Joseph L. Beam
Joseph L. Beam, better known as "Mr. Joe" Beam, was born in December 1868 in Washington County, Kentucky. Mr. Joe was the son of Joseph M. Beam, a distiller, he was the great grandson of the Patriarch of the family Jacob Beam and Jim Beam’s first cousin. Joe entered the family distilling business at a very young age and learned the trade working at four different Bardstown distilleries between the age of thirteen and thirty. In 1887 he married a local Bardstown girl named Katherine McGill, they had their first child in 1893 but went on to have a total of nine boys and no girls. Of those nine boys, seven of them, Elmo, Roy, Wilmer, Desmond, Everett, Otis and Harry went on to get jobs in the bourbon industry as Master Distillers somewhere.
During the beginning of prohibition, he moved most of his family out of the country to Juarez, Mexico where he served as the Master Distiller at a Tequila plant. In the late 1920’s, because of his stellar reputation, he and several of his sons were lured back to the country to work at the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery in Louisville. This was possible during prohibition because Stizel was one of six distilleries that was granted a license by the federal government to continue making whiskey for “Medicinal” purposes.
After prohibition ended in 1933, Mr. Joe helped open the Heaven Hill Distillery. Joe was one of the five initial local Bardstown investors which included two of the Shapira brothers as founders. Mr. Joe invested almost $9,000 ($165,000 in today’s value) as seed money to open the distillery. At the time these five businessmen had to have had a lot of faith in Mr. Joe’s ability as a distiller because the new company had no still, no brands, no inventory and no warehouses. They filled their first barrel of Bourbon on December 13, 1935 and in 1938 their first brand Bourbon Falls hit the shelves.
After two years to get the distillery open and another three more years waiting for the bourbon to age Mr. Joe ran out of money. In fact, a total of three investors were cash strapped and had to be bought out or close the distillery. At that time, the rest of Shapira brothers entered the picture to make five Shapiras. They bailed the business out with an infusion of an additional $20,000 in cash. That investment allowed the Heaven Hill Distillery to survive and now listed as its owners as only the five Shapira brothers David, Ed Gary, George and Mose Shapira.
Mr. Joe's youngest son, Henry M. “Harry” Beam (1910-1971), remained on at Heaven Hill and became the Distillery’s first master distiller. Since that time Earl Beam (1906-1993) , Earl “Parker” Beam (1941-2017) and Craig Beam followed Harry as the only Master Distillers that Heaven Hill had until 2018. For 83 years, Mr. Joe Beam and his kin were the only Master Distillers that Heaven Hill employed until Denny Potts was hired as Master Distiller in August 2018.
After he was bought out by the Shapiras and he served his tenure at Heaven Hill, "Mr. Joe" continued to move around to other distilleries. He and two of his other son Roy M. Beam (1898-1959) and Desmond A. Beam (1905-1981) made Four Roses bourbons and whiskies at the Frankfort Distillery in Louisville. Joseph Beam died in December 1956.