Heaven Hill Distillery’s Master Distiller Emeritus Parker Beam, a much revered and lauded figure in the American Whiskey industry, passed away on January 9th, 2017, from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, at age 75.
Beam was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2010 and had been waging a very courageous and public battle with the dreaded disease, raising enormous sums for the ALS Association of Kentucky through his Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund and Heaven Hill’s sales of his signature line of Parker’s Heritage Collection American Whiskeys.
Earl Parker Beam was born into Kentucky Bourbon royalty in 1941 – his grandfather, Park Beam, was brother and colleague of James Beauregard “Jim” Beam at the original D.M. Beam & Co., predecessor to Jim Beam Brands. Parker’s father, also named Earl, was a brother to Carl “Shucks” Beam, Master Distiller at the Jim Beam Brands Company.
Parker’s father Earl left Beam to become Master Distiller at Heaven Hill in 1946, ushering in an era of Bourbon category leadership and critical acclaim under the Beams, first through Earl, then Parker, and then Parker’s son Craig.
Parker joined Heaven Hill alongside his father in 1960, where his baptism into the distilling industry began by washing windows and scrubbing lime scale out of the cypress fermenters.
“It wasn’t glamorous, but I learned how everything worked in the distillery, because back then you had to be chief cook and bottle washer.”
– Parker Beam
Parker learned how to culture his family’s 6-generation old proprietary yeast strain under his father’s tutelage, and eventually began to put his own unique fingerprint on Heaven Hill’s American whiskeys – it was under Parker’s supervision that the company raised barreling proof to 125, it was Parker who first created the industry’s first Small Batch Bourbon when Elijah Craig was introduced in 1986, and Parker who oversaw the launch of the company’s Single Barrel Bourbons in 1994.
“Parker has certainly etched his name, and that of Heaven Hill, deeply in the annals of Kentucky Bourbon history. But he has done so with a humility and grace that will forever be admired. His dedication to his craft, to his family, to Heaven Hill, and now to battling the scourge that is ALS, will live on far past his time.”
– Heaven Hill President, Max L. Shapira
Parker was also one of the most celebrated of distillers – a charter member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, winner of Whisky Advocate Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award, member of Whisky Magazine’s Hall of Fame, and many more honors. And last year, the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Distillers Association, the Kentucky Bourbon industry’s trade association which dates back to 1880, voted unanimously to name the industry’s Lifetime Achievement Award after Parker.
“Parker Beam wasn’t just a name on a bottle – he was the living embodiment of the whiskey inside: authentic, classic, well-seasoned and distilled from old-fashioned hard work and gentlemanly integrity. His place in our industry’s rich distilling history is beyond reproach, as few can match his 56 years of passionate service and leadership, charter selection to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and award-winning Bourbon portfolio crafted under his watch as Master Distiller.”
– Statement Issued by the Kentucky Distillers Association, President Eric Gregory
After being diagnosed with ALS, Parker and his wife Linda met their newest challenge head-on by creating and curating the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund through the ALS Association of Kentucky. The fund established a research and treatment endowment that has seen millions of dollars generated through contributions, events and on-going sales of Parker’s eponymous line of super-premium American Whiskeys.
“An award-winner, mentor & innovator of the highest caliber, Master Distiller Emeritus Parker Beam’s presence will surely be missed.”
– Kentucky Governor, Matt Bevin
For more information, visit HeavenHill.com