Parker Beam was diagnosed with ALS in 2010, and his recent death was the opening topic for Fred Minnick’s Legends Series at the Kentucky Derby Museum. Guest Fred Noe of Jim Beam talked about the day Parker Beam realized there might be something wrong. He had gone out to his truck barn and lost his balance, pulling an air compressor on to his face, said Noe. By the time Noe saw Beam later in that day, Beam’s face was bandaged up. Noe’s story of watching his long time colleague in the bourbon industry succumb to this horrible illness over the next almost seven years underscores the most unique thing about the bourbon industry in Kentucky: it’s a family.
The Legends Series began in 2014 and has hosted such industry legends as Bill Samuels, Jr. of Maker’s Mark, Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey, and Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve. The first guest of 2017 was the legendary Fred Noe of Jim Beam, Seventh generation Master Distiller of the Beam bourbon dynasty.
Noe is a consummate storyteller. His no-holds-barred approach to sharing the family history results in salty quips like, “Jim Beam Black is special to me because it’s what I used to steal from my dad.” The subject of stealing whiskey is one that comes up often during these talks. Noe recounted the story of how his father came to discover his cleaning lady, Edna, was watering down his bourbon by eliminating Fred as a suspect while he was away at school. Many years later, Fred Noe sat down to tell Booker Noe the rest of the story- while he wasn’t the one watering down the open bottles, he would actually steal full bottles from the back of the shelf to take back with him to military school in Tennessee.
While it may seem that growing up in a distilling family is all fun and games, the Noes are serious about protecting their legacies. Before Booker passed, he made Fred promise to take care of his Booker’s brand, which Fred has dutifully done to the best of his ability, price changes notwithstanding. Fred’s son Freddie Noe is also taking his new official role as Fermentation Manager just as seriously, going to great lengths to always protect the post-Prohibition yeast strain first cultivated by Jim Beam.
During the Legends Series Fred Minnick keeps the conversation going by asking questions both about history and about current events. Of course the recent controversy about the price increase on Booker’s came up, to which Noe responded, “I make the bourbon, I don’t set the price.”
At the end of the evening a bottle of Booker’s Rye went up for auction to benefit the Kentucky Derby Museum, commanding an impressive $900.
Tickets for the remaining two Legends Series events of 2017 are $75 per person. Thursday, March 23 the guest is founder of Bulleit Distilling Co., Tom Bulleit. Thursday, April 20 the guest is President of Old Forester, Campbell Brown. Click here for tickets and more information about these programs.
Maggie Kimberl is a bourbon writer focusing on bourbon culture and tourism in Louisville and Kentucky. When she's not covering the bourbon beat you can find her browsing through vintage vinyl with her kids or tending to her homegrown tomatoes. Follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/LouGirl502 Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lougirl502/ and check out her blog LouGirl502.com.