew on it a little bit, too.
KORKORUS: (laughs) Now, you talk about Booker passing on some, um, um, some
things to you about the importance of honesty and also the importance of using
good ingredients. What will you pass on to your son, Freddie, in the business?
NOE: Aww, I'll pass on the same basic things that Dad said: good ingredients,
uh, you know, be consistent, you know, and tell the truth. And you know, a lot
of this stuff now is, that I keep trying to stress to him is, you know, be
yourself, don't let somebody in, say, marketing change you to, you know, to sell
a product cause then, when the next product comes out, you know, you'll be
changing yourself again. So, you know, just be yourself, be honest with people,
and, you know, be straight up, and enjoy yourself. I mean, this is a have fun
00:58:00business. I mean, in this bourbon business, if you don't have fun doing this,
there's something wrong with you. I mean, it's very social. I mean, you get to
travel. And I'm sure he'll travel a lot more than me down the road. Uh, you'll
see the world. You'll meet people in every corner of the world. And all of
them really wanna know about bourbon. That's all they want, you know, tell them
the truth. Tell them what it's all about! Share a drink with them. I mean,
you don't get no better than this.
KORKORUS: Uh, speaking about world and global travels, uh, what's it like to
introduce bourbon to a brand new country?
NOE: Well, when I was in Russia many years ago, it was, bourbon was brand new.
And, you know, they, it was, to watch the crowd, you know, I couldn't speak
because I didn't know what they were saying. You know, I'd speak in English,
the translator would translate, and you'd watch them, you know. And to watch
people's eyes light up, a lot of these people had never experienced bourbon
before. And that's how, you know, when we get to the point and we taste, and
00:59:00I'm watching, well, they're behind me, because I'm explaining how to taste, how
to do the Kentucky Chew, and I would do it. Well then, the translator would do
the same thing. Well then, when they would taste it, the way their eyes would
light up and then you'd hear "chhhh," you could tell the pleasant look in their
face that they were enjoying it. You know, and to think that what we did right
here in central Kentucky goes all over the world, it's amazing. You know,
we're, you know, showing people a good time. I think bourbon can turn a
conversation into a party. You know, it can turn a meal into a celebration,
cause you're with your friends when you're drinking bourbon. You didn't go out
and find your enemies and drink bourbon. Maybe if we did, it be less wars
around the world. But I mean, if you, you think about it, you're with family
and friends, you sip a bourbon, you start telling stories, your interaction, uh,
it's, it's always good. You know, bourbon makes everybody have a good time.
KORKORUS: Uh, switching gears going back to a difficult time in your family's
history, Prohibition, um, we, we've talked about, uh, Jim Beam was involved in
other industries such as coal mining and rock quarrying. Um, was, was there a
lot of bootlegging going on in the Bardstown area?
NOE: Oh! Yeah, I mean, there was bootlegging during Prohibition everywhere. You
know, that was probably the worst time period for beverage alcohol in the world,
because you can well imagine, you know, people weren't gonna quit drinking
because somebody in Washington, DC, made a rule. They were used to enjoy
beverage alcohol. And all of a sudden, you're saying you can't do it. Well, I
mean, the stuff, the products that people were consuming. The quality, some of
it was the bottom of the barrel. They were making bathtub gin. You know, and
01:01:00some of the whiskey being made in, it was terrible. I mean, a lot of people got
sick. A lot of people died. Blindness, you know, because the quality, people
wanted beverage alcohol so bad. You know, when it was repealed, then, you know,
that's the thing. The distilleries cranked back up, but they had to age the
product after Prohibition, you know, even though Jim Beam got cracked back up in
hundred twenty days, it was a couple years before they had anything ready for
the market because of the aging that you had to do to get the color and get the
KORKORUS: Was there a lot of moonshining, uh, going on in the hills, here, in
the Knobs here?
NOE: Oh, yeah, I'm sure, there were stills everywhere. I mean, just because
the government said, "Quit making whiskey," that was tough times, too. You
know, it, there wasn't much money around. You know, people were doing it, you
know, for their own personal use. I'm sure they're making it to make a little
money. You know, and it was hard times.
KORKORUS: What about the, uh, when the law went into effect? Um, what happened
01:02:00to the bourbon stock that was already in the rack houses?
NOE: Well, Jim Beam sold his distillery. At that time, the distillery was up
in, uh, Bardstown area, up by Nazareth. And he sold that distillery to get away
from it because he didn't want to go to jail. His daughter, Aunt Mimi, when we
talked about Prohibition, she would always refer to Jim Beam as "Papa this,"
"Papa that." And she said, I asked about Prohibition, and she said, "Fred, Papa
didn't want to go to jail. And he sold the distillery." Well, my question was,
"How do you sell a distillery when it's illegal?" But back in those days, most
of your distilleries had farms attached to them because we have a byproduct
called stillage, or slop, which is the water and grain after the alcohol's been
taken away that's still high in protein. Back in those days, they would feed
this to the animals. Cattle, pigs, raise them up and sell them off as another
means of income. Well, Jim Beam sold the distillery by selling the farm and
01:03:00through this end(??), the distillery, and to get rid of it, and then went into
the rock quarry business, or coal mining, citrus farming. But the day
Prohibition was repealed, he cranked this old Murphy Barber Distillery up where
we're at here in Clermont, with the help of Carl and, uh, you know, his son, T.
Jeremiah, and some other cousins. They got it all together and cranked it back
up. And back in them days, everything was done by hand so then they were firing
the boiler by hand, mashing the whiskey, you know, mashing the mash. You know,
it was a, it was a hell of a job. And pretty amazing for a feller seventy-years old.
UNKNOWN MALE: Okay, that's great.
KORKORUS: Think that's it though? Get everything?
UNKNOWN MALE: Great! I think you did a great job.
----------(??) yes, sir.
[Pause in recording.]
KORKORUS: Fred, bourbon's growing in, uh, in popularity in, um, this area. In
01:04:00Kentucky, um, where bourbon is made is becoming quite a tourist destination point.
KORKORUS: And part of it is just an inherent interest people are, have in
bourbon. The other is the promotional, uh, efforts of the bourbon industry. Can
you tell us a little bit about the promotional efforts, and specifically the
Kentucky Bourbon Trail?
NOE: Well, yeah, now, you know, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Governor Beshear
is, uh, using the distilleries as a hook to bring tourists to the state. I
mean, and it's, you know, it, it's amazing how many people want to make a
pilgrimage here to Kentucky to see where bourbon is made. Uh, we spent right at
fifteen million dollars on our visitors experience, the American Still House,
here, at Jim Beam. You know, and all of our brothers in the bourbon industry
have all stepped up. And I mean, I go up to the Still House--I don't get up
01:05:00there every day when I'm in town, but when I'm around, I ease up there just to,
you know, mingle with the, with the visitors. And there's people from all over
the world. I mean, you're, you're liable to bump into somebody from Australia,
New Zealand, Louisville, Chicago, Los Angeles. And it's year-round, you know.
And it's not just during Bourbon Festival. I mean, we have visitors, last year,
we had right at eighty thousand visitors came in, and we've had over a thousand
on several days this year, on one day. So it just kind of shows you when you
have eighty thousand for the year, and you get a thousand in a day, just to show
you how many folks are coming to Kentucky to see what bourbon's all about and
see where bourbon's made. They want to learn about it, and they want to see
where their favorite beverage alcohol comes from. And, you know, and it's, it's
a great weekend deal cause the distilleries are situated in such a close locale
01:06:00that you can, you know, get your passport and go to each and every distillery
and get your stamp. At the end, you get a nice gift for making the circle of
all the distilleries. And folks like doing it because, you know, it's beautiful
here in Kentucky, especially in the fall of the year with the leaves changing. I
mean, it's no place any prettier to me than right here in, uh, central Kentucky.
And, I mean, it's, the bourbon, Kentucky Bourbon Trail is perfect vacation,
weekend vacation for folks.
KORKORUS: Great. That a wrap?
BRITTANY ALLISON: That's good.
KORKORUS: Anything else to--
NOE: --I miss anything?
[End of interview.]