“The Earl of Bourbon”
Earl Beam was the son of William Parker “Park” Beam (who was Jim Beam’s brother) and Susan “Mary” Beam, he was born in April of 1906 in Nelson County, Kentucky right outside Bardstown, “The Bourbon Capital of the World.” Before Prohibition ended he worked in the family's rock quarry on the site of what is now the Jim Beam Clermont plant. In 1929 he married a local girl Velma Boggs Beam and ten years later they had their only child Earl Parker Beam.
Earl, along with his father Park Beam and brother Carl 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, Earl and Carl 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. As the Jim Beam brand became more and more in demand, Carl ran the first shift and was appointed the Master Distiller and Earl was named Asst. Master Distiller ran the second shift. Each contributed to the quantity of production equally. Earl would eventually leave Jim Beam in 1946 and become only the second Master Distiller in Heaven Hill’s history.
When Earl left it was a friendly split, in fact Carl told his brother Earl, that “I’d be glad to do anything he could to help get things started over there.” The two companies just 20 miles apart, were very friendly and all the way up until 2016 when Parker and Craig were at Heaven Hill and Booker, David, Baker and/or 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.
When Earl Beam joined Heaven Hill in 1946 he brought with him many years experience in distilling, most learned from his family, the Beams. As the Master of the mashtubs, Earl Beam was responsible for all the yeasting, mashing and distilling operations carried on at Heaven Hill. A big part of the job was the specialized work of making and propagating their particular strain of jug yeast, which is one of the most important steps in producing Heaven Hill whiskey. It requires the personal attention and utmost care of the Master Distiller. The jug yeast is then worked up into a mash of malted barley to produce the day yeast for fermenting. “Strain of the yeast are the difference between good whiskey and poor whiskey,” Earl would say.
The big distilleries use laboratory yeast the strain built up in labs and kept pure by artificial methods. But we use jug yeast of our own secret strain. It's made from malt and hop water by running it through a mashing process by hand, explained Earl Beam.
In 1955 Heaven Hill under Earl’s supervision filled their 500,000th barrel of bourbon. In 1957 Earl introduced what would go on to become their Flagship brand in Evan Williams. The brand was named after the very first licensed distiller in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the company even went so far as to purchase the “K. S. P. 1” plant number from heirs of Williams. Since that time Evan Williams has gone on to become the world’s #2 selling bourbon behind only counsin Jim Beam. Earl also brought his son Parker Beam with him at Heaven Hill and he was hired on as the Distillery Production Manager in 1960. Parker would go on to become one of the greatest Master Distillers this country has ever seen.
Earl Beam was inducted posthumously into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2003 in only its third class of inductees ever. Earl Beam became only the 4th of 11 Beam family members to be inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame behind only Parker Beam, Booker Noe and Colonel Jim Beam.