Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Beth Burrows, April 20, 2021

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:03 - Family background

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Partial Transcript: Okay. Hello, my name is Max Zettler.

Segment Synopsis: Burrows was born in Olean, New York. She went to school in Olean, until she moved to Kentucky halfway through her seventh-grade year when they moved to Breckinridge County. Burrows is the only child directly from her parents but has 9 step and half-siblings from her parents getting remarried. Her mom is a teacher in Kentucky, and her father is a teacher in New York. Burrows thinks she is of Welsh descent.

Keywords: Divorce; Kentucky; Moving; New York; Parents; Remarried; Siblings; Step-siblings; Teachers; Welsh

Subjects: Families.; Genealogy.

GPS: Olean (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 42.07774057168847, -78.42892103003258
00:03:34 - Childhood

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your childhood.

Segment Synopsis: Burrows talks about growing up around sports as both her parents were coaches. She was very involved in clubs and tutoring in school. She moved to Kentucky halfway through her seventh-grade year. Her first night in Kentucky was on New Year's Eve in 1999. Burrows played volleyball through high school, and was very active within her local community and in her school. Burrows wanted to be a veterinarian when she was young, but as Burrows grew up she shifted away from the sciences and more toward the arts (writing, English, and language). Her mother always told her not to be a teacher growing up because of the hardships she had to go through, but later on in college told her she probably should have been a teacher. Burrows feels that she was always going to be a teacher or coach, but she did it her way. In her job now she feels that she gets to educate people about whiskey.

Keywords: Childhood; Community involvement; Experiences; Families; Growing up; Jobs; Kentucky; Learning; Moving; New York; Teachers; Whisky

Subjects: Bourbon whiskey

GPS: New York
Map Coordinates: 42.9538, -75.5268
GPS: Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 37.5347, -85.3021
00:06:48 - Education

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Partial Transcript: So, um, where, where did you go to high school?

Segment Synopsis: Burrows went to Breckinridge County High School, then attended the University of Louisville. Although she did have a full ride to Murray State University, she did not attend because most of her graduating class was going there and she wanted to branch out. Burrows started to go to college for psychology, but ended up majoring in sports administration and minoring in communications.

Keywords: Breckinridge County High School; Murray State University; Schools

Subjects: College choice; College students.; Education; Universities and colleges.; University of Louisville

GPS: Breckinridge County High School
Map Coordinates: 37.754713239152494, -86.42436523793566
00:08:51 - Service industry experience / Introduction to bourbon

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Partial Transcript: This whole time, uh, I was working in the service industry.

Segment Synopsis: Burrows talks about how, when she turned 16, she got a job in the service industry and continued working in this industry until after college. She not only developed a love for the service industry but a love for bourbon as well. Her first experience with bourbon was being 21 in college and having someone pull a handle out of their freezer. Burrows talks about her interactions with people from Kentucky and being introduced to the culture of bourbon. She had been exposed to bourbon serving it in her jobs, but her passion for it came later on when her knowledge of American whiskey grew.

Keywords: Bourbon; Education; Enjoyment; Experience; Experiences; First jobs; Women; Working

Subjects: Alcoholic beverages.; Bars (Drinking establishments); Bourbon whiskey; Women in the whiskey industry

00:11:10 - Early career experience

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so, uh, my, my, next question is, what was your, your very first job out of college?

Segment Synopsis: Burrows' first job out of college was in the service industry at Fourth Street Live. Burrows was also a coach for girls' high school volleyball and softball. Burrows switched out of the service industry and into business liability insurance. She did not enjoy the insurance industry and when Down One Bourbon Bar opened, she was willing to take a lower position in the service industry than she had when she left to get back into it. In this position, they started bourbon education and took the employees on distillery tours before they even opened. Burrows attributes her job at Down One Bourbon Bar to what led her to her current position. This position gave Burrows the education, experience, and passion she has for bourbon.

Keywords: Bourbon business; Education; Employees; Enjoyment; Experience; Experiences; Kentucky bourbon; Kentucky bourbon distilleries; Kentucky whiskey; Knowledge of bourbon; Learning; Service; Service industry; Tours; Training; Whiskeys; Working

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Alcoholic beverages.; Bars (Drinking establishments); Bourbon whiskey

GPS: Fourth Street Live!
Map Coordinates: 38.25215777074287, -85.75726139561495
00:15:07 - Breaking into the bourbon industry

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Partial Transcript: So, now, uh, I'm gonna move into how, um, how you came into your role at Beam.

Segment Synopsis: The Down One Bourbon Bar general manager had left and at that time Burrows was an assistant general manager. With this change, Burrows was 27 years old and took on the responsibilities of a general manager, eventually gaining the general manager position title. In this position, she was able to network and create strong relationships with those in the bourbon industry. After she received the general manager title, the American Whiskey Ambassador in Kentucky for Beam Suntory was moving out west. The position was now available, and Burrows knew the Ambassador through her job at Down One Bourbon Bar. The American Whiskey Ambassador told Burrows about the opening and that she should apply, but she would have to complete everything alone. After three months and five interviews, Burrows got the call on her birthday that she received the job at Beam Suntory.

Keywords: Beam Inc.; Beam Suntory; Bourbon business; Bourbon industry; Bourbon whiskey; Down One Bourbon Bar; Experiences; Goals; Growth; Jobs; Knowledge of bourbon; Managers; Networking; Passions; Work shifts

Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey industry; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Women in the whiskey industry

GPS: Beam Suntory, Inc.
Map Coordinates: 41.888518596964985, -87.635447246929
00:17:33 - American Whiskey Ambassador

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Partial Transcript: Tell me a little bit about what an American Whiskey Ambassador does.

Segment Synopsis: An American Whiskey Ambassador's role is to educate in a fun and intriguing way. Burrows' job is to showcase Beam Suntory products in new ways. She says that she approaches this job from a historical aspect, and in her job, she is working with around 23 brands. Burrows tries to embody the brands and bring them to life, as she is the face for the brand outside of the distillery. Her responsibility is to be as knowledgeable as possible on the bourbon brands and the history. Burrows interacts with different groups of people every week in her position, and with the pandemic, it just depended on who was available to take things on. She recounts the virtual event where they had service industry professionals from 19 different countries in attendance. This week she has already done staff training, and next week she is traveling to Knoxville to talk to consumers. Burrows says that the people she works with are a mix, but she tends to speak to more bartenders or liquor store establishments.

Keywords: Beam Inc.; Beam Suntory Inc; Brands; Education; Employees; Experiences; Relationships; Representatives; Responsibilities; Training; Traveling; Workers; Working

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Branding (Marketing); Consumers.; Whiskey industry

GPS: Beam Suntory, Inc.
Map Coordinates: 41.888518596964985, -87.635447246929
00:20:59 - Effects of COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: Okay, and yeah, you mentioned, a little bit, uh, obviously COVID-19 has affected everybody differently. You being in such a service based industry, um, where you're, you're dealing with, uh, face to face interaction primarily, um, how have you--what personal adjustments have you had to make, um, over the course of the past year?

Segment Synopsis: Burrows says that she looks at her computer a lot more since the pandemic changes. She says that this has been an adjustment and learning curve as they needed time, but they had to keep business going. Burrows talks about the different programs that she came up with when they thought the pandemic would be a short period of time. She was trying to build community as much as possible and change the education to be more virtually based. One of Burrows' initiatives was Sunday Porch Sessions. She goes on to elaborate about the mission of these sessions and the different guests they hosted. There were 26 different sessions with 25 different guests from the span of April to December. Burrows talks about how these porch sessions got her through the pandemic and were so popular that they are continuing.

Keywords: Bourbon industry; Bourbon whiskey; Computers; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Creativity; Employees; Encouragement; Guests; Innovation; Interactions; Online; Pandemics; Pivot; Positive responses; Problems; Programming; Sunday Porch Sessions; Technology; Working; Working conditions

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; COVID-19 (Disease); Change.; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.

00:25:42 - Women in the bourbon industry / Diversity at Beam Suntory

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Partial Transcript: So, now I'm, uh, I'm gonna ask what, what it is like to be a woman in a, a male-dominated industry, I would say.

Segment Synopsis: Burrows says that she noticed being looked down upon at Down One Bourbon Bar. She was the most educated person on staff but was looked at as uneducated because she was a woman. She says that in this industry, you have to develop a thick skin and the ability to prove the people who doubt you wrong. She says sexism is still present but they are beginning to see a shift toward women in major places. She feels that the industry is becoming a more inclusive place for women. Burrows says that she has a lot of female superiors and that she constantly sees women in the workplace. She talks about how at Beam Suntory they are looking within to make sure they are as inclusive as possible. She also discusses the employee engagement groups created to give everyone a voice. Beam Suntory also got an award for being one of the best places to work for the LGBTQIA community. Burrows talks about important conversations that they are having in the workplace and the action that has stemmed from those open discussions. She talks about how her downtown Louisville workplace was already shut down because of COVID, so the protests did not affect their work environment. Burrows felt that she had to make sure to be as inclusive as possible and talks about the specific event created with the social change activists to bring people together. As her brands follow her into different spaces, Burrows was happy to get to bring her brands into a different space. This involvement allowed everyone to know that they have a place with that brand, and it is supporting them.

Keywords: Activism; Bourbon business; Bourbon industry; Changes; Communities; Community engagement; Community involvement; Criticisms; Education; Experiences; Female; Inclusive; Kentucky whiskey; Perceptions; Problems; Staff; Whiskeys; Women; Working conditions

Subjects: African Americans in the whiskey industry; Alcohol industry.; Bars (Drinking establishments); Sexism.; Stereotypes (Social psychology); Whiskey industry; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry

GPS: Jim Beam Global Innovation Center.
Map Coordinates: 37.925845898533325, -85.6552242977756
00:38:14 - Beneficial industry shifts

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Partial Transcript: So, kind of, we've talked about, um, how you've noticed a lot of, a lot of women, uh, who are your superiors, who you're working around.

Segment Synopsis: Burrows talks about the change she has seen in the industry with more women taking on leadership roles. She talks about how she has used them as mentors and how she feels more represented in her workspace. Burrows also says that she is an emotional person, and she can relate to female superiors better. She is happy to know that emotions are seen as a benefit, not a hindrance in the workplace. Burrows has felt a shift in the company that there are more spaces for women or more seats at the table. She feels that she doesn't have to compete with other women for a spot because they are working together to make more room.

Keywords: Bourbon business; Changes; Diversity; Education; Emotions; Employees; Experiences; Problems; Relatable; Relationships; Togetherness; Women; Work shifts; Workers; Working conditions; Working relationships

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Women in the whiskey industry

00:41:36 - Industry barriers to women

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Partial Transcript: Uh, now I'm gonna move to--we've seen, this, this amazing growth, um, but, but still you mentioned, um, there's that one seat and there still are barriers, uh, for women within the industry.

Segment Synopsis: Burrows talks about how sexism is a barrier for women within the bourbon industry, as it is a male-dominated and male consumer focused field. She also talks about the stigma that women only want to be in this field for an ulterior motive and how it needs to go away. She feels that she has to constantly prove herself and her knowledge because she is seen as lesser if she shows up in a dress.

Keywords: Barriers; Bourbon industry; Coworkers; Education; Experiences; Knowledge; Passions; Problems; Stigmas; Struggles; Women; Working; Working conditions

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Sexism.; Whiskey industry; Women in the whiskey industry

00:44:10 - Personal bourbon preferences

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned earlier that you have a lot of, uh, bourbons in your portfolio. Um, my question to you is: what is your favorite one to enjoy?

Segment Synopsis: Burrows says that it is hard to pick a favorite bourbon, and that her best answer is that her favorite thing to drink is whatever is in her hand. She narrows her favorites down to three. She says Jim Beam Black is great for sipping and cocktails. Her other two favorites are Old Overholt Rye and Baker's Bourbon.

Keywords: Baker's Bourbon; Beam Inc.; Bourbon; Cocktails; Experiences; Families; Family relationships; Jim Beam bourbon whiskey; Jobs; Old Overholt Rye; Preferences; Product promotion; Rye; Whiskey brands; Women

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Alcoholic beverages.; Bourbon whiskey; Sales promotion.; Whiskey industry; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry

00:46:05 - Personal connections within the bourbon industry

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Partial Transcript: See that's interesting to me, you mention, you mention that dynamic.

Segment Synopsis: Burrows talks about working with Baker's Bourbon brand. When she came to the company, she noticed that Baker was not celebrated like she thought he deserved. Baker is one of the oldest living relatives of Jim Beam and has not lost any of the industry knowledge. Burrows wanted to celebrate Baker's birthday, so the first year she worked with the company, she threw him a 75th birthday party. Before the party, Baker had lost his partner of 10 years, and at this party, they were able to celebrate her. Baker's friends and family also came to the party. Burrows talks about this party being such a success that they have continued to have one for Baker every year. She also states that she is very close with Baker, and she was able to spend time with him over quarantine. Burrows says she has great relationships with Fred and Freddie Noe and that Fred Noe wrote her a letter of recommendation for her current position. Burrows continues to talk about her great relationships with these families.

Keywords: Baker's Bourbon; Bourbon families; Conversations; Experiences; Family; Fred Noe; Freddie Noe; Friends; Generations; Relationships; Working relationships

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Alcoholic beverages.; Bourbon whiskey; Distilleries--Kentucky; Families.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Women in the whiskey industry

GPS: Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse
Map Coordinates: 38.2528396158485, -85.75732020981712
00:49:18 - What makes a good bourbon

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Partial Transcript: So to you, um, you've tried, a lot of, a lot of bourbons, um, a lot of whiskeys, um, know a lot about them. What makes a good bourbon or a good whiskey to you?

Segment Synopsis: Burrows says that the thoughtfulness of the process makes a good whiskey. She said it is about the quality of grains, the barrel care, and the distillation and fermentation processes.

Keywords: Bourbon; Bourbon barrels; Distillation; Fermentation; Preferences; Processes; Production; Products; Quality; Tastes

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Alcoholic beverages.; Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.

00:50:45 - Cocktail advice

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Partial Transcript: Uh, similar sort of question along those lines.

Segment Synopsis: Burrows talks about her favorite cocktail, called a paper plane. She says it is a spring, summer, and fall cocktail. She also loves a baked apple old-fashioned as her winter drink. This drink is special because it uses brown sugar simple syrup, baked apple bitters, and whiskey barrel bitters. When making cocktails, Burrows says that freshness is key. She says that you should also make sure to keep your bourbon out of direct sunlight, make sure your vermouth is refrigerated, and make sure you use your ingredients before they go bad. Burrows relates cocktail making to cooking as it is important to make sure you are putting time into each step of the process.

Keywords: Advice; Alcohol; Bartenders; Bourbon; Drinks; Enjoyment; Experience; Freshness; Knowledge of bourbon; Making; Mixable bourbons; Mixed drinks; Mixologists; Old Fashioned (Cocktail); Personal preferences; Tastes

Subjects: Alcoholic beverages.; Cocktails.; Flavored alcoholic beverages

00:53:06 - Mentors

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Partial Transcript: And my last question for you here is, uh, over the course of your career, um, is there one person or maybe multiple people, uh, that you would consider mentors or people that have helped you out, uh, just in a huge way?

Segment Synopsis: Burrows talks about her general manager from Down One Bourbon Bar and how he was a mentor to her, helping to push her and hold her accountable. Christian Hattemer was her first real mentor within the bourbon industry, and he helped her improve her skill-set to advance to higher positions within Down One Bourbon Bar. She also mentions three women who have been mentors to her, Megan Brier, Jane Bowie, and Rachel Ford, and she describes how they will always stand up for her or speak well of her.

Keywords: Accountability; Bourbon; Experiences; Growth; Jobs; Mentors; Supervisors; Women; Work ethic; Working; Working relationships

Subjects: Alcohol industry.; Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey industry

GPS: Down One Bourbon Bar in Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.256726463259, -85.75541918668678
00:55:24 - The future for Beam Suntory

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Partial Transcript: So, what can we expect in, uh, 2021 from Beam Suntory? Is there anything we can look forward to soon, uh, like new development?

Segment Synopsis: Burrows says that Beam Suntory will be releasing the next chapter of Little Book Bourbon and what the mash bill makeup is in 2021. Also, their distillery is under construction right now and will be open by the end of the year. Burrows says that they will have a new bar and restaurant onsite. The American Stillhouse is becoming The American Outpost with new fun and educational entertainment. Burrows is most excited about the new Fred B. Noe Craft Distillery. Freddie Noe will be working on this project. This distillery is where education and a lot of innovation will be moving forward, but most of all, she is excited to give the public a detailed look into whiskey-making. Burrows also talks about the Knob Creek Jogging Club, the program's creation, and her company's focus on building community. She says with the legal process it took ten months to start the program. Now that the program is up and running, they have 100 bartenders committed to participating in this 12-week wellness program. These bartenders are working toward a 9k, 12k, or 15k. These numbers also relate to the years of the bourbon at Knob Creek. Burrows is participating in this program and can see a difference in those around her already.

Keywords: Bartenders; Beam Suntory; Beam family; Brand education; Communities; Community involvement; Fitness; Fred B. Noe Craft Distillery; Freddie Noe; Future plans; Jim Beam (Brand); Jogging; Knob Creek; Knowledge of bourbon; Little Book Bourbon; New distillery; The American Outpost; The American Stillhouse

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; James B. Beam Distilling Company; Sales promotion.; Whiskey industry; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

GPS: Jim Beam American Stillhouse.
Map Coordinates: 37.93115724381799, -85.6524199929947