4 Jun 2013--Leaving for Nashville, TN today, but Saturday we drove out to Ft Knox to see the gold depository and then yesterday to the Jim Beam Distillery for a tour.
Unfortunately, not only does the Depository not give tours, you are not even allowed to take "live" pictures of the outside of the building. There is a Visitor's Center at the entrance to the base so I took a picture of a picture of the building...that was the best I could do! haha They also had what I assume are "mock" gold bars in there...didn't know they were stamped with Statue of Liberty on them, nor did I know that Ft Knox is only one of six depositories in the US. Hmm! Learn something new every day, I guess. haha
The Jim Beam Distillery Tour yesterday was a lot better than the Ft Knox flop.
Kentucky produces 95% of the world's bourbon, and Jim Beam produces over 50% of that, making it the #1 producer in the world. There are 8 distilleries in this region, making up what they call the "Kentucky Bourbon Trail", and if you visit 7 of the 8 and get a distillery-issued passport stamped at each of them, you get a t-shirt! haha Two of the other listed distilleries named that I recognized were Maker's Mark and Wild Turkey. Brian, they have tasting rooms at each, so we thought you and Billy might want to make a trip. haha
There have been 7 generations of Beams running the company since back in 1795, with Jim being the "middle" guy. When the company started it was called "Old Tub", but Jim himself changed the name and named it after himself. Jim ran the place throughout Prohibition, the Great Depression and WW II. During prohibition this distillery was operated as a rock quarry. That is Booker, the head of the company prior to the current one, in the 2nd pic...looks like he had a swig too many!!!
By law, bourbon whiskey has to be "aged" at least 2 years to be called Bourbon, and all Jim Beam is aged anywhere from 3 to 9 years in huge warehouses. It also has to be 51% corn to be Bourbon, or 51% rye to be Rye Bourbon. Each concoction is a different mixture, but they all have some combo of corn, rye and malted barley...sounds like whole grains to me so I can only assume it is very healthy! haha
Fermenting the concoction and then Cathy pouring some into a barrel to be aged. These barrels are used only once for the bourbon, then sold and used at different places...like at Tabasco plants, where they age the Tabasco sauce in them for 3 years before selling in your local grocery store.
The bottles are all rinsed prior to being filled, and to make sure the alcohol content is not even slightly altered, they are rinsed with leftover bourbon from a previous batch.
These are some of the "Limited Edition" decanters they have produced over the years. Interestingly, the genie bottle used in the TV show "I Dream of Jeanie" was this one in the 3rd pic.
Each of these warehouses holds around 20,000 barrels of aging bourbon, and Jim Beam alone has 72 warehouses!!! They usually have around 1.8 million barrels aging at any one time...in a state that has only 4.2 million people! haha
Because the bourbon dissipates as it ages, they lose roughly 39% of each barrel's contents for the most expensive of their bourbons, "Knob Creek", which ages for 9 years before being sold to the public.
They had a tasting room at the end of the tour, where they give each tourist a card that allows 2 shots of the bourbons of your choice to try. They had 11 different bourbons that they make, from the regular Jim Beam that was supposed to have "hints of caramel and vanilla" to the Red Stag brand that is flavored. Cathy and I tried 4 of them...notice Cathy's reaction to the original (haha)...it was like rubbing alcohol! The Red Stag Black Cherry and Honey Tea were much better tasting, but still very strong.
They have 19 of these huge fermenters, with each holding 45,000 gallons.
Watch how fast they rinse, fill and cap these bottles.
In 1964 a federal law was passed dictating that all Bourbon HAD to be made in the US. So what does that mean? The Kentucky Bourbon makers have a pretty sweet deal, effectively shutting out, by law, any competition from any other company in the world! I am sure all US manufacturers would like the same deal! haha
Last little nugget: Jim Beam sold 20 million cases of 9 bottles per case last year alone, and the company believes the yeast they produce here is the key to their successful bourbon sales. So in case of any disaster at the plant, a member of the Beam family takes a batch of yeast from the plant home each day to safeguard!
So that's more than you probably ever wanted to know about Jim Beam (haha), but it was a fun tour, and the last event of our stay here in Kentucky! On to Nashville!!!