UNKNOWN MALE: We're rolling.
JIM KORKORUS: Okay. Uh, could you please tell us your name and where you were born?
BAKER BEAM: My name's Baker Beam. I was born in, uh, Saint Joe Hospital in
the city of Louisville, Kentucky.
KORKORUS: And where did you spend, uh, your early years? Where did you live?
BEAM: I lived in Clermont. My dad and mother had a home there in Clermont,
right by the distillery.
KORKORUS: Right, um, and can you tell us, um, um, how long you lived--so, you
actually lived at the distillery--
BEAM: --I lived at the--
KORKORUS: --the Jim Beam Distillery.
BEAM: --what they call now the Old House has been turned into a post office.
We lived in that post office house there for about ten years. Then we moved
into the Jerry Beam House. Jerry Beam had, had moved out and my dad and mother
had moved in there in about 1947.
KORKORUS: Nineteen four--okay. So you lived actually on the distillery grounds
for a number of years then.
BEAM: I'm sorry?
KORKORUS: You lived on the distillery grounds for a number--
KORKORUS: --number of years--
BEAM: --we lived, I lived in that house there then for about seven years--about
ten years at that time and I moved away when I married.
KORKORUS: Okay. Um, tell us about your, um, the--we know you're a Beam; your
last name's Beam--uh, your relationship to Jim Beam.
BEAM: Jim Beam was my great-uncle. Um, he and, uh, he was, uh, he passed away
in 47, but he was my great-uncle, and I remember barely seeing him around
KORKORUS: Oh, you did, you remember, you do--
BEAM: --just barely ever see, seeing him as, when I, of course, I was ten years
old when he passed away.
KORKORUS: And, um, what, what, what, who was your father then?
BEAM: My father was Carl Beam.
KORKORUS: And what was Carl's Beam's role here at, in the family business--
BEAM: --Carl came here originally, uh, he came here to work at the quarry for
BEAM: --during Prohibition. Then, when Prohibition was over, uh, he, my
00:02:00grandfather, Park Beam, had been a distiller, of course, all his life. And he
was working with Jim down here to get this distillery started. And they, they
took my dad in, but my Grandpa Park, uh, gradually failed. He, he got too old
to hang on. My dad took it over and he was there for forty years.
KORKORUS: I see. So Park was Jim Beam's brother.
KORKORUS: Your grandfather.
KORKORUS: Okay, I see. And what, what, uh, role did your father play here at
BEAM: He was distiller. He started off as just working there as, as a, as
Grandpa's helper, and then he, he was distiller. Then, later on, he made master distiller.
KORKORUS: I see. And you have a brother who's also in the business.
BEAM: David, my brother, he, he worked, he came in as he got out of school. He
came in and worked, uh, in the, uh, distillery. Well, he worked in the--we all
worked in the labor department and then we worked into the distillery later on.
KORKORUS: So you literally grew up here at the distillery, lived here.
BEAM: Yes, I grew up right on the grounds.
KORKORUS: So, um, when did you, when was your first job at the distillery?
BEAM: Well, I guess you'd say my first job was a night watchman. Uh, during
the summer months when I was out of school, uh, my dad, they would be regular
watchmen, but they'd get two weeks vacation. And there was three of them, so
that, of course, made six weeks. And he would let me carry, what they call
carry the clock, then. I was a night watchman. I would watch for fire, and
every hour I'd make a certain round and what they call punch the clock. It
would make a mark on the dial in the clock to say I was at any given, a certain
point at a certain time. And, uh, that was my first job.
KORKORUS: You were a teenager then?
BEAM: Yeah, I was, I was about se-, I think I was about seventeen.
KORKORUS: Oh, okay.
BEAM: Sixteen or seventeen. I don't think you could work, work until you were,
uh, at least sixteen.
KORKORUS: Was there any, in your early years as a night watchman, were there
00:04:00any instances of trouble, or?
BEAM: Very, no, it wasn't any problem like that then. I, I don't remember ever
having any problem. Uh, once in a while, somebody in those days would, they
would, uh, come in looking for a drink. Of course, there's nobody there to give
them--(coughs)--give them a drink. And they would, uh, they would just pass on
with no, wasn't much trouble in those days.
KORKORUS: Um-hm. Um-hm. Um, did, was your family, did they encourage you to
go into the business or did you always think, since you remember you were always
going to go into the bourbon business?
BEAM: I guess it, uh, the only, it's about the only choice that I even
considered. I, uh, I considered, I did consider driving the truck at one time.
Uh, Beam had the big trucks, big, nice-looking trucks. And I was fascinated by
them. And I told them I wanted to drive a truck. Wanted to drive one of their
trucks. And they said, "No, we, we think you'd be better off stay here." So, I
00:05:00just stayed there for the rest of my working life.
KORKORUS: So, from night watchman, what, what was your next job?
BEAM: Um, from being night watchman, I was, of course, going on to graduate
from high school, and I, I came on to, I was hired in, uh, in 54, into the
regular, uh, workforce as a yard laborer. It was, uh, any kind of, any work
needed to be done outside, what they called labor pool.
BEAM: And, uh, I worked in the labor pool for about two years doing
miscellaneous outside work. Then I, uh, "be an in,"(??) what they call "be an
in"(??) to another job. It was in the bottling house. I was on the, what they
call the dump floor. And I would, uh, worked around dump floor, I believe,
about two or three years. Then I was, uh, found another job, "be an in"(??)
down at the distillery as a relief operator. The people then were working six
00:06:00days a week, and I would work their off-day each week, and therefore I, I worked
all the different jobs. I think at that time there was about six different jobs
in the distillery--
BEAM: --that, that--
BEAM: --that I would go in and relieve the people on their day off.
BEAM: So I stayed there with that job until approximately 59. And then I
went to, uh, they made me distillery supervisor at that time. I was on the
night shift. I'd run the night shift as a supervisor. And I stayed on that
then until my dad retired in approximately 94, I believe it was. And, uh,
no, it was sev--74. He retired in 74, and then I took his place and
stayed there until 92.
KORKORUS: So, when you took his place, you became a distiller then?
BEAM: I became a distiller, yeah. I was, I was, I was running the distillery
with Booker. Booker, at that time, of course, Booker had, they had started the
00:07:00Boston plant and my dad had helped Booker to get the Boston plant going. He was
running the Boston plant. When my dad left, that put Booker, more or less, in
my dad's place. And I worked with Booker. I run the Clermont plant and he as,
he was over at both plants, but he, I was the regular--
BEAM: --distiller there.
KORKORUS: --at the Clermont plant--
BEAM: --um-hm, at the Clermont plant.
KORKORUS: Did you, who taught you the business then? Was that just various
people or was it primarily your father?
BEAM: Well, I guess it just kind of, I, I heard so much of it, I just, it just
kind of grew on, and I just, uh, I don't remember being taught much. I just
picked it up through listening and watching.
BEAM: It wasn't much to, it wasn't any formal type of education. All I did,
he, he just instruct me on certain things, like the yeast. He was real
particular about that.
KORKORUS: You're, he, being your dad.
BEAM: Yes. Yeah, he would, my dad would, he got me started on it and I took
00:08:00care of the yeast for many years.
KORKORUS: Um-hm. Um, so you were the distiller here for eighteen--
BEAM: --I was the distiller for seventeen years.
KORKORUS: And what were they making back then at the plant?
BEAM: Well, it was just same.
KORKORUS: Just, just Jim Beam?
BEAM: Same, just Jim Beam. Yeah. Now, we made some, once in a while, made
some Jim Beam Rye Whiskey--
BEAM: --but basically the same Jim.
KORKORUS: How was business back then?
BEAM: Well, it's different eras. There was a slump in the market at one time,
and I'm not sure, I believe it was in the eighties, that both distilleries were
shut down for about six months, more or less. But then they gradually picked
back up. And to my knowledge, since then it's been more every year. But, uh,
they, we, it was the only time up until that time that the distilleries had both
been shut down at the same time.
BEAM: So, it indicates to me that there was a slump in sales along about that
time, but it's been picking up more ever since.
KORKORUS: Let's back up again before we get into your career here. Um, when
you were growing up at the distillery, what are some of your memories of
actually living at a distillery?
BEAM: Well, I guess it just so many that I don't know where to start. It's,
uh, it's, uh, you know, there was, uh, there was the time when, to start off
with, I remember when it was so remote in Clermont that a, a semi
tractor-trailer came to Clermont with a load of grain and people went out, out,
out actually to look at this truck. It was something, it was something to see.
But, uh, it was things like that, I mean, that was back, uh, when there was
hardly any, uh, the roads were real, weren't much here. It was before
interstates. And sometimes a truck would come in, and he'd send word over to
the distillery that they couldn't make it up the hill over here on the old road
00:10:00before they re-, reworked it. They'd have to send another truck over to help
him, help pull that one grain truck over the hill. So, it started out like that
to where the point now they--(coughs)--they have trucks coming in daily
probably, uh, as much as fifteen trucks a day coming in.
KORKORUS: Well, how long was the ride from Clermont to Louisville back in the
BEAM: It was, uh, thirty miles and I'd say it was about forty-five minutes at
the very best.
BEAM: Because it was all crooked road and, and gravel. It was gravel road, uh,
part of the way out until we got on what do you call Highway 61.
BEAM: Uh, but it was gravel all in Clermont and out that road there.
KORKORUS: What was, uh, so, it was, did you hunt and fish on the distillery grounds?
BEAM: No, I never did do any hunting. Uh, there was a few people who would
hunt a little. We had deer. Deer have always big in this area. And they had
00:11:00good many deer hunters, uh, possibly on the Beam ground. But it didn't, nobody
paid attention to it. It was just, they were there and that's what they did.
That, I don't remember much about the hunting part of it. A few fishermen, a
few people liked to fish in the distillery lakes. Uh, there was seemed like the
lakes seemed to grow pretty good fish.
KORKORUS: As a boy, were you just able to roam around the distillery?
BEAM: Yeah, we just roamed around. It was our playground all over the whole
thing. It, if, uh, my daddy was working on it sometime on Sunday, and we'd go
down there, he didn't like us roaming around too much during work time. But
we'd go down, and if he was down on the bottom floor, and needed to branch off
of the halfway up into the distillery, he'd send us, us boys up there. We were
kinda gophers. But, uh, we knew were mostly everything was. And we'd go up
there in the re-, or just doing anything we could, you know, like that. I mean,
we were just, just kids running around.
KORKORUS: What was, uh, back then, as boy, again, what were some of your
00:12:00favorite spots at the distillery? Where did you like to go?
BEAM: Well, I guess in the distillery, I, I liked to being at the distillery.
I can remember when the distillery was all steam power. And it was, uh, I guess
it was, it must've been fascinating because I, I always remembered the steam
engine. They, instead of having the electric motor, they had a steam-driven
engine that, uh, transferred power around to the different, uh, pieces of
machinery that needed the grain to grind the grain or elevate the grain, uh,
make a mash, and uh, run a little air compressor, or things like that.
KORKORUS: Do you know remember, um, when you first started working at the
distillery, what the capacity was, what you would produce in a day back then?
BEAM: Uh, yeah, it was, uh, something like a thousand-bushel, I believe it was.
BEAM: We were mashing and cooking thousand-bushel at that time. Um, we went
00:13:00fifteen hundred-bushel a day in, uh, 1959, because that's when we went to, to
two shifts. That's when I was put on as, as the night distiller, as night
supervisor, however it was.
KORKORUS: And once again, as a boy, were you aware that you came from a, a, a
famous bourbon family?
BEAM: No, I didn't, uh, I didn't feel that way. I just felt like I was just
another one of the people there. I mean, I worked right along with the, with
the working people. And, uh, I never considered, uh, myself as anything other
than just another, another worker there. The, the name didn't amount to
anything to me.
KORKORUS: Did it mean, did it draw attention, though, when you left the
distillery? "Oh, you're a Beam," people recognize the last name?
BEAM: Yeah, it changed over the years. Uh, I'd say, uh, along about nineteen
sev-, uh, 1975, it seemed that there was more prominence to the Beam name. Uh,
00:14:00they had the Beam bottles that came it out. I think it was a big step, because
people, even though they didn't drink much, they, they liked to collect the Beam
bottles. It made a lot of good talk. And, uh, I noticed at that time that, uh,
the reason I say that was, I lived in that big house, the Jerry Beam house then.
I, I had to move back home. I divorced and moved back there. And, uh, there
was a Beam Bottle Collector's Club meeting in Louisville. And they, of course,
were all invited out to the Beam property. And, uh, as I remember, in two days
there was approximately seventeen hundred people that came there to the old Beam
home in the front yard. Of course, there was tents. And somebody, uh, somebody
realized it was Beams there and they asked me to sign a bottle. And I was, I
00:15:00just had never thought about it. Why would anybody ask me to sign a bottle?
And I think that's when it started, you know, mushrooming bigger. And my dad
was there. And, uh, they asked him to sign. And, uh, you know, just sign a
bottle. And, uh, I remember he, he'd never hardly ever signed a bottle either.
They finally had to get more pens. And, uh, I got a little table out there for
him to sit down and sign--they gave everybody a half pint. And, uh they, they
wanted their little bottle signed, you know. So, that's when, uh, to answer
your question, that's when I kinda thought, I guess the name must mean something
KORKORUS: Um, do you have, um, you, you have some vague memories of your
grandfather? Do you have any favorite stories about him that you've heard?
BEAM: Uh, Grandpa Park?
KORKORUS: Uh, uh, actually, I'm sorry, your uncle.
BEAM: For Uncle Jim? Uh, not especially. He was, I was only ten years old,
00:16:00and, uh, when he left. And, uh, I didn't see him that much. Uh, I heard a lot
of stories about him--
KORKORUS: --such as, any ones that stand out?
BEAM: Well, he was a man that knew how to work with people. And the smoke, one
funny story was that, uh, the smokestacks, when they shut the distillery down in
the summer, he wanted, Jim Beam wanted the stack to be cleaned out inside. Get
the soot out of it. Of course, that stack was, was like, uh, twenty-four inches
in diameter. And there was one-legged man that lived here, or out here
somewhere. Well, the man, the one-legged man, of course, weighed less because
he had one less leg. He had a wooden leg but he'd take that off. And they told
Jim, hire, hired him to go clean the smokestack out. I think he had pull
himself up inside of the stack to clean it. So, it happened that this man came
00:17:00to pick up his money. And, uh, this, uh, other man was sitting here, and Jim
was talking to him. Jim said, "Did you clean that thing out?"--uh, uh, his name
was Dick Shepherd--he said, "Dick, did you clean it out good?" "Yes, sir, I
sure did. I cleaned it out good." And he looked over, uh, Uncle Jim looked
over at this other man and said, uh, said, "Charlie, did he, did he do a good
job?" And, and, uh, Dick Shepherd looked at him, looked over to this man and
said, "Stick with me, old pretty. I've known you for a long time." And the
thing, the point being that he didn't clean the stack and he felt this other man
was going to, going to tell him he did. But he, he was saying, "Stick with
him," so I don't know whether this man got his money or not. But he would, uh--
KORKORUS: --so, he didn't actually clean the smokestack?
BEAM: No, Jim didn't go up looking at the stack. He was depending on this
other man and I don't know what, how to, I doubt that he cleaned the stack or he
had to go back and clean it. But it was kind of a thing where two guys were
00:18:00trying to stick together, and Jim, uh, Jim didn't, uh, he didn't trust that man.
The same man painted his, the, the smokestacks from the outside also. He would
take the wooden leg off, and that he could pull himself up the outside. I saw
him do that. Somebody most of the time would help him. Then he'd paint on the
way down. But that's just one thing I--
KORKORUS: --what's the, back in, uh, uh, when you were working here, I mean, in
the fifties and, uh, sixties, was a, a distillery a little bit more of a
dangerous place for safety reasons? Were there fires, and floods, and?
BEAM: Yeah, it was, it was before, uh, you had, uh, the organizations that,
that promote safety now. You had to take care of yourself. You just, I mean,
you had open belts. You didn't want to stick your finger in there or it'd pull
your whole body in it. You know, it was such a, they had the steam power with
the, the belts were as much as, uh, I'd say as much as twenty-four inches wide
to transfer the power up into another place.
BEAM: And you just knew not to get close to them because they didn't, they'd
put guards off in some, on some places, but not, not every place. It was more
danger then, yeah.
KORKORUS: Were there any fires here to speak of, or? I thought there was a--
KORKORUS: --big flood here at one time.
BEAM: We had, uh, several fires over the years. Uh, we had a fire. Uh, it,
uh, the, the dryer house--well, at first, when I remember was, I was a kid, I
was less than ten years old and the boiler room caught fire. And it was a
wooden structure. And they, it just about demolished the building. Of course,
the boiler being more or less fire resistant. A lot of stuff around it burned.
So they had to rebuild the, the boiler room, but that weekend, they spent all
the weekend just getting it started back up with no roof on it or anything. But
they got, they got, had to get it started back so they could continue mashing
and distilling. But I remember that fire. And then they had a fire in the fire
00:20:00in the, uh, dryer house several times. We had, uh, the dryer was running at a
high capacity. And, uh, it would have a tendency sometimes to ignite itself.
And, uh, several times, we've had fires in, in the dryer house.
Um, how long have, did, were you in the bourbon industry?
BEAM: Well, I guess you'd say all my life. Uh, I was, I was, that's where I
started out and that's where I--
KORKORUS: --did you ever any desire ever to leave and do something else?
BEAM: I had ideas at one time. Like I said, I was--
KORKORUS: --oh, driving the truck--
BEAM: --always fascinated by trucks. But didn't take me long to decide that
that wasn't exactly what I should do. Maybe I wanted to but I, I felt like I
was better off here, making whiskey.
KORKORUS: Did you feel, being a Beam, you had an obligation to stay in the business?
BEAM: Well, it wasn't necessarily an obligation but it was a good chance for me
to, I had a better chance making a living with the Beam Company. It was, they
00:21:00have been an aggressive company ever since I can remem-, you know, remember.
BEAM: And it's always, they've always, uh, done real well.
KORKORUS: How, um, during your tenure here, when you worked here, did you see
the business change, the process of making bourbon change in any way? It became
BEAM: Yeah, it definitely became more modernized, but basically I'd say we
still do it the same way. When they put in larger equipment, and equipment is
more equal to--even though you produced more, it don't go faster.
BEAM: It's just a bigger volume and, and bigger places. And it, to, to try to
keep the, uh, quality consistent with the old-time way, it's still about the
same way, just, just it does faster with bigger equipment.
KORKORUS: What's the, if you could think of, um, what's the biggest
00:22:00advancement? If you could just say one thing that's really changed the process
the most, made it more efficient? Is it the use of computers, or?
BEAM: Well, of course, the computers came in when about the time I left. I
left in 92, and--
KORKORUS: --what did the computers do that you were doing, how were, what were
you doing differently?
BEAM: At the time when I was there to, to, uh, control a, a mash operation, you
had switches and an operator had to turn to turn that bumper valve on. And when
I left, they programmed it now where they have programmable computers that can
turn that valve when it needs to be turned, rather than have, have a operator
that just monitors what's going on. That seems it, that's the best, that's the
way I understand it because I haven't run, I haven't been there since it's--you
know, I wasn't there with that operation. But it's, uh, I think it's, it's
00:23:00still the same thing, only it's being done with, with the help of computers.
KORKORUS: Can you describe, um, the, the steps in making bourbon? Where we
start out with the grains?
BEAM: Well, you've got to have the grain come in by, uh, mostly by truck now.
And the grain is ground. And they have big mills and it's stored in a scale
bin. Then it's proportioned out into the mash cookers. And then it's, from
there, it goes into the fermentor along with some stillage. It ferments and
then it goes to the still. And when it's distilled out, the stillage is sent to
the dryer house. And the, the dried, the, the, uh, stillage is dried down to
about 12 percent moisture. And, and some of it said, is fed to livestock. And,
uh, of course, the whiskey goes from the still into the doubler, from the
00:24:00doubler it goes to the storage tank and on to the warehouse and to the barrel.
KORKORUS: Um, um, what's, if you said, what's the one thing that makes maybe
the Beam bourbons different than other bourbons? Is it how you age it? Is it
your yeast? Is it your ingredients?
BEAM: I don't, honestly, can't say. I'm not, I don't know any of the technical
chemical terms of it, but I think that we're sitting in a, a valley, an area
where the water is ideal for, for bourbon. You can't go to other country, other
states and find the quality or the type of water we have here. Along with the
yeast, I think that we've got a strain a yeast that seems to really do a good
job. And, uh, that's why we've always protected it in the--
KORKORUS: --there were stories that Jim Beam would keep it under lock and key,
the yeast. Is that true?
BEAM: I'm sorry?
KORKORUS: That Jim Beam would keep the yeast in a safe place at night? Take it
00:25:00home with him, is that true?
BEAM: Yeah, we always kept it--(coughs)--and we weren't so, so worried about
anybody stealing the yeast itself; it was the fact that we might lose our, our
strain. And we all, my dad did, and I did take a, we kept a gallon at home
when we shut down. And imagine Booker did too. Because if you leave everything
for shutdown in the summer, or something, uh, the power could go off, or
whatever, and you'd lose the strain you had. So we did keep it, uh, not
necessarily--well, we did, as a matter of fact, lock the, the walk-in box, for
example, just so anybody wouldn't be in there tampering around with anything.
KORKORUS: Hmm. That's--(Beam coughs)--that's interesting. Um, you grew up,
obviously, drinking bourbon. What, um, how does a Beam drink bourbon? What,
how do they like it?
BEAM: Well, I, I guess, I'll have to say I, I've drank it a lot with, with
water. I've drank it with Coke or, or cola. Uh--
KORKORUS: --how did your father like it?
BEAM: He was mostly a water person. He drank it mostly with water. Uh, but,
uh, that was basically the way we drank it, with little shots with, with water.
Uh, and back in those days, ice was, you didn't make a lot of ice around the
home, so there wasn't a lot of ice. It was just cold water most of the time.
I'd say that was the way it was mostly--
KORKORUS: --they drank it--
BEAM: --consumed, yeah.
KORKORUS: Um, so you've seen the bourbon industry change with new products.
When were those, staying back in the pasture for a bit, what were some of the
products that you produced back in the fifties and sixties? I know it was,
there was some other, another real popular brand. It was Old Tub.
BEAM: I don't know about Old Tub. We had it. And it was, it was Jim Beam's
original bottle. But in my time, I don't remember of--(coughs)--of making any,
uh, any Old Tub, per say. It could be that they used some of it that we made it
00:27:00because our formula stayed the same. And I believe, I'm not sure that Old Tub
was 100 proof. And most whiskeys now is sold now at 80. It was 90 at one time
and it was 86 at one time.
BEAM: But, uh, I can't remember of any, uh, anything about Old Tub, uh, except
the, the advertising of the bottle there years ago. It was a, it was a main thing--
BEAM: --right to start with.
KORKORUS: Um-hm. Do you have any, uh, stories, or--it wouldn't be memories,
because you were born after Prohibition--but any family stories about how
Prohibition affected the family or about the Bardstown area?
BEAM: Not much. Uh, I just didn't, uh, I heard a lot of stories from older
people. A lot of them, or some of them came to Beam to work and they would tell
about, they would work in a moonshine still in the, in the, during Prohibition.
00:28:00And they knew that the risk was high, but the pay was better because everybody
knew the risk was high there of getting locked up.
KORKORUS: So you knew moonshiners, huh?
KORKORUS: You knew some moonshiners?
BEAM: Oh, yeah, I knew, we had a man that run our, our mill. My dad hired him
to run the mills. And he, he was the one man that told me that he made like six
hundred a month working at a moonshine still, which was just a tremendous
amount. It'd probably be, uh, you know, it would be ten times that. It is, be
now, it was six hundred then. But he, he told about, you know, that they would
get word that they, uh, that the law was coming, and they'd, they'd just move on
out. And he said he'd had his still torn down and they'd go back and start over again.
KORKORUS: Where was it? Up in the hills?
BEAM: They were up in the upper part of Nelson County, I believe--
BEAM: --is about the area they were in.
KORKORUS: Hmm. Uh, so, the bourbon industry has changed over the years. And,
um, what do you think of some of the newer brands, the, the super-premium
brands? Do you think, um, they've helped the industry?
BEAM: Think they what?
KORKORUS: Helped the industry grow?
BEAM: I don't know. I think the, it's the, uh, small package, it's a small,
uh, batch has, has created a lot of interest among people. Uh, the, the, it's,
the small batch just seems like it's, it's pick, it's, it's, it's a good idea to
get people to, uh, want to try that. Well, then that's got the Beam name on it
and they may try something else, is the way I would see that. The small batch
is not a tremendous seller as compared to the white label, for example.
BEAM: But it's, it's a good thing to get peoples' attention.
KORKORUS: What brand do you drink?
BEAM: I drink the seven-year white label a lot. And, of course, I like a,
00:30:00little Baker's with a splash of water every now and then. But it's, uh, it's,
I'd say those two are, are my favorites.
KORKORUS: Tell us a little bit about Baker's Bourbon, a bourbon that's named
after you. Um, um, were you involved much in that or was it more named in honor
BEAM: I think it was more of a, I guess, I don't know if you'd say in honor, or
maybe because they came to me and they said, "Can we use your name to put on a
bottle?" And I, I was flattered. I said, "Well, sure, you think," I said, "Why
would you, I don't, why would you pick my name?" And the gentleman that came to
me to talk to me about it said, "Well, it's just a flat, it's just a flashy
name. Uh, it's kind of a catchy name," I believe he said. I said, "Well,
okay." That was probably, I think that was about 1992 and it seems to have
KORKORUS: It's won a lot of awards.
KORKORUS: --does it make you proud--
BEAM: --a lot, it's, it's, it's a real premium bourbon.
BEAM: But it's, the price is a little premium, too, so people are a little slow
to try it. But it's a very good bourbon.
KORKORUS: Uh, the bourbon industry, in a sense, is like one big family. Um, do
you, have you had friends outside of the distillery, out-, outside of the Beam
distillery you've worked with and gotten to know well, people at the Heaven
Hill, or Maker's Mark, or Brown-Forman?
BEAM: I've, uh, of course, been close to Parker. I remember Parker when he was
a child in diapers, is how far we go back. And he's, uh, he's about six years
younger than I am. And, uh, of course, at, at, at a young age, six years is, is
a lot of difference. But, uh, I've been close with Parker for many years. Uh,
and his dad and my dad were, were close, you know. They both run a distillery.
They had something in common. But, uh, other than that, and, and of course,
Booker, I've, I've always been, you know, close to him. Uh, worked with him for
00:32:00ever since, uh, oh, when he came into beam in 51, I knew of him then, and
then over the years, we've been closer all the time.
KORKORUS: Do you have any favorite Booker stories or Park stories?
BEAM: Well, Booker was a, that's a jovial fella. Just a lot of, a lot of
stories about him. But don't know really one that would be outstanding. He and
my dad were, were great friends. I think he, I think he had a respect for my
dad because my dad kind of helped him get to Boston distillery going. And he'd
come to the house. And, uh, he'd, he liked to fish. He'd bring in fish, and,
uh, from, and have them already dressed. And my mother would cook them. And of
course, they, they would, while she was cooking fish, they'd have a toddy or two
on this porch out there. And Booker could probably eat more fish than any man
I've ever known. But, uh, he, there was, they had a good time together there at
00:33:00the old Beam house, there, on the, on the premises.
KORKORUS: Right. When did you move out from the house?
BEAM: I'm sorry?
KORKORUS: When, when did you leave the Beam house?
KORKORUS: What year?
BEAM: I left there in 81. I lived there until 1981--
BEAM: --when they made it, that's, that's when they opened the, uh, they
called, uh, American Outpost then. That's right where the still house is now.
KORKORUS: What, your brother David, what was his position here at the, at the distillery?
BEAM: He was, uh, he started off like I did in the labor pool and, and then he,
he worked on into shipping, and then he, as a laborer, then he went, uh, he came
to the distillery as the distillery supervisor. I can't remember what year, but
BEAM: --he was, he was always associated with the distillery, itself.
KORKORUS: Being a Beam, because of your last name, were you ever treated
differently at, at the distillery, you and David?
BEAM: Were we what?
KORKORUS: Because you're Beams, were you treated differently at the distillery,
do you think?
BEAM: Well, I think at first when I went there, the, uh, the people kinda felt
00:34:00like, "Well, he's a Beam. He's gonna get preferential treatment." So they
would put me in a position to make sure I could pull my end of the deal. I
mean, if they were, if there was some dirty work had to be done, why, they would
make sure that I got my share of it. But as time went on, it, it kind of worked
around where there wasn't any, any difference.
KORKORUS: Do you, um, have you, what's your opinion of some of the competing
brands? Do you have a chance to sample them? Do you enjoy them? What do you
think, um, of some of the new products that are out there?
BEAM: You mean with other companies?
BEAM: I'm not real familiar with those type of things. I hadn't, I don't, uh,
get out and sample that much. Uh, I, I have a, I, I prefer our, our product but
it might be because that's about the only thing I ever, ever drank. I've tried
some of the others but I didn't think they near as good as the Beam product.
KORKORUS: There you go(??). What, um, what do you think about the future of
the bourbon industry? It's become a global spirit now, with so many different
forms of it, from Devil's Cut to Red Stag, to Jacob's Ghost. Um, some of the
new products that are coming out of the distillery, you have opinions on those?
BEAM: I don't know. I think there's some of them that are, that are, are real
good and then some of them are experimental. But still there might be a lot of
people out there, there is a lot of people out there want to try them, and some
people might like any of them. But I personally don't care for, uh, some of
them. But, uh, again, I've always just been a bourbon drinker. And, uh, I
hadn't really got a very good handle on what to say about that.
KORKORUS: Now, um, you've had some pretty, um, well-traveled relatives, like
Booker and Fred. Um, have you ever had the, the notion to want to promote the
brand and the products over the years?
BEAM: No, I, I never did. I, I guess I'm more of a homebody. Uh, I never did,
00:36:00uh, feel like I could adequately do that. That, that's a, that's a big job in
itself. Uh, Booker did, he was a, he was a natural at promoting and a natural
with people. Everybody liked Booker. I mean, he was just a jovial feller.
And, and Fred has come along and done a great job the same way. He's, he never
meets a stranger. He's always, always ready to talk bourbon. And, uh, but I, I
never did, uh, have much interest in, uh, traveling, and trying to promote from
KORKORUS: So Kentucky's your home. That's you're happy to be, huh?
BEAM: Yeah, that's, I guess that's it. Yeah.
KORKORUS: What, um, tell us a little bit. Why do you think Kentucky is such a,
a, a such, is bourbon's home? What, what makes Kentucky bourbon so special, do
BEAM: Well, I guess it, it's, of course, Kentucky has not as much as, as you
would say, right around this area, within, within, uh, I guess seventy-five
00:37:00miles of where we are right now, there is probably 75 percent of the bourbon
made or the whiskey made in the, in the world. Maybe, I think. It's, it's, so
that put, of course, puts it in Kentucky. Oh, I suppose that the reason
Kentucky has got, uh, the most of the producer, whiskey producers is because
they, uh, they have this area. It's here.
KORKORUS: Um-hm. Um-hm. Can you describe, going back to when you were the
distiller and you were running the Clermont plant, which is a, the, a very big
plant, uh, a typical day, if you can remember? What would be like when you got
to work? What time would you get to work and what would you do?
BEAM: Well, originally, when I started in the distillery, we started at about,
that's when they shut down every night. Uh, well, I'll take that back. Yes,
they did. They shut down every night. And we would, we would start, like, five
00:38:00in the morning. And I would come in at five, and get off at two or three. And
then the later years, uh, it got to be around the clock. So, you'd come in and
work, they had three, three shifts. And they worked, uh, eight hours each, of
course. And, uh, the typical was just to come in and take, take over from where
the other people were leaving off and try to keep it going. That would be
about the, I, I didn't have any--it was always expected whatever might happen
and being prepared to do what you can for it.
KORKORUS: It was always something different.
BEAM: It seemed like it was. Uh, we had, the whole distillery wasn't big
enough to do as much as we needed, and then they decided to build a new
distillery, and that was a two- or three-year transition there of tearing down
and rebuilding and not shutting down either place. When we, when we shut down
00:39:00the old distillery to, to move into the new one, uh, they didn't want to shut
down for anything, just keep on moving. We, we just separated from the old
distillery with half of it, and tried to make it over in the new distillery, and
then, then picked up the full load with the old distillery--I mean, with the new
distillery. Therefore, it was, that was an area that was, uh, it was pretty
hard to keep things going right. And then we had the, uh, ethyl carbonates
scare at one time. Right it's, uh, they, they decided there, there was a little
bit of ethyl contaminate, ethyl carbonate in the, in the, in the whiskey, and
they thought they should take that out. It really wasn't a hazard, but, uh,
somebody thought it was. And that was a probably a, a five-year hassle there to
keep that, to get that corrected. But it was corrected and, and everything got
00:40:00back up to standard production.
KORKORUS: As a, when you were the dis-, distiller here at the, at the Clermont
plant, what did you feel like your number one responsibility was?
BEAM: I suppose it was to just keep running and get, get finish by Sunday. We,
uh, if we didn't get finished by Sunday, we had to work Sunday. (laughs) So
it, we're trying keep things regularly on schedule.
BEAM: And it was always, we always were running at full capacity. Therefore,
if you're running at full capacity, they expect it to be done in a certain
amount of time. And if you lose an hour, then that hour is tacked on the ended
your operation for that week. So, it, it, we was, I think the main goal was to
keep things running as, as well as you could.
KORKORUS: You worked at the distillery for a, a number of years, twenty-five,
thirty-some years. Did you have other, uh, employed other people at that plant
00:41:00work the same, um, amount of time? Were there long-term employees --
BEAM: --oh, yeah--
KORKORUS: --like yourself--
BEAM: --we had people. Well, I think that, uh, that some people at--now, they
didn't work in the distillery building, itself, but they would be there over, I
think over forty-two years that I know of. Yeah, some people made a, most
people made it a lifetime job out of it that they came there.
KORKORUS: Was there a lot of socializing among workers?
BEAM: No, I don't think so. There would be, of course, working is working.
You had the cafeteria but everybody had a job. And we didn't go to the
cafeteria much. Uh, mostly we'd eat on the job.
BEAM: And, uh, sometimes a feller would, uh, bring in a crockpot and fix up,
have something there for everybody. Of course, it wasn't but eight people--well
there is eight, then you got down to three or four, you know, in the new
distillery. But we, it wasn't especially socializing, it was just --
KORKORUS: --eat --
BEAM: --surviving really. (laughs)
KORKORUS: What about people, uh, dipping into the barrels? Would that happen
00:42:00much? You heard stories about the shiny barrels.
BEAM: Uh, the, I think that story related back to, years ago, we had, in the
old distillery, we had a copper tank here and the still was here. And, uh, if
you didn't control the still like you're supposed to, the still would blow vapor
over, which would carry over an excess of, of the white whiskey, which would
flow out of the flow box onto this, this old tank happened to have a swag in it.
Well, if, if, if that, if that happens to where that still, uh, blew the flow
box--when I say blew it, it gushed the whiskey, and then it spilled over--once
in a while, a feller would get a cup and get a few, few drops of that to have
around, you know. And, uh, then I think it finally got a, at one time there,
maybe it were, we would, some of the boys would get a little thirsty. Well,
00:43:00they would kind of, kind of mess with the still so it would kinda spit over a
little on the side there. But, uh, it was, it didn't, uh, it, uh, it was,
everybody liked the taste, the taste every once in a while.
KORKORUS: Um, tell us a little bit about the warehouses when they used to be
locked up by the government. Was that something that was taking place when you were--
BEAM: --yeah, uh, everything, when I first went to the distillery in, uh, in
the fifties, the later fifties, uh, the government, there was a government agent
on premises all time. And then originally, they, they had locked the distillery
completely. They locked the grain pit, they locked the steam valves. And they,
uh, the government didn't want anything to move that they didn't get their tax
out of. And, uh, over a period of time, why, the, uh, the government decided,
"Well, we'll let the company take care of this. We're going to trust them." So
00:44:00they moved all of their government people out. We called them gaugers then.
They were people that would gauge the whiskey that was being, going into the
bottle to make sure it was, if it was supposed to be 86 proof, then he made sure
it was 86 proof, not 85, and--
BEAM: --and, because, uh, that was, more or less, consumer protection there.
Plus, the government wanted to get their tax money out of every ------(??) that,
that came out of the distillery.
KORKORUS: So the government worker would be on, onsite every morning when they
would open up the plant?
BEAM: Yes, they would. They would, they would have to wait until the, we
called the government man out there to take the chain off of, uh, off of the
still, steam-control valve. Actually, he, they had a chain on it to keep it
from, so you couldn't start up without them knowing about it. And they had a,
what they call a government office, a little office, a little room down there
where the man could come and go and stay, uh, all during your, all during your
daily operation there. Uh, but they had, I think it was around twenty people
00:45:00there on the end, because the operations were getting so much bigger and the
government wanted to see it all. So, I think it was approximately twenty-some
people that were--
KORKORUS: --but twenty were, uh, government workers--
BEAM: --government workers there--
KORKORUS: --were on-site--
KORKORUS: --at all time?
BEAM: Uh, they were, at first, there. I'm talking, they, they abolished that
back in the, I believe, in the fifties. But I can remember the government man
influence, the distillery was running until late, finished up when they used to
shut down every day. The government man would be there with, with, uh, my dad
in that case, a lot of times, to lock up when he got through.
KORKORUS: Did, uh, workers here, or you, or your family, did they resent the,
the work, the government workers being onsite?
BEAM: No, we, we didn't, uh, they got to be friends, and everybody, uh, they
was just doing their job too. And, uh, once in a while, you would get a, a, a
person, an, an inspector to come through. And I remember in one instance he
00:46:00would, they were so precise that somebody had figured the exact gallons on a, on
a 15,000-gallon tank. Well, they had, the last digit was wrong like one-tenth
off. And they, the man threatened us to shut down, shut the operation down if,
if my dad didn't go get that corrected right then and there.
BEAM: But it was, sometimes you'd find a feller that was a real stickler, but
most of the time they were, they were okay.
BEAM: They were okay to get along with.
KORKORUS: Over the years, were you ever approached or was your family ever
approached by people saying, "Listen, sell me a couple of barrels out of their
warehouse, and out of sight."?
BEAM: No. I never did--
KORKORUS: --were, but did people ever--
BEAM: --I never would of did--
KORKORUS: --approach you, though, for that, or?
BEAM: No, I don't think that very often happened. Uh, they'd, there'd be
people'd stop in for a drink quite often. And, uh, of course, the railroad
company had, had their crew that would stop. They would, if you wanted a, a car
moved a little, or he'll wait just a while before you pulled this car, you could
00:47:00kind of give them man a little sample, there, and he'd, he'd, oh, he'd slow his
train down until we'd get the car ready to go. But, uh, basically, we didn't
have too many--or, I didn't have anybody much come in like that.
KORKORUS: Um, you've been retired now for a number of years. You miss the business?
BEAM: No, I don't exactly miss it. I stayed busy ever since the day I left, I
guess. Like I said, I finally got my, uh, chance to drive a truck for a little
while there. I did that for ten years, and along with, with other things,
there's always something that I can find to do. And I don't feel like, now,
that I could, I couldn't go into the distillery and run it. It's been so
modernized now. We ran it by, more or less, by the seat of my pants. I mean,
it's, you know, it's, we had, we had some test go on, but not a whole lot.
BEAM: But I've, I've got to where I, I just like to hear about it, but that's
about all I, I know to do.
KORKORUS: My last question'd be the, the whole Beam family, it's just such a
00:48:00unique family in a such unique situation. They have this one family that's so,
um, dominant within one industry. I mean, you'll have family-run businesses but
you, I don't think there's any other industry that you have a family-run
industry. What, um, why do you think Beams are so good or so interested in
BEAM: Uh, I suppose it's, uh, it's like, I guess get back to, that's what we
do. That's all, what we, what we knew how to do. It's the only thing I knew
how to do. Uh, so, I, I suppose the reason we stay interested is because it's,
uh, the best thing for us to do. And we, we know it. You know, it, it's kind
of been, it's kind of, and, uh, we heard it, I heard it, that's all I heard was
distillery when anybody came to the house. It'd be Uncle, or, or Booker, or
it's, it's kind of, of, uh, it's just kind of what we do, and, uh--
KORKORUS: --was, so, now most, most of the knowledge that you received,
knowledge is, was passed down through word of mouth, and--
BEAM: --yeah, it was--
KORKORUS: --from your family members.
BEAM: It was, yeah. You heard so many things from, uh, from so many people.
It, it's, uh, it's like, you know, you, it's all we ever heard. It's about all
you know. It, you can't. it's hard to go to, it's not hardly, you don't go to
school to learn to be a distiller; you've got to, you've got to, got to live to,
to get to be a distiller, I'd say. It's a, it, it, uh, it's just a whole lot of
little things. They've got it more sophisticated now. But back into when I was
coming along and in my dad's time, it's just the little things that you learned
every day and you kept using that knowledge to keep going.
KORKORUS: If you had to cite one person who taught you the most, who would that be?
BEAM: I suppose it would, uh, I, I've tended to lead towards Booker. He taught
00:50:00me a lot more than my dad, but my dad got him started. But it seemed like, uh,
in my case with my dad, it, I guess I kind of knew what he, I'd heard it all of
my life, I kind of knew, uh, what he needed to teach me. But, uh, when, uh,
things, when I was coming along after my dad left, uh, there was a lot of things
that, that Booker would think of, and say, "Well, let's try that." And so, I, I
do have to give him a lot of credit for, um, for educating me and, and helping
me when I was growing at the Clermont distillery. If I got in trouble, I could
call him. And a lot of times, he could, he could pull it out, wherever,
whatever the problem was.
UNKNOWN MALE: Great.
KORKORUS: Okay, Baker, that's great. Take a break for a second.
UNKNOWN MALE: Make sure, uh.
KORKORUS: You did great back there.
BEAM: Oh, okay. Thank you.
[Pause in recording.]
UNKNOWN MALE: Ready when you are.
KORKORUS: Uh, Baker, you were known for your work ethic and being a hard worker
over the years at the, at the, at the plant in Clermont. Uh, were you aware or
did you make a conscious effort, uh, to be a role model or a mentor for other
folks like, such as Fred, or other workers at the plant? Were you trying to
lead by example?
BEAM: Not exactly, no, I, I guess I, that was just my nature to, to work hard.
I mean, it, it, I always said, "If you need it, need it to be done, go ahead and
do it. Don't fool around with it." And, uh, that was always my, I always did a
little more than necessary. I never was great on taking vacations. I never did
do fishing. I was mostly just interested in work most all the time.
KORKORUS: Um, if you had to give advice, then, to an, um, someone entering the
business, such as your, your young cousin, Freddie, what would that be?
BEAM: It's, it's so different now from when it was when I was there, I'm not
00:52:00sure how I would advise a young man to, to go at it now. Uh, back then, you,
you, you stayed busy and did your job. But now it seems that you need to be
more aggressive. And it's either get ahead or get out. You, you can't just sit
there and do the same thing every day. But, again, I don't know if that's good
advice or not--
UNKNOWN MALE: --that's great--
BEAM: --because I never did try it.
KORKORUS: Well, for your, uh, your cousin Fred, the mass, the current master
distiller, if you could give him one piece of advice, what would it be? On
distilling, now, if you'd like.
BEAM: I suppose, if I had to condense it down and just, uh, say, "Follow your
dad's footsteps." He, uh, he did, he did real good for the business, uh, for
the, for the company, for the business, for the product. Though I'd say just
00:53:00follow Booker's footsteps, if I was going to try to advise him.
KORKORUS: Are you proud to be a part of this industry?
BEAM: Yeah, it's become, uh, a thing. It's, uh, it's, it's a growing industry.
And we have all these micro-distilleries, now. And they have, have tours.
It's really come a long way since I was, since I was young. And it's, it's,
yeah, I'm proud to be a part of it.
UNKNOWN MALE: Okay.
KORKORUS: I think that's it.
UNKNOWN MALE: Did I get it all? Okay.
KORKORUS: Sounds great. Thanks, there, Baker.
[End of interview.]