Parker Beam, a longtime master distiller at the Heaven Hill distillery passed away on January 8, ending his long-standing love affair with American whiskey. Beam was a part of the Heaven Hill family for over half a century, and his loss is a profound one for the company.
Heaven Hill Brands
The Heaven Hill Distillery was established during the Great Depression, just after prohibition had ended in the United States. This was a family owned and operated venture, located in the heart of Kentucky. The five Shapira brothers and a handful of investors started the distillery from scratch, filling barrel #1 with Bourbon Falls in 1935.
In 1946, Earl Beam from the Jim Beam Company joined the Heaven Hill team as their master distiller. He brought his son Parker to the distillery from time to time, allowing him to do small jobs around Heaven Hills. In 1960 he officially joined the business and 15 years later he took over his father’s job as the master distiller. Parker held that coveted position until 2013, when he turned the reins over to his own son, Craig. He stayed on at Heaven Hills as the master distiller emeritus, ensuring that the brand maintained the high quality that he and his father had worked so hard to instill.
For decades, Heaven Hills has been a leading American Whiskey producer, and today it is the nation’s sixth-largest distilled alcohol supplier. They are also the world’s second largest holder of bourbon whiskey, with hundreds of barrels in stock awaiting their time. The primary focus of Heaven Hills Distillery has always been on bourbon, particularly the widely popular Evan Williams Bourbon. They are also responsible for Christian Brothers Brandy, Elijah Craig Single Barrel and Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey among others.
Parker Beam and his Bourbon Whiskey Legacy
According to the Heaven Hills web site, Parker Beam passed away in the evening of January 8, 2017. He had been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – or Lou Gehrig’s Disease – for six years. That battle was a public one, with the entire Kentucky bourbon community rallying for his recovery and a cure for the disease.
When it was publicly announced that Parker Beam had been diagnosed with the incurable condition, the leading American distilleries banded together to help find a cure. Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey, Fred Noe of Jim Beam, Greg Davis of Maker’s Mark, Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve, Jim Rutledge of Four Roses, and Harlen Wheatley of Buffalo Trace all donated a bottle of bourbon to Parker. The master distiller took each bottle, along with one of his, to make a special blend called the Master Distiller’s Unity.
Two bottles of Master Distiller’s Unity were made available for sale at an auction, netting $8,500. That money was donated to the ALS Association, a charity whose main goal is to find a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease. Since that time, Heaven Hills has generously donated a portion of the sale of Parker’s Heritage Collection bourbon to the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund, sponsored by the ALS Association. To date, this has led to over a half a million dollars being raised for the fight against this deadly disease.
Heaven Hill Brands of American Whiskey
The Heaven Hill distillery is responsible for a large variety of whiskies. Each one is distinct, giving you a different blend of flavors to suit different occasions and tastes.
- Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey – This original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey is the first ever to use winter wheat for its primary grain. The end result is a sweet flavor with a medium finish.
- Elijah Craig Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Available in both 18 and 23-year old versions, this is one of the oldest single barrel bourbons available in the entire world.
- Elijah Craig Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – An award winning premium bourbon, Elijah Craig Small Batch is bottled exclusively with a blend of alcohols ranging between 8 and 12-year old.
- Evan Williams 1783 – Named for Kentucky’s first distiller in 1783, Evan Williams 1783 is a small batch extension of the Black Label that was aged just a wee bit longer than the rest.
- Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond – A 100 proof bourbon that is a minimum of 4-years old and the product of one distillery in one production. There are only a handful of bourbons in the world that are able to share in that distinction.
- Evan Williams Bourbon – This is a time-honored spirit that still uses the same processes and traditions which made the brand an icon in the whiskey industry.
- Evan Williams Single Barrel – Like the name suggests, this single barrel bourbon is crafted solely from one barrel that was hand selected by Parker Beam and his son Craig.
- Fighting Cock Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – This is a 103 proof bourbon that has been aged 6 years to help smooth out the flavor and make it easier to get down.
- Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey – Sold in small mason jars, Georgia Moon is a tribute to moonshiners across Kentucky who use corn grain to make their own ‘shine.
- Henry McKenna Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Brought to Kentucky from Ireland in 1852, Henry McKenna is an old-time sipping whiskey that you’ll want to share with friends.
- Henry McKenna Single Barrel – Look closely at the label and you will find it has a handwritten note authenticating the single barrel it came from and how long it had been aged.
- Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon – Wheat replaces rye as the third grain, giving this bourbon a soft and sweet taste.
- Mellow Corn Whiskey – In order to qualify as a corn whiskey, this blend is made up of at least 81% corn grain, giving it unique flavor qualities that you don’t find with tradition bourbon.
- Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Dating back over 120 years, Old Fitzgerald is an award winning brand that is well known for its practice of extra aging.
- Parker’s Heritage Collection – Named in honor of the late master distiller, Parker’s Heritage Collection features super premium spirits in a variety of different styles.
- Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey – Pikesville is the only brand left to represent the pre-prohibition Maryland Rye industry. This is a premium straight rye, drawn from barrels that have been aged for at least six years.
- Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey – This classic whiskey can be found in both 80 proof or 100 proof varieties. It has a robust flavor that is only attained by sticking with tradition in distilling practices.
Whiskey Awards for Heaven Hill Brands
Before his passing, Parker Beam had the opportunity to see the distillery he helped grow gain worldwide recognition. Last year at the annual Icons of Whiskey Awards hosted by “Whiskey Magazine” Heaven Hill Brands was named the Global Distiller of the Year. This was after receiving the American Distiller of the Year Award, Brand Ambassador of the Year and the Visitors Attraction of the Year for their Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. This was the third time the company had been recognized as the American Distiller of the Year, but the first win for them in the global category.
As a master distiller for Heaven Hill, Parker Beam’s tenacity was legendary. Throughout his career he was recognized with numerous awards and accolades, and is known for changing the way in which the world views Kentucky bourbon. His passing is a major loss to the industry. More importantly, he will be missed by his wife Linda and his son Craig, who will continue to move Heaven Hill forward in the way his father intended.