BY SAMMY BEAM
It’s National Bourbon Day.
In Bloomfield, Kentucky, where I grew up, (and my Daddy grew up,) it was either assumed that our Beams had nothing to do with distilling, or people knew that we were related to the distilling Beams, but didn’t know how.
Here’s how. Our great grandfather, Joe L. Beam, (“Pop” to us,) was taught the art of distilling by his older brother, Minor Case Beam, at the distillery at Gethsemane when he was just a lad. A few years later, Pop and his first cousin, James B. Beam, (you know him as “Jim,”) opened their first distillery, F.G.Walker, together. Prohibition put an end to that. So Pop and Mom Beam moved to Mexico.
There, they set up a distillery for the Waterfill family and produced their whiskey, legally, until the prohibition was repealed. Back in Bardstown, Pop became a founding partner and the first master distiller at Old Heaven Hill. By this time, his seven sons were grown men, trained in the family art of distilling, and their expertise was highly sought out by the industry. They all took part in getting the American distilling game back up and running. The list of distilleries that they influenced is staggering, but I can’t name them all off of the top of my head. I know that Uncle Elmo was the first post-prohibition master distiller at T.W. Samuels, from which comes Maker’s Mark.
My grandfather, Wilmer Beam, was MD at Yellowstone, and a few other distilleries through the years. I am so tickled that our Beam cousins, at Limestone Branch Distillery in Loretto, have worked so hard to breathe new life into Yellowstone, making us proud, and keeping our branch of the Beam name current in the distilling industry.
Now here’s a twist to my family’s story of involvement in the history of making whiskey. My father’s maternal great grandfather was Bodine McClaskey, owner of The Old Sugar Valley Distillery, in Bloomfield, which also disbanded just prior to Prohibition and never reopened. Sugar Valley is a local legend, now, and nearly everyone has a story to tell about it or cherishes one or more of its jugs, or anything that bares its logo. One tale that’s an out and out fabrication is that the distillery was on the farm now owned by a famous Hollywood power couple. Old Sugar Valley was on a stretch of Depot Street, known as “Hot Bottom,” that is well within the Bloomfield city limits. The land upon which it sprawled has never left our family’s ownership.
So here lies the answer. Yes, we are among the distilling Beams.
Kentucky native Sammy Beam was an early art pioneer back in the 80s, and recently behind the scenes in Jordan Peele’s newest movie ‘Us.’
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