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Kentucky's Finest: Bourbon

Small-Batch and Single-Barrel Bourbons Revive the Good Old Days of Whiskey
Mark Vaughan
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

(continued from page 4)

Noe is another Bourbon maker whose roots run deep in Bluegrass Country. He went to live in his grandfather's house after the old man died and was a neighbor to the Samuelses on "Distillers' Row," a strip of stately homes on Third Street in Bardstown, all owned by distilling families. Noe traces his heritage to Jacob Beam, who came to Kentucky from Maryland in 1785. "My grandfather's father's father's father was in the business," says Noe, "and it's been passed down from generation to generation ever since."

According to Noe, Jim Beam went to work in his father's distillery in 1880 at 15, and was running the place by the turn of the century. "Prohibition came along in 1920," explains Noe, "and Jim decided he'd better get out of the business, said he didn't want to go to the penitentiary over a warehouse full of whiskey. So he sold the whole damn thing, farm, distillery and all to a bunch of bootleggers who made a fortune off it.

"Afterwards, he tried a number of different businesses, but didn't take to any of them. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Jim was nearly 70 years old. His son, my uncle Jeremiah Beam was 33 at the time, and granddad decided he wanted to get back in the business so he would be able to pass the Bourbon-making tradition on to the next generation. He went out and built a distillery, which he did in 100 days, from groundbreaking to firing up the still. Imagine doing that at the age of 70."

And, says Noe, who himself began working for Jim Beam at 21, "I guess I'm part of the tradition around here now."

During Prohibition, the Beams and the Samuelses, like most Kentucky distillers, are said to have kept a private stock of "sipping" whiskey hidden in the rafters of their family homes. Though Noe says he doesn't believe his grandfather made any Bourbon during Prohibition, Samuels claims that his grandfather and Jim Beam were caught together one moonless evening firing up a still and had to spend the night in jail.

"They weren't making whiskey to sell, because neither of them needed the money," insists Samuels. "What they were up to was replenishing their private stocks." In other words, what every good Bourbon man would have been doing at the time.

A Bourbon Tasting

Baker's 107: Yellowish brown, with an aroma of dried violets. Caramel and vanilla flavors with a clean finish. Drink straight.

Basil Hayden's: Brownish amber. Caramel and spice aromas. A woody flavor with a slightly harsh finish. Drink straight.

Blanton's: Reddish amber. Dried citrus and spice aromas. Cloves, caramel and burnt-sugar flavors. Drink straight.

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