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.
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.
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.
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.
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.