“Dean of Distillers”
Carl “Shucks” Beam was the son of William Parker “Park” Beam and Susan “Mary” Beam, who was Jim Beam's brother. Carl Beam was born in 1910 in Nelson County, Kentucky right outside Bardstown, “The Bourbon Capital of the World.” As a young man, Carl traveled to California to take part in a government work relief program that helped build roads across America call the Civilian Conservation Corp or (CCC). After working hard labor for three years, Carl returned to Kentucky where he worked in the family's rock quarry on the site of what is now the Jim Beam Clermont plant.
Carl married a local girl named Edna James and they had two sons Edward Baker Beam and David Beam. Carl, along with his father Park Beam and brother Earl Beam, worked at the rebuilt Jim Beam Distillery after Prohibition. It really was a family business as they were employed by his uncle Jim Beam and his son T. Jeremiah (Jere) Beam.
Jim and Jere ran the business side of things like marketing, accounting, logistics, distribution and public relations. Park, Carl and Earl were the distillers and ran the production side of things including milling, distilling, aging, warehousing, bottling and packaging. When the plant opened in 1934, Earl was 27 and Carl was 24 years old. Early on in the Beam plant’s history, money was tight before their Bourbon had time to age and Park had to find employment elsewhere at another distillery. Both Earl and Carl were young and came cheap, so they were able to continue being employed by Beam.
Carl’s work ethic was impeccable and he became the Master Distiller at Beam. He was assisted by Earl. As the Beam’s bourbon became more and more in demand, Carl ran the first shift and Earl named Asst. Master Distiller ran the second shift. Earl would eventually leave Beam and become the Master Distiller at Heaven Hill. When Earl left it was a friendly split, in fact Carl told his brother Earl, that he’d be glad to do anything he could to help get things started over there.
The two companies were very friendly and all the way up until 2006 when Parker and Craig were at Heaven Hill and Booker, David, Baker and Fred were at Beam. The two distilleries have shared a lot of information and even traded parts. They would do anything the two plants could do to make both operations run more smoothly.
At times, the two companies have deliberately bought the same equipment including hammer mills, stills and bottling lines to make parts exchanges easier. At one time both had the same milling equipment so that if one distillery had a problem and they needed a fan, a gear, a bearing or even a motor they could get it from the other. The mash cooker drives were the same as well. They even shared barrels with each other while one or the other was waiting for a shipment from the stave company.
Carl Beam not only became their Master Distiller in 1945 but was named Executive Vice-President of the James B. Beam Distillery Company in 1959. Carl literally became a walking encyclopedia of all things bourbon. He served as a resource for many other Master Distillers across the Commonwealth of Kentucky. After forty years of “working hands on” in the distilling business Carl had his nicknamed changed from “Shucks” (or Aw Shucks) to the “Dean of all Distillers.” Carl became the Whiskey Whisperer and taught many other legendary distillers, including his own two sons Baker Beam and David Beam as well as Booker Noe. Booker (Jim Beam’s grandson) went on to become one of the greatest innovators that the industry had ever seen. Carl retired the same year that Beam released its popular “Jim Beam Black” Double Aged Bourbon at the age of 64 in 1974.
Carl Beam was inducted posthumously into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2006 in only its fifth class of inductees ever. Carl Beam became only the 5th of 11 Beam family members to be inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame behind only Parker Beam, Booker Noe, Colonel Jim Beam and T. Jeremiah Beam.
Photos provided by Jim Beam